Is Omicron the unexpected end game for Covid?

December 6, 2021

There is an intriguing report out today.

‘Extremely mild’ Omicron variant is rapidly killing off much more deadly Delta coronavirus mutation

Excitement is growing among Coronavirus experts in Southern Africa and around the world as it increasingly seems that the new Omicron variant is rapidly replacing the much more deadly Delta mutation. Experts are so ecstatic because it seems more and more that the Omicron variant is much more contagious and dominant than Delta, but also much milder and less deadly. 

Some experts are therefore even urging countries to drop restrictions and let Omicron spread so the more infectious but less severe variant can kill off Delta quicker.

Delta displacement in full swing

Infections in South Africa have started to rise rapidly in recent days, a sign that displacement of the lethal Delta variant is in full swing, according to Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). “What will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least, … perhaps this particular variant is the variant,” Puren told Reuters in an interview earlier this week.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there is early evidence to suggest Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” and its rapid spread in South Africa suggests it has a “growth advantage” compared to Delta. Therefore, virologist Marc van Ranst pointed out that “if the omicron variant is less pathogenic but with greater infectivity, allowing Omicron to replace Delta, this would be very positive.”

Well! Well!

Perhaps it will be the mutating virus itself which will allow it to survive in some relatively harmless symbiosis with humans who will no longer try to kill it off.

It is a very attractive end-game – from a human perspective – after a turbulent 3 years but I am not taking any bets as yet.

Saved by a mutation?


The coming population implosion: Indian fertility now drops below replenishment level

November 25, 2021

It has been about 10 years since it dawned on me that the “population explosion crisis” was long since over and the challenge after 2100 would be the population implosion. Demographic trends become obvious slowly but the trends are inexorable and unavoidable. (But there are still people who keep talking about the defunct population explosion).

In India, the decline of population growth has continued and has now fallen below the replenishment level. The National Family Health Survey in India shows that the overall fertility rate in the country has now declined to 2.1.

Indian Express:

According to the survey, there are five states with TFR above 2: Bihar (3), Meghalaya (2.9), Uttar Pradesh (2.4), Jharkhand (2.3) and Manipur (2.2). Two states reported TFR at the same level as the national average: Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Two states have a TFR of 1.6: West Bengal and Maharashtra. Six states have a TFR of 1.7: Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura. Six more states have a TFR of 1.8: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. And five states have a TFR of 1.9: Haryana, Assam, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Mizoram.

The simple reality is that China’s population has already peaked and started reducing. The Indian population growth has been declining for some time and replenishment fertility level has now fallen below that needed for a stable population (in Europe this is about 2.1 and in India about 2.3 due to higher child mortality). In India population will peak around 2050. In Africa the peak will not be reached until about 2090. The challenges faced by societies to meet the needs of growing populations over the last 200 years are going to undergo a paradigm shift. From 2090 onwards global population will be declining, everywhere. Countries (Iran and China for example) already have incentives for having children. Incentives for having children will become the global norm in the 2100s. Professional continuity and maintaining knowhow will come increasingly under pressure. Skills will disappear as some cultural transmission of knowhow breaks down. The challenge in the 2100s will be the maintaining of services and the care of the elderly as populations decline.

Japan is already there.

India National Family Health Survey


Related: 

New challenges as global population will start declining already in the 2060s

The alarmist population explosion meme bites the dust

Every EU country has a fertility rate below the replenishment level

Automation can mitigate for a population decline

Population implosion after 2100?

Other ktwop posts on demographics and the population implosion


The WHO has failed in curbing the Covid19 pandemic

November 13, 2021

History will show that the World Health Organisation was complicit in suppressing information at the start of the pandemic in a misguided, political effort to shield China from charges of gross negligence. Those actions by the WHO were themselves acts of wilful negligence.

During the course of the pandemic – soon entering its 3rd year – it is difficult to see any impact of the WHO.

The beneficial impact of WHO actions, if any, cannot be discerned in the spread, or the speed of spreading, of the virus. 

