Archive | October 2014

The Threat of Artificial Intelligence

What is the Internet of Things? I have been trying to answer this question for almost a year, as it is a term that is thrown around excessively in my media degree. At its most basic level, I understand that the Internet of Things relates to any tangible device with the ability to connect to the Internet, however the term refers to much more than this.

‘The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction’ (Rouse, 2014). It is the idea of taking the person out of the connection sequence that intrigues me most. Can technology, and advances in technology replace human intelligence?

The knowledge that technology and machines run off is often referred to as Artificial Intelligence (A.I). Primarily, Artificial Intelligence is the set rules in programme coding, which instructs and enables a software or hardware, to identify and sequence or pattern through detection, and then to respond according to a pre-programmed prescribed action (Shah, 2014). Artificial Intelligence aims to make machines think like humans, but with the complexity of the human brain, surely this is not possible.

While I am not an Artificial Intelligence guru, I will try my best to present you with a number of views surrounding it.

Machines Will Steal Your Job

This is perhaps the most popular perspective I have found upon exploring Artificial Intelligence. It appears as though many people fear losing their job to a piece of technology. This fear is not irrational, as history has proven this as a reality already. In the 1980’s mid-level draftsmen were replaced by software, in the 1800’s British textile artisans were replaced by mechanised looms, and countless cash register staff are now being replaced by self-serve counters.

Research conducted by Pew Research, interviewed over 2000 A.I experts, and found that while 52% are optimistic that Artificial Intelligence will grow to be a positive thing between now and 2025, the remaining 48% worried for the future. However, all agreed that ‘the displacement of work by robots and AI is going to continue, and accelerate, over the coming decade’ (Hern, 2014).

Artificial Intelligence Cannot Replace Humans

The human brain thinks in a non-linear fashion, and can therefore deduce non-linear time and life. Harish Shah suggests that ‘technology was always with limits, and those limits are permanent‘ (2014). Long running cognitive research has shown that ‘cognitive consciousness requires a physical organic biological body’, something that technology simply lacks. While a computer can store more data, and make faster calculations, you cannot programme consciousness or intuition or spontaneity into any piece of technology, a limit that will forever differentiate the value of human intelligence, when compared to artificial intelligence.

Artificial and Human Intelligence Live in Harmony

This is the perspective that I align myself with. While I am aware that machines have and will always replace human jobs and roles, there are strong limitations with technology as suggested above. Where humans have emotion and sensitivity, technology does not, and these are things that cannot be taught. The displacement of work by robots, however, may not be entirely negative. Take for example military robots. These ‘“unmanned systems” are better suited than human soldiers for “dull, dirty or dangerous missions”‘ (Myers, 2009), and the introduction of them a few years ago has resolved the problem of fatigued crew members, and casualties from failed bomb defusions. Where risk and discomfort are eliminated for humans, I believe that technology has an obligation to replace these roles.

While the Internet of Things, and its growing popularity, threatens the jobs of many blue and white collar workers, it should be a thing explored and understood, rather than feared.

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Botnets (and a few other absurdities)

When faced with the word, ‘botnet’, I had no idea of what it was, what it meant, or if it was going to intrigue me enough to write about it, regardless of this I set out to enlighten myself, and committed to writing about this mysterious word.

Turns out the term is actually a combination of the words ‘robot’ and ‘network’, which makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. Typically, bots are used by criminals who ‘distribute malicious software (also known as malware) that can turn your computer into a bot (also known as a zombie)’ (Microsoft, 2014). When this happens, these little bots can make your computer perform automated tasks on the Internet without you even knowing. When there are a number of infected computers, a network is formed, and in turn, the birth of a botnet. A botnet is also known as a zombie army, which sounds pretty cool (we were all thinking it), however they are far more dangerous than cool, and ‘according to a report from Russian-based Kaspersky Labs, botnets — not spam, viruses, or worms — currently pose the biggest threat to the Internet’ (Rouse, 2012).

