The Torchwood Option

Looking ahead at tonight’s television schedules set me thinking about Torchwood and how we could exploit this concept. I don’t mean the alien stuff but rather the idea of establishing a free-thinking institute to address the extraordinary security problems that we are likely to face in the future. After all we face some big challenges and there’s nowhere near as much research going on as there used to be. It’s largely dried up in most large organisations, and what’s left tends to be focused largely on short-term product development. Most of out military research has turned into a commercial services company and our universities seem more interested in setting up start-up technology companies with fast exit strategies. MIT Media Lab is a fun research concept but it lacks real business focus, relying primarily on serendipity, the outside chance that a passing business visitor might charm a researcher into tackling something from the real world. Most other stuff going is “themed”, i.e. anything can be done provided it relates to a fashionable subject area. (“Human factors” is this season’s security theme.) Personally, I’ve always found that research is most productive when focused on real business problems, but with the freedom to explore any avenue that might bear fruit. I recall that my best security researcher in Royal Mail Group used to have a sign on his desk saying “If I knew what I was looking for it wouldn’t be research.” But he did solve our problems.

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