The impact of WHO actions on curtailing the numbers who died cannot be discerned.

Most of the successes (and failures) in tackling the pandemic have been at the national and bilateral level.

If the WHO has provided any benefits during this pandemic, these benefits cannot be discerned in the raw data.

The existence of the WHO has made no significant difference to the course of this pandemic.

The purpose of the WHO is not a bad idea. But it is the bureaucratic/political cadre at the WHO which needs to be uprooted.

Nature.com

…….. the agency is lumbered with a cumbersome and expensive organizational structure comprising a headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and six semi-autonomous regional offices. This has resulted in a complex, bureaucratic and ineffective management structure. It is a body that is ripe for root-and-branch reform.


Why we need stupid people

November 10, 2021

Feeling a little irritated today.


I find I have been irritated before

Stupid is as stupid does.


 

The real reason why India was eliminated from the T20 World Cup

November 8, 2021

India will play its last, inconsequential match against Namibia today and then they will all go home.

For the first time in about 9 years India has failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup.

There will be much analysis by idiot experts and expert idiots, by journalists and sociologists, by coaches and hangers-on, by talk-show hosts and politicians, by pundits and imams, by celebrities and other ignoramuses, and sometimes by the knowledgeable. We will hear variously that:

    1. the IPL is prioritised over playing for the country,
    2. the BCCI failed,
    3. the BCCI is only interested in money
    4. Ravi Shastri had no interest,
    5. there is too much cricket,
    6. team selection was wrong,
    7. the timing was wrong for the tournament,
    8. it was not an auspicious time,
    9. the batsmen failed,
    10. the bowlers had too much to do
    11. it was bad luck or bad karma
    12. India team players are not hungry enough,
    13. the matches were fixed,
    14. Virat Kohli is well past it,
    15. Rishab Pant is a buffoon,
    16. Harthik Pandya is crude and over-rated,
    17. …………

The real reasons claimed might seem quite simple. Read the rest of this entry »

Colonisation and the genocide of the Neanderthals by the even-newer-Africans

November 5, 2021

Colonisation

Colonisation is not anything new. It is a necessary characteristic for any successful species.

Colonisation is the expansion by one community into the physical space being occupied by some other biological community. The invaders may be a whole species or just a particular strain within a species. It is a phenomenon exhibited by every successful biological community from viruses and bacteria and fungi to plants and animals (including humans). A new territory or habitat may be already occupied by other species, or strains of the same species, or unoccupied. The incoming community, if they dominate the new territory, are considered colonists. Newcomers who merely merge into the existing population are immigrants rather than colonists. Any communities already existing in the space and falling under the sway of the newcomers are the colonised. Many attempts at colonisation fail; either because the colonists cannot adapt to the new habitat or because they cannot compete (biologically, culturally, or technologically) with the existing inhabitants.

That living things exist in every conceivable corner of the earth’s land surface and of the oceans is a consequence of colonisation. That living things find it necessary to search for new habitats is driven by the need to grow and to survive changing environments by utilising the inherent genetic diversity available in every species. The greater the diversity available in any species, the greater the possibility that some individuals can adapt quickly to a new habitat. A successful species is one which grows its numbers and expands its habitat. Evolution results when the genetic diversity available allows individuals in a species to cope with changes to its environment.. These changes are usually small and quite slow. However, much of evolution has been when natural selection has been accelerated as species adapt to the rapid, and sometimes large, changes of environment in newly invaded habitats. Not all succeed and many would-be colonists have failed  to navigate the change. Species die out when they move, voluntarily or involuntarily, to new unsuitable habitats. There are a few species which have stagnated in tiny niche habitats, exhibit unusually little genetic diversity and have lost the wherewithal to change. They have become so specialised to fit their habitat that they are incapable of adapting to any other and have reached evolutionary “dead-ends”. Most such species have gone extinct but a few survive. Panda bears and theridiid spiders are examples. They have become incapable of growth or of colonisation and are probably on their slow path to extinction. 

