Ex-gov’t agent: Crisis worse than 9/11 could emerge from AI arms race

The worst part of these dangers is that AI could make such attacks infinitely easier than with even advanced existing cyber hacking capabilities.

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February 12, 2019 19:55
3 minute read.
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, speaks on AI

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, speaks on artificial intelligence during a keynote address at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.. (photo credit: REUTERS/STEVE MARCUS)

 
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Winning the artificial intelligence arms (AI) race between the US, Israel and their adversaries may need to take precedent over balancing the risks at this stage, a former government agency chief technology officer has told The Jerusalem Post.


Those risks could include crises even worse than 9/11, said Amit Meltzer, now a top cybersecurity consultant.
Discussing the issue on Tuesday, merely a day after US President Donald Trump issued the first-ever executive order to bolster US efforts in the artificial intelligence arms race, he said that winning such a competition would not go well with careful oversight of negative consequences and potential abuses.


While US Senate Vice Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) applauded aspects of the order, he criticized the lack of developing oversight for the misuse of AI.
 
Warner supported the order’s provisions for opening US federal data sets to non-federal entities to enhance cooperation, but said that Trump’s order “reflects a laissez-faire approach to AI development that... will have the US repeating the mistakes it has made in treating digital technologies as inherently positive forces, with insufficient consideration paid to their misapplication.”
Meltzer called Trump’s declaration more symbolic rather than concretely operational, but said that it still was crucial “to give strong backing to academic and government institutions… which suffer from a chronic lack of personnel” and resources.


Furthermore, he said that concerns that certain companies would quickly gain domination of the AI sector and abuse their standing economically were possible.
 
But, he said that it was nearly impossible to square “the national necessity for the US” or Israel to “strengthen and maintain leadership in the industry” with policies that encourage caution and that new technologies should only be rolled out after any danger was carefully examined.


He compared the need to act with trying to keep up in the field of artificial intelligence with the US’s sale of weapons to any dictatorship that is not in a direct conflict with it, in order to make weapon development economically sustainable.


However, Meltzer said that neither Trump nor Warner honed-in on the true potential dangers of AI.


Once AI starts taking over a large number of societal functions, damage to a such a network could have far more disastrous and broader consequences and at a more rapid pace, he explained.
 
By raising the specter of a disaster the size of the stock market crash of 1987, he said that economic or social-psychological warfare influence campaigns that dwarf current threats would become possible.


Another nightmare scenario could be using an AI algorithm to make four million Toyota cars all crash at the same time worldwide, leaving countless dead and wounded in a tragedy “that would be worse than 9/11.”


The worst part of these dangers is that artificial intelligence could make such attacks infinitely easier than with advanced existing cyber hacking capabilities.


Despite these threats, he predicted that the US needs to keep up with China, Russia and Israel’s need to stay ahead of its adversaries, meaning that rapidly developing new capabilities would continue to be put before protecting civil liberties.


“Afterwards, they will fix things and ask forgiveness from the victims,” he said of moving ahead too fast without proper oversight.


One difference between the US and Israel, said Meltzer, was that Israeli AI advances are being driven by the technological industry, and less by government declarations of support such as in the US.


Instead, he said that the Israeli government could help its already flowering AI field by investing funds and subsidizing academic and experimental programs in AI.
If the government takes on this role, it could have positive impacts like it did in the past by helping the computer and satellite industries develop, he said.

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