The person who coordinates this sort of attack is referred to as the zombie master, and their motives are often based on desiring to cripple their competitors, or to make money. In order to do the first, the zombie master would configure a DDoS attack, whereby the botnet is programmed to redirect ‘transmissions to a specific computer, such as a Web site that can be closed down by having to handle too much traffic’ (Rouse, 2012). In order to achieve making money, the zombie master might send spam, or attempt to steal personal and private information including credit card numbers or bank credentials. Both means rely on having access to an unprotected computer, so make sure you’re firewall is updated and prepared for battle!

While botnets can be quite vicious, something I found quite comical was that amidst my attempts to learn about botnets, I came across a number of tutorials on how to create bots! It’s like having a free manual on how to rob a bank distributed outside the bank, it seemed absurd. Then it dawned on me, our entire world is becoming more and more absurd with every new piece of technology introduced.

Take for example the Internet of Things, a concept I will be exploring next week. Between 23 December 2013 and 6 January 2014, Proofpoint researchers detected a specific botnet that was aggressively mailing malicious spam three times a day. “A more detailed examination suggested that while the majority of mail was initiated by “expected” IoT [Internet of Things] devices such as compromised home-networking devices (routers, NAS), there was a significant percentage of attack mail coming from other non-traditional sources, such as connected multi-media centers, televisions and at least one refrigerator.”

A fridge was under the control of a zombie master, and was sending spam! What is this world coming to?

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Forever an Enigma

To save giving an extensive outline of what WikiLeaks is exactly perhaps you should watch this:

The eternal argument that exists is whether WikiLeaks is beneficial to society? Is complete transparency, in regards to the Government, international warfare, politics and a myriad of other things, going to bring positive effects for members of society?

This all leads to the point of transparency, and in regards to WikiLeaks, questions the benefit of the complete disclosure of all information. Mark Fenster addresses this in his report, ‘Disclosure’s Effects‘. He observes that the disclosure of information can have transformative effects, both negative and positive. ‘Disclosure can inform, enlighten, and energize the public, or it can create great harm or stymie government operations‘ (Fenster, 2011). While he offers a quite objective opinion on the impact of disclosure, Fenster does not agree that WikiLeaks fosters, or encourages transparency, rather that it threatens transparency.

In relation to the government, transparency does not actually mean total openness, with every card at hand shown publicly. Government transparency refers more to ‘demonstrating that decisions are fact-based and use complete, relevant data‘. With this in mind, transparency can promote ‘accountability and provide information for citizens about what their government is doing’.

WikiLeaks is viewed as the forefront of catalysing the creation of a completely transparent government structure in many nations, including Australia, however the kind of transparency that WikiLeaks aims for can be incredibly destructive, and looks more like a teenager spreading rumours, as opposed to it being a pathway to accountability. This is perhaps why I can not simply accept WikiLeaks as a knight in shining armour, here to enlighten the public sphere of all the dark secrets the government has kept locked away. The transparency that Fenster speaks of involves a two-sided balance, and WikiLeaks disturbs transparency’s balance.

The US government has long-relied on the ‘mosaic theory’ to excuse and justify withholding unclassified information from those who request it. According to this theory, ‘bits of unclassified and seemingly innocuous information may threaten national security when they are pieced together in a broad compilation or “mosaic”‘.

Alongside this view is that of writer, Jason Pontin, who argues ‘neither innovations, nor art, nor contracts, nor representative government, nor marriages, nor many other valuable things would exist without secrets’. This is a notion I agree with. While the word ‘secrets’ has a destructive stigma attached to it, I believe that secrets in one area create value in another, because if everyone knew everything, there would be no value, or power, in knowledge.

Although I seem to have taken a stance opposing WikiLeaks (something I was attempting not to do), the truth is that I feel as though the classified information that has been leaked in the past has caused nothing but angst and upset in the public sphere, and Assange even admits his intent ‘to induce fear and paranoia in … [the] leadership and planning coterie‘. Surely this is not a valid reason to upset the balance that the government are trying so hard to maintain.

It appears that WikiLeaks ‘seeks to advance an agenda of self-aggrandizement at the expense of U.S. interests, with reckless disregard for the consequences of its actions’ and ‘there is a difference between holding government accountable for its decisions and holding government officials hostage to their words’. Although, the real truth behind whether WikiLeaks is a positive platform for society will forever remain an enigma in my mind.

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