The reality is that any living species which does not colonise is doomed either to stagnation in a niche habitat, or to failure and extinction. The most abject species failure would be an in-situ extinction without evolution of any descendant species. Colonisation favours, and even enables, the emergence of succeeding species. The change of habitat and the changes it brings about are essential to the continuation of life. Spaces are colonised when expanding communities invade and bring, or evolve, more competitive abilities, cultures, or technologies than available to the current inhabitants, if any, of that space. The dinosaurs on land had a long run but could not finally cope with the changes in their environment. But some of them took to the air. Many found new sources of food. Some developed a taste for insects and worms and begat a plethora of new species. (Along the way they even wiped out entire species of some flying insects). But the descendants of those adventurous, little dinosaurs have become the thousands of bird species to be found thriving today. They have colonised the entire globe while their larger, ancient kin perished miserably a long time ago.

However, success is no longer politically correct. Failure is glorified instead. Failure as a victim of another species is even more highly regarded. In the politically correct version of conservation, even successful species of fauna and flora are condemned for being invasive when they colonise new territories. Failing species, unfit for changed environments, or unable to bear the heat of competition from other species, are artificially, and unnaturally, protected in glorified zoos. However I do not hear any ornithologists condemning birds for being invasive species or for colonising the planet.

Human colonisation

In today’s politically correct world, colonisation has become a dirty word. Colonists are considered evil. Statues of colonists are a seen as a sign of oppression and depravity. The descendants of those colonised in the past claim a self-righteous victimhood in the present. Needless to say, a place in the kingdom of heaven is reserved for the colonised and their descendants. Colonists and their descendants are subject to eternal damnation. Yet, the history of mankind is one of successful communities expanding and colonising. The peopling of the world has been enabled by colonisation. The colonised became colonised usually because their culture was stagnating and their technology could not compete with incoming ones.

It is usually only the successful European colonisations between about 1400 and 1900 CE which have become politically incorrect. But the many attempts that failed are lost from history and get little sympathy. What is conveniently forgotten, though, is that the human populations in Australia and Africa and the Americas, at that time, were ripe for colonisation by any invading community with superior technology. For these populations, their own culture or their technology, or both, were stagnating and they were not growing. During that 500 year period, the native Americans, the inhabitants of S America and Africa and of Australia were themselves neither expanding nor  technologically capable of colonising new territories. If they had been more advanced the newcomers from Europe would have been immigrants rather than colonists. If it had not been the Europeans, it would have been someone else. If not the Europeans, the Chinese or Indians would have colonised Australia. If Europe had not had the capability to expand, they would themselves have probably succumbed to the expansion by the Ottomans. The Americas would then have been colonised from China or from Japan or some other region which was growing. Africa would have been colonised probably by the Ottomans (Turks and Arabs) or the Persians in the north, and by Indians and Chinese in the south. The key fact is that the inhabitants of Australia and the Americas and Africa, at that time, were not advancing (in numbers, culture, or technology) sufficiently to drive their own expansions or growth.

Go back another 2,000 years (500 BCE – 1,500 CE) and we find the South Indian colonisation of large tracts of SE Asia. The Greek and Persian expansions gave way to the Romans. The Mongols, the Normans, the Turks, and the Vikings were busy moving into the new territories they could access. The Norse attempts to colonise North America all failed. The Greeks used colonisation for expansion but also as a way of reducing social stress at home. Dissident populations were expelled to go and found colonies and be a nuisance elsewhere. Han Chinese colonies were used as the spearhead and as the means of expanding Empire. They were often guinea-pigs for testing the viability of new territories. And many failed. Where colonies succeeded, they nearly always had superior technology or weapons or organisation to dominate the local inhabitants. They usually used the indigenous population for labour and often as enslaved labour. These early colonisations were probably more brutal and savage than those which came later, but they go back far enough in time to generally escape sanctimonious censure today.

