An Interview with Robert Katz on Unmanned Systems and Cyberattacks | Unmanned Systems Institute

An Interview with Robert Katz on Unmanned Systems and Cyberattacks

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Robert Katz
Disaster and Terrorism Advisor, FEMA
Business Development and Capture Mentor by day, firefighter-paramedic by night. As an innovative thought leader, Robert has proudly conceived, captured, proposed, and executed countless rewarding initiatives to serve both his community, and his country. These encompassed complex C4ISR and GEOINT architectures for MIT, Johns Hopkins, NIST, Navy, Army, Air Force, NASA, DHS, DoT, DoD, State, Treasury, USAID, FEMA, CIA. Before creating his global non-profit, Robert served 10 years as a Principal BD executive for a number of major corporations, including Lockheed Martin, creating completely new Homeland Security & Defense markets from scratch in the US, India, Hong Kong, Japan, and throughout Europe. Between BD, proposal, and capture engagements for his wonderful clients, Robert sneaks in valuable time to help construct designer dresses with his daughter, as well as coordinate global counter-terrorism and disaster responses with his son.

As someone who has worked in the cybersecurity space for most of your career, what are the most critical challenges that the auto industry has to overcome in order to convince the general public that autonomous vehicles can be made secure from cyber attacks before they begin to enter the commercial auto market?

This reassurance to counter feelings of cyber-insecurity requires the unified efforts of solid communicators across the full spectrum of stakeholder domains – not just engineers, not just manufacturers, but urban planners, public leaders, elected officials, regulatory bodies, and community advocates, as well. They each in a different way understand best the basic emotions that motivate the public. Skeptical or fearful “passengers” may be relieved to know that most of us regular now experience travel in autonomous “vehicles.” In fact, modern commercial airliners are almost entirely self-controlled during the majority of a typical flight – while take-offs and landings are still usually performed manually by a pilot…at least for now. Imagine – that’s for a vehicle flying tens of thousands of feet above the ground at a several hundred miles an hour. So for down-to-Earth public acceptance of autonomous automobiles, this is mainly an issue of introducing the new technology paradigm gradually, in increments, to overcome natural (and understandably healthy) fear and anxiety.

On the public sector side of cybersecurity in the unmanned systems industry, are there any particular technological innovations that you believe will enable government and military agencies to protect from the possibility of data hacks and breaches against UAV/UAS that are conducting operations concerning national security?

There are many very smart, dedicated, brilliant innovators working tireless to protect UAV/UAS deployed in sensitive mission critical situations. Of course, it is a learning process involving constant iterations, as in any domain, and there have been some detours and potholes along the road to success. That is to be expected. Ultimately, I am an optimist and am confident that the “white hats” will prevail in the long run against our adversaries as a result of our tenacity for more creativity and innovative, and flat-out hard work to defeat destructive actors. Of all the machines we have ever created – not match the brilliance of the brain, or the might of our mind. The emerging counter-cyber technologies that harness this type of cognitive-based decision making will allow us to adaptive protect our systems of even unknown threats, just as our own minds adapt to unknown situations. Is in our DNA – and this type of dynamic sequencing and replication will soon power our systems to protect themselves on the cyber battlefield. It takes a village to secure a village. We if we tap into this collection cognition from all corners of our society – we will be safe.

Much of your work as a Disaster and Terrorism Adviser with FEMA has been focused on the use of UAS for international emergency situations such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2011 Japan nuclear radiation leak. How do you anticipate the use of UAS for humanitarian and emergency response to progress over the next decade?

This is such an amazingly promising field where technology can serve to extend the relief capabilities of disaster and emergency response teams, while limiting the risks to individuals. Throughout the history of civilizations, we have always relied on the bravery and selflessness of heroes to respond to emergency situations, and that will not change. But anytime we can deploy a machine instead of a human rescuer into a life-threatening situation – great. The bomb disposal robots used in Iraq are a prime example, or a beach lifeguard in tough surf. This trend will only continue in civilian and military environments. One of the most fascinating fields of study here relates to how victims in emergency situations respond psychologically to the appearance of rescue robots during extreme distress, and how we can optimize their design in this regard. New research into UAS for, not just reacting to disasters, but even for persistent monitoring to predict them, could dramatically boost their lifesaving potential even more. Not all of these challenges, though are technological. Policy and governance must catch up to the innovations in order to truly leverage their rescue possibilities.

Over the past few years we’ve also seen the rise of UAS use for commercial applications such as agricultural mapping and oil/gas pipeline inspections. In your opinion, which industries not already using UAS will stand to benefit most from adopting UAS for commercial purposes?

Photography and videography in general – will continue to be among the hottest commercial applications. In addition, the promise for UAS to transform the shipping and package-delivery supply chains ultimately will prove too compelling not to be realized. This will spur entirely new production paradigms and start-up businesses, just as just-in-time 3D printing has already begun to do. However, the potent and powerful potential of the human brain will prove that, in a few years, the hottest applications will be those that we have not yet even yet imagined.

You will be leading a talk at Unmanned Systems Institute that will analyze the evolution of unmanned systems from the mid 20th century to today. As we look to the future, are there any particular developments in the rise of UAS/UAV for both public and private sector use that you find to be either particularly exciting or concerning?

I am struck by the increasing velocity of innovation in this field and how the timeline between the “point of conception” and the “point of deployment” continues to shrink. I think about how the traditional barriers between human imagination and technological realization have similarly diminished — opening up wonderful options. However, we consequently have less time to reflect on the potential pitfalls of any particular new intelligent, automation. As a result, I think it is more important than ever that technologists and engineers consider the valuable insights on robots and their interaction with humans provided by visionaries such as Isaac Asimov, who developed the Three Laws of Robotics, for example, as well as the foreshadowing insight of Jules Verne, George Lucas, and even Stanley Kubrick – all ahead of their time. The works of these imaginative artists represent a rich source of inspiration and thought — if we make a point of consulting them in our own processes. Since each was working with nearly no cognitive constraints, they were able to see light-years ahead of themselves. Lessons there for us? While current technology does eventually have bounds – we continue to see that the power of the human mind does not.
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