Fear of AI could pose the biggest cyber risk of all

By Mika Lauhde

Quick, think of a scary technology – one with the potential to enslave humankind or destroy the earth.

Did you think of AI?

Few other technologies generate the fear factor of artificial intelligence. Ever since Alan Turing introduced the idea in 1948, people have wondered what would happen if machines outsmarted their creators and took charge of the planet.

Legal protections could avert such a calamity, and the first AI regulations have been published and are awaiting public comment. But some of these draft rules set impossibly high standards. For example, a proposed EU regulation on AI released this year requires that all data sets used for machine learning be “free from error.”

Few data sets are. A recent MIT review of 10 major data sets found an average error rate of 3.4%, which translates into tens of thousands of errors, including mislabeled images, text, and audio.

Tech companies are already expressing concern about the EU regulations. Google was diplomatic, saying the company “is concerned that the opportunity cost of not using AI is not sufficiently reflected in policy debates.” 

It’s understandable that legislators are cautious. But excessive caution creates another risk: that while “bad guys” move full speed ahead to use AI for malign purposes, “good guys” proceed carefully, waiting until every last lawmaker, skeptic, and late adopter is fully convinced that AI is should be trusted rather than feared. If we take this two-track approach – bad actors moving quickly while good ones drag their feet – the results could be grim.

Hackers are already using AI to create botnets, guess passwords, break CAPTCHA systems, make illegal robocalls, and engage in other forms of cyber mischief. They don’t care about collateral damage, and they don’t need to think about certification, testing, or regulatory compliance. Unfortunately, this means that right now, bad people are using AI in more advanced and innovative ways than good people are. That will likely cause some – perhaps many – to distrust AI even more than they do now.

But good actors outnumber bad ones, and over the long term, the odds are high that AI will be…