Delving further back into antiquity, reveals that colonisation was a major means of expansion even then. On land, those who mastered horses had a crucial advantage – at least for a while. Voyages across oceans were limited by the capability for navigating open seas. But sailing boats were quite well developed even if navigation was not, and coast-hugging allowed many communities to colonise by sea. But these expansions by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Indians, and Han Chinese are far enough in the past to escape moral judgements in the present. If we go back even further to pre-historical times (5,000 – 10,000 years ago), all of hunter-gatherer Europe was colonised by the rampaging Yamnaya and the Anatolians from central Asia. They brought agriculture and cities and civilisation in their wake, and so are now forgiven the conquest and pillage and enslavement they surely utilised along the way.

 But let us not forget that human colonisation was started long before antiquity by the Africans.

Colonisation from Africa

When it comes to the origins of human colonisation we need to go back to before we were ever human. I take humans to mean Anatomically Modern Humans – AMH – who appeared around 300,000 years ago. Around 2.5 million years ago, before AMH had evolved, homo erectus had already spread from Africa and colonised most of Europe and Asia but never reached Australia. These were the oldest-Africans, but they did not then have control of fire. These oldest-Africans were more settlers than colonists. 

Some time after we had evolved from apes, and perhaps around 1,000,000 – 800,000 years ago, a common ancestor of AMH, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and a couple of unknown hominin species (call them homo x and homo y), emigrated from Africa and colonised most of Europe, Central Asia, and South-East Asia. These were the old-Africans. The control of fire was achieved sometime during the homo erectus period and was certainly available to the colonising old-Africans. Most likely the movement of whole populations was motivated to move out of Africa, not so much by a shortage of space, but by growth or by changes of climate and a shortage of food. No doubt some were just seen as trouble-makers at home and encouraged to leave. These old-Africans were emigrants and probably the first ever hominin colonists. They were not strictly immigrants into existing societies since the territories they moved into had no other AMH inhabitants. But they probably did displace the oldest-Africans they found. There were probably many waves of old-Africans and later waves of emigrants may well have been immigrants into existing communities. By 700,000 years ago old-Africans covered all of Africa, Europe and Asia. Many of the areas they moved into may have had indigenous near-hominin populations. However, their indigenous cultures and technologies were not sufficiently competitive to prevent the wave of old-African colonists establishing themselves. The key distinction in these times was probably the control of fire. The colonisation of the world by the old-Africans led also to the demise of many animal species which could not resist the advanced cultures and technologies they were faced with. Some were hunted to extinction as prey, while others were unable to adapt quickly enough, and still others were just crowded out by the newcomers.

In due course (a small matter of a few hundred thousand years) the old-Africans in Central Asia and Europe evolved to become the Neanderthals. From about 500,000 years ago they were the dominant species, and that continued for about 300,000 years. In South-East Asia, the old-Africans evolved to become the Denisovans. In the rest of Asia (S China, India, and the Middle East), the old-Africans were still around but had evolved to become some as yet unknown hominin species. In Africa, the old-Africans evolved, sidestepped the evolution of any Neanderthal-like species, and eventually gave rise to Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) by about 300,000 years ago. Let us call them the new-Africans.

Then from about 200,000 years ago there were a number of waves of new-African emigration/colonisation into Europe and Asia. These emigrant waves continued sporadically for 100,000 years while, in Africa, evolution had created the even-newer-Africans. Around 60 – 70,000 years ago, they were responsible for the major wave of emigration now termed the “Out of Africa” event. The new-Africans and the even-newer-Africans found indigenous populations all across the new territories they expanded into. They were sometimes just other new-Africans and sometimes they were blended populations of old-Africans (Neanderthals, Denisovans, …) and new-Africans. In India, for example, the even-newer-Africans arrived after the Toba eruption and mingled genetically with small surviving populations of old-Africans already mingled with new-Africans. By around 50,000 years ago the even-newer-Africans had reached Australia.

