Top experts warn against ‘malicious use’ of AI

In this file photo taken on February 15, 2018 US Defence Minister James Mattis reacts as he delivers a speech during a press conference on the second day of Defence Ministers Council meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Top experts warn against ‘malicious use’ of AI

PARIS: Artificial intelligence could be deployed by dictators, criminals and terrorists to manipulate elections and use drones in terrorist attacks, more than two dozen experts said Wednesday as they sounded the alarm over misuse of the technology.
In a 100-page analysis, they outlined a rapid growth in cybercrime and the use of “bots” to interfere with news gathering and penetrate social media among a host of plausible scenarios in the next five to 10 years.
“Our report focuses on ways in which people could do deliberate harm with AI,” said Sean O hEigeartaigh, Executive Director of the Cambridge Center for the Study of Existential Risk.
“AI may pose new threats, or change the nature of existing threats, across cyber-, physical, and political security,” he told AFP.
The common practice, for example, of “phishing” — sending emails seeded with malware or designed to finagle valuable personal data — could become far more dangerous, the report detailed.
Currently, attempts at phishing are either generic but transparent — such as scammers asking for bank details to deposit an unexpected windfall — or personalized but labor intensive — gleaning personal data to gain someone’s confidence, known as “spear phishing.”
“Using AI, it might become possible to do spear phishing at scale by automating a lot of the process” and making it harder to spot, O hEigeartaigh noted.
In the political sphere, unscrupulous or autocratic leaders can already use advanced technology to sift through mountains of data collected from omnipresent surveillance networks to spy on their own people.
“Dictators could more quickly identify people who might be planning to subvert a regime, locate them, and put them in prison before they act,” the report said.
Likewise, targeted propaganda along with cheap, highly believable fake videos have become powerful tools for manipulating public opinion “on previously unimaginable scales.”
An indictment handed down by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller last week detailed a vast operation to sow social division in the United States and influence the 2016 presidential election in which so-called “troll farms” manipulated thousands of social network bots, especially on Facebook and Twitter.
Another danger zone on the horizon is the proliferation of drones and robots that could be repurposed to crash autonomous vehicles, deliver missiles, or threaten critical infrastructure to gain ransom.

“Personally, I am particularly worried about autonomous drones being used for terror and automated cyberattacks by both criminals and state groups,” said co-author Miles Brundage, a researcher at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute.
The report details a plausible scenario in which an office-cleaning SweepBot fitted with a bomb infiltrates the German finance ministry by blending in with other machines of the same make.
The intruding robot behaves normally — sweeping, cleaning, clearing litter — until its hidden facial recognition software spots the minister and closes in.
“A hidden explosive device was triggered by proximity, killing the minister and wounding nearby staff,” according to the sci-fi storyline.
“This report has imagined what the world could look like in the next five to 10 years,” O hEigeartaigh said.
“We live in a world fraught with day-to-day hazards from the misuse of AI, and we need to take ownership of the problems.”
The authors called on policy makers and companies to make robot-operating software unhackable, to impose security restrictions on some research, and to consider expanding laws and regulations governing AI development.
Giant high-tech companies — leaders in AI — “have lots of incentives to make sure that AI is safe and beneficial,” the report said.
Another area of concern is the expanded use of automated lethal weapons.
Last year, more than 100 robotics and AI entrepreneurs — including Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking — petitioned the United Nations to ban autonomous killer robots, warning that the digital-age weapons could be used by terrorists against civilians.
“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” after the invention of machine guns and the atomic bomb, they warned in a joint statement, also signed by Google DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman.
“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
Contributors to the new report — entitled “The Malicious Use of AI: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation” — also include experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for a New American Security, and OpenAI, a leading non-profit research company.
“Whether AI is, all things considered, helpful or harmful in the long run is largely a product of what humans choose to do, not the technology itself,” said Brundage.


Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

  • Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people
  • Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more

SEATTLE: From the kitchen to the car, Amazon on Thursday sought to make its Alexa digital assistant and online services a bigger part of people’s lives with an array of new products and partnerships.
Updates to the Internet giant’s Alexa-infused Echo smart speakers will allow them to tend to microwave cooking and even have “hunches” regarding what users may want or have forgotten.
When Alexa is told “corn on the cob,” a digital Echo speaker starts an AmazonBasics microwave oven in a faux home demonstration room, setting the preferred time and voicing what it is doing.
But when asked to add 30 seconds, Alexa paused and then started to play songs by the band “Thirty Seconds to Mars.”
Such misunderstandings are routine enough with smart speakers that they have become fodder for humor, and even cropped up while Amazon devices and services senior vice president David Limp showed off new devices in a nearby building a short time earlier.
Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people, according to Limp.Alexa is even developing a personality, complete with a favorite pet or beer.
It has also learned to understand whispers, responding in equally hushed tones in a feature to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Amazon on Thursday teased a coming feature called Alexa Hunches that is designed to infuse the digital assistant with intuition. For example, when a user bids Alexa a good night, it might respond by mentioning they forgot to lock a door.
Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more. To know what is happening with other smart devices in a home, the Echo speaker needs to be connected to them.
Amazon recently passed the 20,000 mark for smart home devices made by the Seattle-based company or partners.
“We are really at a tipping point for the smart home,” Limp said while unveiling a cornucopia of new devices.
An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original.
Amazon added Echo equivalents of stereo components for home sound systems, along with improvements to its online music service, with partners including Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer.
Limp unveiled a “frustration free setup” platform intended to grow into a framework that any smart device maker can use to make getting gadgets to talk to Alexa as easy as plugging them into an outlet.
“That is not going to happen overnight,” Limp said. “As we imagine a future that has thousands of these devices in your home, this is going to become absolutely essential.”
And, of course, there was the $60 microwave, which Limp contended was a strong test because of how much microwaves interfere with wireless connectivity used by devices to communicate.
A freshly announced Alexa Guard service synchronizes with Echo speakers in the home and security cameras from Amazon-owned smart doorbell maker Ring.
When Echo speakers are set to guard mode, they listen for breaking glass or the sound of alarms from smoke or carbon dioxide detectors and send alerts to smartphones or even security companies.
Ring cameras can also be connected to Echo devices with screens, letting people see who has come calling, demonstrations showed.
A new Echo Show device boasted twice the screen display area as its predecessor, and Fire TV Recast that acts as a digital recorder for traditional television broadcasts.
Not satisfied with being built into new cars, Alexa will be able to work in older models with an Echo Auto device that can be affixed to dashboards and reach the Internet through smartphones.
“Amazon launched today what I believe is the industry’s largest assortment of home automation products and added meaningful improvements to its services,” said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy.
“The company once again separated itself again in the smart home space from both Google and Apple by adding new devices and capabilities.”