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Founder of cybersecurity firm Acronis is afraid of his own vacuum cleaner

It is the exponential changes in the course of human history that worry Serg Bell

Acronis founder Serg Bell is afraid of his own vacuum cleaner, he told The Register in Singapore last week.

"You should be afraid of your vacuum cleaner; it's most likely made in China," said Bell, adding that the vacuum cleaner is connected to the internet, likely has a camera, a microphone, and a map of your apartment. The vacuum cleaner thus collects all of the data, allegedly for your benefit, but there's no way of knowing exactly how that data is being used and what it is ultimately capable of.

"You don't necessarily think about it, but it is a potentially significant security and privacy risk," said the former cybersecurity firm's CEO.

According to Bell, humans have a general lack of awareness of their safety, privacy, and security when it comes to the sudden proliferation of smart devices.

Humans live in the world of biological species, well designed for gradual changes over the long duration of evolution, but exponential changes are different, says the Russian-born Singaporean, and that's what worries him.

The entrepreneur elaborated:

What happens in the world of data, the world of computers, and the world of knowledge is there is a lot of exponential changes. And one of those changes is that devices are exponentially smarter every year, every month, and there is exponentially more of them. And we are exponentially more dependent on those devices.

Bell began to look around his high-rise office in Singapore's central business district pointing out all the different items in the room that are actually computers – from the television, to a phone, to a watch. But because these devices are typically in homes, said Bell, people get complacent with them and are lulled into a false sense of safety. Even worse, humanity is approaching a point where one can't function in society without them.

Case in point: the smartphone.

But about this data – will anyone ever be able to meaningfully sort through the mass quantities being generated?

Yes, said Bell, thanks to machine intelligence, which is only expected to accelerate in capability and accessibility:

You run the machine intelligence on a fast enough compute cluster, which is readily available. And then you can extract it. So the idea that nobody has time is no longer correct.

The machine has time, and it's very cheap. And it's getting cheaper every day.

He also feels metaverse hype may be overblown, because we're already in it, referring to it as "the sixth sense of the body."

"We are living in the metaverse in the fact that we're digitally connected," said Bell, pointing out that he can call his fiancée while she's shopping in a building nearby or his daughter in Switzerland in an instant, although it's not yet mainstream to be represented by avatars sitting in digital chairs.

Bell gave up his role as CEO of Acronis in 2021 and now serves as the company's chief research officer and executive board member where he controls vision, strategy, and the board.

His overall vision is for Acronis to become an institution, like IBM or Google, complete with oodles of patents and charity endeavors, like building schools in rural areas of Southeast Asia, and teaching cyberskills to inmates exiting Singapore's Changi prison.

The company is also affiliated with a private non-profit computer and software science institute in Switzerland. The Schaffhausen Institute of Technology (SIT) was founded by Bell in 2019, the same year the company rose to unicorn status thanks to a $147 million funding round led by Goldman Sachs. ®

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