Whether there was conflict between indigenous and arriving populations, or whether one culture was gradually displaced by, or submerged into, the more dominant one is unknown. Whether advanced colonists enslaved less advanced populations is unknown but is quite likely to have occurred. What is known is that the arrival of the even-newer-Africans caused the Neanderthals and the Denisovans and any other remaining hominin species around to disappear. By around 50,000 years ago the Denisovans were extinct and by 40,000 years ago there were no Neanderthals left. However, their genes still survive in tiny quantities and live on in us. So some contact leading to gene admixture certainly occurred. However, whether intentional or not, many communities were overwhelmed. Eventually, entire human species were wiped out.

The time-line for African colonists into Europe and Asia:

  • oldest-Africans – c. 2 m years ago
  • old-Africans – c. 1 million years ago >> evolved to be Neanderthals, Denisovans, …
  • new-Africans – c. 500,000 years ago >> evolved, mixed with old-Africans and other strains
  • new-Africans (AMH) – c. 300,000 years ago >>admixture with previous colonists
  • even-newer-Africans – c. 100,000 years ago >> colonised the known world, eradicated the Neanderthals , Denisovans and others

In current-day, politically correct language it could be called the Genocide of the Neanderthals by the even-newer-Africans.


Discovery versus invention and why mathematics is just another language

October 31, 2021

Languages are invented, and words are invented. We can assign whatever meaning we can commonly agree on, to any word. Discovery and invention are such words and are labels, placeholders, for some intended meaning. Confusion with words arise because the nuances of meaning associated with a word may not be as common as we think. This post is about mathematics being a language, but I need to start by what I understand to be discovery and how it differs from invention.


Discoveries and inventions

I do not quite understand the uncertainty sometimes expressed about whether things are inventions or discoveries. I find no ambiguity between “discovery” and “invention”. It is not as if everything in the world must be either discovered or invented. There is no need for any epistemological issues here. Discovery consists of the first finding of that which exists but is unknown. It includes what may be newly inferred either by deduction or by induction. What has been discovered by others can still be discovered by someone else as new knowledge. The discoverer, however, does not impact what is discovered. Discovery is always about finding. Invention, on the other hand, is always about creation. It creates something (material or immaterial) that did not exist before. The act of invention requires purpose and always results in a construct. The inventor defines and creates the invention. Once invented by someone, something may be discovered by others. An invention may be so complex that even its inventor has to discover some of its detailed characteristics or workings. It may be rediscovered if it has been forgotten (if immaterial) or has fallen into disuse (if material). Creation is not necessarily or always invention. A copy or even an improvement of an invention by someone else may involve creation but is neither a discovery nor an invention. Both finding and creation imply a doer, though it is not necessary for the doer to be human.

Of course everything discovered to exist must – so our logic tells us – have had a beginning. Whether such a beginning was a creation event (an invention), or random happenchance, or something else, lies at the heart of the most intractable philosophical question of all – the mystery of existence. I take the view that existence encompasses both material and immaterial things, and that the immaterial does not necessarily require a mind within which it is perceived to exist. The flow of time, causality and the laws of nature are, to my mind, examples of such immaterial existence. Thoughts, however, are also immaterial and exist but they need a mind within which to reside.

  • we discover our existence, we invent our names
  • emotions are discovered, their descriptive names are invented
  • hate is discovered, war is invented
  • a thought is discovered, a story is invented
  • the laws of nature are discovered, the laws of man are invented
  • knowledge is discovered, the Koran and the Bible are invented
  • human capabilities are discovered, actual behaviour can often be invented
  • the cognitive ability to relate and recognise patterns in sound is discovered, a piece of music is invented
  • language ability is discovered, languages are invented
  • new individual experiences (emotions, colours, feelings) are discovered, naming them may be inventions
  • individual learning of what is knowable but not known is discovery, creating a new word is invention
  • (Pooh learning about elephants was an invented discovery, naming them heffalumps was invention by Milne)
  • the cognitive ability to tell lies is discovered, fiction is invented
  • the human need to seek explanations is discovered, gods are invented
  • the emotional, human need for spiritualism is discovered, religions are invented
  • logic is discovered, argument is invented
  • relationships and patterns in the universe are discovered, languages to describe these are invented
  • where no man has gone before leads to discovery, naming or mapping the where is invention
  • my need for coffee is a discovery, my mug of coffee is a creation but is no invention
  • human behaviour may be discovered, “social science” is always invention
  • new geography is usually discovery and no geography can ever be invented
  • the past is immutable, history is a patchwork of discovered islands in a sea of invented narrative
  • news is discovered, fake news is invented

