Prevent malicious use of AI, say Oxford, Cambridge, Yale

Academics from Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale universities have united with OpenAI, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and security experts to warn of the dangers of AI being used to attack individuals, organisations, and countries. Chris Middleton reports.

If world events have taught us anything in recent years, it’s that it is getting harder to tell fact from fiction. As technology forges ahead, flat-earthers and their like abound, dismissing verifiable science as fake or conspiracy.

But something else should be equally clear: malicious actors, such as hostile nations, agencies, or groups, are no longer merely interested in hacking our IT systems, but are also determined to use IT to hack our value systems, forcing us to question everything we think we know as a society.

In theory, artificial intelligence (AI) is designed to help us uncover hidden truths or patterns of behaviour. It’s 2018’s must-have technology, with industry giants such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Apple,, and JDA competing to not only add AI to their portfolios, but also to refocus themselves on the technology.

Hostile forces

Applications are legion and most are beneficial. Yet while AI is booming alongside robotics and other connected technologies, far less attention is being paid to how these innovations might be deployed maliciously, warns a new report.

Drones and autonomous vehicles attacking people, AIs programming other AIs, and the creation of fake images, videos, and audio recordings are all among the predictions made in the report, which warns that technology’s ability to work much faster than human beings could make attacks hard to predict and to fend off.

The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence is no lightweight survey designed to shift product; this is a high-level, 101-page international study by, among others, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Center for a New American Security, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, OpenAI, and Yale University.

The report proposes better ways to forecast, prevent, and mitigate the potential threats, and focuses on what types of attack we’re likely to see if adequate defences are not developed soon.

From a security angle, a number of technology innovations are of particular interest, it says. For instance, machine learning’s ability to recognise a target’s face and navigate through space could be applied to autonomous weapons.

Similarly, the ability to generate synthetic images, text, and audio could be used to impersonate people online, or to sway public opinion by distributing AI-generated content through social media channels. For example, the video below was created last year by a different group of researchers to demonstrate just how easily content can already be faked.

In some circumstances, these developments could even threaten the concept of prima facie legal evidence. The ability to fake camera footage risks counting as reasonable doubt in criminal cases.

Trumped-up protests?

Some of the report’s predictions may already have come true.

AI: Threat to prima facie evidence?

Whatever the outcome of investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election, it has already been shown that troll farms and other automated systems have been used to sow political dissent on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms.

In many cases these attacks have been designed to ramp up hostility towards minority or political groups, or to push for causes as varied as Brexit, Texan secession, white supremacy, and anti-NFL protests. Taken together, these incidents can be interpreted as being part of a concerted campaign to destabilise tolerant, diverse, and socially liberal viewpoints.

Of course, the technologies could equally be deployed in reverse to destabilise hostile regimes, but that surely proves the point: they may be used in anger by any individual, organisation, or state, and so the risk is real, political, and in need of urgent consideration by policymakers.

“These technical developments can also be viewed as early indicators of the potential of AI,” says the report of the general and anticipated trend in malicious AI deployment. “It will not be surprising if AI systems soon become competent at an even wider variety of security-relevant tasks.”

Miles Brundage, research fellow at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, said: “AI will alter the landscape of risk for citizens, organisations and states – whether it’s criminals training machines to hack or ‘phish’ at human levels of performance, or privacy-eliminating surveillance, profiling and repression, the full range of impacts on security is vast.”

In 2016, the Institute’s Dr Anders Sandberg hit the headlines when he said, “If you can describe your job, then it can – and will – be automated”, adding that up to 47 percent of all jobs will be carried out by machines in the years ahead.

Brundage continues, “It is often the case that AI systems don’t merely reach human levels of performance, but significantly surpass it. It is troubling, but necessary, to consider the implications of superhuman hacking, surveillance, persuasion, and physical target identification, as well as AI capabilities that are subhuman but nevertheless much more scalable than human labour.”

A call to action

His Cambridge counterpart, Dr Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, added: “Our report is a call to action for governments, institutions, and individuals across the globe.

“For many decades, hype outstripped fact in terms of AI and machine learning. No longer. This report looks at the practices that just don’t work anymore, and suggests broad approaches that might help. For example, how to design software and hardware to make it less hackable, and what type of laws and international regulations might work in tandem with this.”

