Indian-American brothers look to harness artificial intelligence for greater good

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 on Wednesday, 21 February 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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Indian-American brothers look to harness artificial intelligence for greater good

SAN FRANCISCO: As debate swirls on whether artificial intelligence will be a boon or a curse for humanity, two Indian-American entrepreneur brothers are out to ensure the emerging technologies don’t just benefit the richest in society.
Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani this week launched what is billed as the world’s first nonprofit institute dedicated to putting AI to work improving lives of poor farmers, rural health care workers or teachers in communities with scant resources.
“AI will go where AI will go; it is difficult to predict where,” Sunil Wadhwani said of the conflicting views on the emergence of computers more brilliant than their human creators.
“Our focus is how many tens of millions of lives can we improve in the next five or 10 years. Where AI goes in 100 years, it will go.”
The entrepreneur brothers, who have a series of lucrative startups to their name, have committed $30 million over 10 years to the Wadhwani AI institute, established in Mumbai with the Indian government as a partner.
Areas targeted at the outset will include health care, education, agriculture and urban infrastructure.
The project’s founders hope AI could help nurses in rural areas with diagnoses, advise how to optimize crops, translate text books into various languages as needed or even spot signs students might be on paths to dropping out.
“AI is a game-changing technology,” said Sunil Wadhwani, who is based in Pittsburgh as a trustee for Carnegie Mellon University.
“A lot of developing countries are getting left behind; US and China are leapfrogging ahead.”
Students from New York University and the University of Southern California will travel to Mumbai to collaborate, while the brothers also plan to partner with players in Silicon Valley, where Romesh Wadhwani is based.
The ethical issues raised by AI — from its potential to destroy jobs to the power it could exert over people’s lives — will be front of mind, according to institute chief P. Anandan, a former Microsoft Research director.
“It has the potential to be used badly, or run away on its own,” Anandan said of AI.
“At the end of the day, you are going to manage that by being aware of it from the start and applying it where intentions are good.”

Internet giants have been investing heavily in creating software to help machines think more like people, boosted by super-fast computer processing power and access to mountains of data to analyze.
AI has been put to work in the form of virtual aides, for recognizing people’s friends in photos, fighting “fake news,” stymying the online spread of violent extremist messages and more.
But the rise of artificial intelligence brings mighty new challenges too, and the new initiative coincides with the release of a report by AI scholars warning the technology has the potential to be exploited for nefarious purposes.
“These technologies have many widely beneficial applications,” said the study produced by the Future of Humanity Institute, the nonprofit group OpenAI and others.
“Less attention has historically been paid to the ways in which artificial intelligence can be used maliciously.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which took part in the study, expressed concern that “increasingly sophisticated AI will usher in a world that is strange and different from the one we’re used to, and there are serious risks if this technology is used for the wrong ends.”
High-profile figures who have expressed fears about the potential dangers of AI include tech visionary and innovator Elon Musk.
SpaceX founder and Tesla chief executive Musk in 2015 took part in creating the research organization OpenAI, which aims to develop artificial intelligence that helps rather than hurts people.
Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Google-owned British AI firm DeepMind are also members of a nonprofit “Partnership on AI” which seeks to promote the technology’s use “to benefit people and society.”
Sunil Wadhwani has meanwhile promised an “aggressive” timeline at the brothers’ eponymous institute, with testing of potential AI tools starting by the end of this year.


Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles. (Supplied)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Warning issued over attacks on Internet infrastructure

  • The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East

SAN FRANCISCO: Key parts of the Internet infrastructure face large-scale attacks that threaten the global system of web traffic, the Internet’s address keeper warned Friday.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declared after an emergency meeting “an ongoing and significant risk” to key parts of the infrastructure that affects the domains on which websites reside.
“They are going after the Internet infrastructure itself,” ICANN chief technology officer David Conrad told AFP.
“There have been targeted attacks in the past, but nothing like this.”
The attacks date back as far as 2017 but have sparked growing concerns from security researchers in recent weeks, which prompted the special meeting of ICANN.
The malicious activity targets the Domain Name System or DNS which routes traffic to intended online destinations.
ICANN specialists and others say these attacks have a potential to snoop on data along the way, sneakily send the traffic elsewhere or enable the attackers to impersonate or “spoof” critical websites.
“There isn’t a single tool to address this,” Conrad said, as ICANN called for an overall hardening of web defenses.
US authorities issued a similar warning last month about the DNS attacks.
“This is roughly equivalent to someone lying to the post office about your address, checking your mail, and then hand delivering it to your mailbox,” the US Department of Homeland Security said in a recent cybersecurity alert.
“Lots of harmful things could be done to you (or the senders) depending on the content of that mail.”

DNSpionage attacks might date back to at least 2017, according to FireEye senior manager of cyber espionage analysis Ben Read.
The list of targets included website registrars and Internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East.
“We’ve seen primarily targeting of email names and passwords,” Read said of what is being dubbed “DNSpionage.”
“There is evidence that it is coming out of Iran and being done in support of Iran.”
ICANN held an emergency meeting and is putting out word to website and online traffic handlers to ramp up security or leave users vulnerable to being tricked into trusting the wrong online venues.
DNSpionage hackers appeared intent on stealing account credentials, such as email passwords, in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to Crowdstrike cybersecurity firm vice president of intelligence Adam Meyers.
Similar attacks took place in Europe and other parts of the Middle East, with targets including governments, intelligence services, police, airlines, and the oil industry, cybersecurity specialists said.
“You definitely need knowledge of how the Internet works you and have to handle a lot of traffic being directed to you,” Meyers said of the DNSpionage hackers.
“With that access, they could temporarily break portions of how the Internet works. They chose to intercept and spy on folks.”