As a generalisation there is scientific discovery and there is artistic invention. The process of science is one of discovery and there is little ambiguity about that. The search for knowledge is about discovery and never about the invention of knowledge. That tools and instruments used for this process of discovery are often inventions is also apparent. Some ambiguity can be introduced – though I think unnecessarily – by treating postulates and hypotheses and theories as inventions in their own right. Thoughts are discovered, never invented. Any hypothesis or theory – before being put to the test – is a discovered thought, whether based on observations or not. Theories are discovered thoughts, but a conspiracy is always invented. Of course, observation (empiricism) may lead to conjecture, which may then take the form of a postulate or a theory. But there is no need for such conjectural thought to be equated with invention (though it often is).  Science discovers, engineering often invents. A good scientist discovers and uses inventions to further his discoveries. A good scientist may also be, and often is, an inventor. (Of course a great many calling themselves scientists are just bean counters and neither discover nor invent). Composers and authors and lawyers often invent. Doctors discover a patient’s ailments, a quack invents them. Most pharmaceutical companies invent drugs to suit discovered illnesses, some less ethical ones invent illnesses to suit their discovered compounds. Talent is discovered, a celebrity is invented.

Then there is the question of whether mathematics is discovered or invented. But before that we must define what it is that we are considering.

What mathematics is

Read the rest of this entry »

My morning coffee, free will and the mind-body problem

October 10, 2021

All the unknown laws of nature

It is early in the morning, and I am having my first mug of coffee today. I wonder how it arrived on the desk in front of me. Perhaps this mug of coffee today resulted unavoidably, inevitably, from the causal chain of events following a collision between two atoms 13.7 billion years ago. In a hard, deterministic world, it could not have arrived consequent to any purpose, for in such a world there can be no purpose. So, it could not possibly be that it was a conscious, abstract thought in my mind which initiated a variety of otherwise unrelated actions which led to this mug of coffee before me now. In such a world, it could not be that it was my abstract purpose alone that initiated the otherwise unrelated actions necessary to that purpose. My thoughts and perceived purpose could, in a material world, only be illusions. Perhaps if Genghis Khan had been born a day earlier, I would be having a masala chai with yak’s milk instead.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was in fact my free will, expressed as an abstract purpose, which, somehow, initiated and directed diverse interactions in the material world which resulted in my mug of coffee.

The “laws of nature” we acknowledge are restricted to the material world. They govern the behaviour of everything material (matter, energy, fields, waves, “dark” things, “strings” and even space). Interactions between the immaterial and the material are denied and therefore not subject to the laws of nature. This is a trifle self-contradictory since the laws themselves are abstract and immaterial. To claim that the laws emerge from the material world itself is somewhat specious since it requires the material world to be causeless and omniscient. It invokes simultaneously the God of Existence, his father the God of Random Events, and his uncle the God of Causality. Moreover it does not make the laws any less abstract. What then could be the unknown, causal, laws – also presumably laws of nature – which enable abstractions to cause actions in the material world and deliver my morning mug of coffee?

Wider than the mind-body problem

The mind-body problem has been a matter for philosophers for at least 2,500 years from pre-Aristotelian times.  It’s modern formulation can be traced to the writings of René Descartes, and especially the letters written to him by Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia between 1643 and 1650. She was a remarkable woman from a remarkable family, and it is her formulation which so clearly describes the issue recognised as the mind-body problem today.