As AI capabilities become more powerful and widespread, the authors expect the growing use of AI systems to lead to the following changes in the threat landscape:

  • Expansion of existing threats. The costs of attacks may be lowered by the scalable use of AI systems to complete tasks that would ordinarily require human labour, intelligence, and expertise. “A natural effect would be to expand the set of actors who can carry out particular attacks, the rate at which they can carry out these attacks, and the set of potential targets,” says the report.
  • Introduction of new threats. New attacks may arise through the use of AI systems to complete tasks that would otherwise be impractical for humans. “In addition, malicious actors may exploit the vulnerabilities of AI systems deployed by defenders,” it adds.
  • Change to the character of threats. “We believe there is reason to expect attacks enabled by the growing use of AI to be especially effective, finely targeted, difficult to attribute, and likely to exploit vulnerabilities in AI systems,” say the authors.

Read more: IoT ramps up cyber security risk, says in-depth report


So what can be done about what appears to be big bang of cyber risk? The report makes four high-level recommendations:

  1. Policymakers should collaborate with technical researchers to investigate, prevent, and mitigate any potentially malicious uses of AI.
  2. AI researchers and engineers should take the dual-use nature of their work seriously, allowing the risk of misuse to influence research priorities. More, they should proactively reach out to “relevant actors” when harmful applications are foreseen.
  3. Best practices should be identified in other research areas, such as computer security, and these should be imported into AI research.
  4. [Governments and industry should] seek to expand the range of stakeholders and domain experts involved in discussing all of these challenges.

In addition to these high-level recommendations, the report also proposes exploring a number of “open questions and potential interventions” within four key research areas:-

  • Learning from, and with, the cybersecurity community. At the “intersection of cybersecurity and AI attacks”, the authors highlight the need to explore and implement red teaming, formal verification, responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities, new security tools, and more secure hardware.
  • Exploring different openness models. As the dual-use nature of AI and  machine learning becomes apparent, the report highlights the need to rethink traditional concepts about openness in research. This should start with pre-publication risk assessments, and follow up with licensing, sharing regimes that favour safety and security, and other lessons from dual-use technologies.
  • Promoting a culture of responsibility. AI researchers and the organisations that employ them are in a unique position to shape the security landscape of the AI-enabled world. The report highlights the importance of education, ethical statements and standards, and discussing society’s expectations of research workers.
  • Developing technological and policy solutions. In addition to all of the above, the report looks at a range of promising technologies, as well as policy interventions, that could help build a safer future with AI. Full details of these can be found in the document

High-level areas for further research include: privacy protection; the coordinated use of AI for public-good security; monitoring of AI-relevant resources; and other legislative and regulatory responses.

These proposed interventions require attention and action – not just from AI researchers and companies, but also from legislators, civil servants, regulators, security researchers, and educators, says the report, before adding, “The challenge is daunting and the stakes are high”.

Internet of Business says

We welcome this extraordinary document and, alarming though it may be, endorse its findings.

However, some of the conclusions are depressing, not least of which is that the international, collaborative, open nature of academic research may be threatened by these recommendations – which would be ironic, given its deep academic origins. Forcing some aspects of AI research into more secure silos is a controversial idea, but one that comes with OpenAI’s implicit backing.

Last year, the RSA’s Age of Automation report echoed at least one of the findings of this document, saying that AI developers should pledge themselves to ethical development by signing the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath.

But it must be said that some of the dangers of AI do not come from without, but from within.

Some organisations’ rush to apply AI as a tactical tool, rather than as a strategic business support technology, is troubling. Black-box solutions are inscrutable – and in that sense unaccountable – while the potential uses of AI to automate fraud, or (sometimes unconsciously) bias and discrimination are very real. This separate report (by IoB’s Chris Middleton) explores this in detail.

Users should not only consider deployments carefully in support of strategic goals, but also check their assumptions at the door.

Download the full report here.

Read more: Vodafone to trial air traffic control system for drones

Read more: Retail IoT: Shoppers demand AI, VR, and a better fit online

Read more: Glassbeam AI for health tech systems could cure expensive ailments

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NHS in Merseyside sets sights on digital innovation

More than a decade on from IT centralisation and the selection of Sunrise as a platform partner, NHS Informatics Merseyside and Sunrise are partnering up again for automation and innovation.

The search for marginal gains and efficiencies has long been part of the UK government’s wider strategy for the NHS. That process has resulted in the centralisation of IT services for several NHS Trusts.

A notable example is the formation of Informatics Merseyside which, with the support of service management solution provider Sunrise, now has 18,000 users, handles 132,000 requests a year, and provides round-the-clock support to specialist NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups, general practitioners and professional bodies in the Liverpool area.  

Read more: Flexible wearables: a game-changer for connected healthcare

Integrating new channels

The majority of support requests are currently made either by phone or through webforms. But Informatics Merseyside plans to integrate new communication methods, including live chat, as part of the Sunrise’s incident management process. The result will be real-time support that allows NHS staff to get to the root of issues, fast.