She wrote, 370 years ago:

….. how the human soul can determine the movement of the animal spirits in the body so as to perform voluntary acts—being as it is merely a conscious substance. For the determination of movement seems always to come about from the moving body’s being propelled—to depend on the kind of impulse it gets from what sets it in motion, or again, on the nature and shape of this latter thing’s surface. Now the first two conditions involve contact, and the third involves that the impelling thing has extension; but you utterly exclude extension from your notion of soul, and contact seems to me incompatible with a thing’s being immaterial…

Nowadays the mind-body problem is seen as the unknown relationship between physical properties and mental properties. It is often broken down further into component parts: Read the rest of this entry »

The Maharajah – genie or phoenix?

October 9, 2021

Nationalised in 1953 with a compensation of Rs 28 million, the Maharajah has been bought free from its socialist prison for Rs 180 billion. After serving 68 years the risk is that inefficiency, incompetence and sycophancy have become habitualised and the Air India Maharajah will not be able to regain the heights.

Genie and new wonders or Phoenix destined to go down in flames and fury remains to be seen.


Passwords and passports are becoming obsolete

September 16, 2021

Passports

I have, along with citizens of over 150 countries, a biometric passport. A special camera is used to capture the biometric information at the time of passport application. Each such passport contains a chip storing standardised biometrics for facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, and iris recognition. That data is contained on the passport I carry around and show to various authorities from time to time. But all that data is also stored on the computers of the issuing authority. 

What then is the need for the passport itself?

Passing through a passport control involves some device which checks some part, or all, of my biometric information which is then matched against the information contained on the chip in the passport I am carrying. It is not checked against the original data stored when the passport was issued. Faking a passport involves matching the data on the chip to the person carrying the passport. In fact, this check only shows that the person carrying the passport matches the data on the passport. As long as the passport is genuine such a check is an identity control. But it is an indirect control. Such a check says nothing, directly, about the identity of the person carrying a passport. 

The passport itself is just a carrier of data which exists somewhere else. It’s function is only to provide a controlling authority with access to the data of the passport bearer. It will not be long before the biometrics stored by passport issuing authorities are accessible directly in the cloud for checking against the actual biometrics of a physical person. The passport itself then has no function. Technologically it is already possible to do this today. But it will need more security to prevent unauthorised access to this data and some more time before the political will to allow this exists. The real technological challenge will be to prevent the accidental or intentional corruption of the master data. Already standard, on-the-street, cameras in some Chinese cities are connected to master data bases such that the camera image (facial + motion recognition) is sufficient to match the person against the master data. 

I am who I am. I do not need a passport to tell me who I am. The personal integrity issues that are sometimes quoted against such expansion of the use of technology are spurious and misguided. 

It may not be quite in my lifetime but passports are becoming obsolete.

Passwords

Passwords are already on the way out. 

BBC

Microsoft has announced users can now delete all passwords from their accounts and instead login using an authenticator app or other solution. The technology giant made passwordless accounts available for business users of its products in March. And that system is now being made available to all Microsoft or Windows users. It said “nearly 100% of our employees” were already using the new, more secure system for their corporate accounts.

If passwordless login is enabled, users re-logging in to a Microsoft account will be asked to give their fingerprint, or other secure unlock, on their mobile phone. “Only you can provide fingerprint authentication or provide the right response on your mobile at the right time,” it said.

Windows users will still be able to use quick-login features such as a Pin code, though. Some rare exceptions will still need passwords, such as Office 2010, Xbox 360 consoles, and Windows 8.1 or earlier machines. 

……….  Security vice-president Vasu Jakkal wrote: “Passwords are incredibly inconvenient to create, remember, and manage across all the accounts in our lives. “We are expected to create complex and unique passwords, remember them, and change them frequently – but nobody likes doing that.”



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