Sunrise’s platform has already shown adaptability for several Informatics Merseyside projects focused on automation. These include a password reset function, which allows Sunrise to authenticate users directly. It’s also displayed in the immediate, automatic permission given when NHS staff need to access particular folders on NHS Trust systems. Previously, such requests took a full working day to go through.

Another digital initiative underway between Informatics Merseyside and Sunrise is attempting to emulate the consumer online shopping experience, but for NHS IT staff. A new portal will enable users to select the software, hardware and services they need to build a business case, while automatically recommending additional products in line with their needs.

Read more: AI diagnostics could save NHS millions, Ultromics claims

Automation gives staff more time

David Gordon, head of IT service operations at Informatics Merseyside, suggests that the push for automation is symptomatic of a change of culture in the NHS. 

“As with the entire NHS, we have a focus on efficiency, and Sunrise enables us to automate many of our processes, giving staff time to handle more complex, more challenging jobs where they can really add value”, he said.

“Our Shift Left strategy aims to automate activities, freeing up service desk time. Sunrise has helped drive a cultural change within the organisation, allowing us to innovate and deliver the easy experience that our increasingly digital customers expect, whatever their needs.”

Internet of Business says

According to surveys, the combination of automation and innovation appears to be working. Informatics Merseyside reports a 98 percent customer satisfaction level with its service desk.

Geoff Rees, director of business services and sales at Sunrise, believes that Informatics Merseyside is a good example of a service desk moving from reactive to proactive. 

“The role of the service desk is changing rapidly – moving from reactive incident management to proactively supporting a better, consumer-led experience for all users,” he said.

“The success of Informatics Merseyside in extending the services it offers into areas such as online shopping, live chat and automation, based on our platform, demonstrates how the service desk can accelerate digital innovation, benefiting the entire organisation.”

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Flexible wearables: a game-changer for connected healthcare

At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, researchers are using wearable sensors to track the rehabilitation progress of stroke sufferers.

Flexible wearables are changing the face of connected healthcare in Chicago. At the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in the city, researchers are using wearable sensors to track the rehabilitation progress of stroke sufferers.

The stretchable devices have been developed at Northwestern University to be subtle, comfortable, and non-invasive. Given the physical nature of stroke rehabilitation, these are important properties.

The latest addition to Professor John A. Rogers’ stretchable electronics portfolio at the university is a sensor designed to be worn on the throat. With it, doctors can keep tabs on the development of patients’ swallowing ability and speech patterns.

Read more: Perfect storm blows healthtech towards IoT cures

A full-body, real-time picture

Recovering from a stroke is a complex and arduous process, and each patient requires specialised support throughout it. Motor skills often need to be reacquired, and many patients suffer from aphasia, or difficulty speaking.

Coordinating this type of care and rehabilitation isn’t easy, particularly as round-the-clock tracking has been impossible without a tangle of wires, which could be hazardous to the patient’s recovery.

“If you look at what’s in the hospital today, most of the sensors require wires connected to external boxes of electronics. That’s great if you’re in a hospital bed, but if you want to go home it’s just not compatible with daily activity,” said Rogers.

His team’s stretchable wearables are changing that dynamic, empowering both doctors and patients with precise data from all over the body, without the need for wires. “It really allows you to track the patient continuously, but in a way that’s not disruptive,” he said.

Read more: Self-healing electronic skin brings cyborgs closer to reality

Read more: L’Oreal helps customers tackle skin cancer risk with wearable sensor

No recovery drop-off with flexible sensors

The new throat sensor is essentially an electronic band-aid. The only difference is that it quantitatively measures the patients’ swallowing ability and speech patterns, which in turn can help with the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia.

Traditional speech therapy tools, such as microphones, aren’t smart enough to distinguish between patients’ voices and background noise.

“Our sensors solve that problem by measuring the vibrations of the vocal cords,” Rogers said. “But they only work when worn directly on the throat, which is a very sensitive area of the skin. We developed novel materials for this sensor, which bend and stretch with the body, minimising discomfort to patients.”

At Chicago’s Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the new throat sensors are being used in conjunction with a range of other electronic biosensors developed in Rogers’ lab. Together, they send data from the legs, arms, and chest, streaming data wirelessly to clinicians in real time.

“One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Arun Jayaraman, a research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

“With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients.”

All of the data collected from Rogers’ stretchable sensors is presented in a dashboard overview. Goals can be set, progress tracked, and alerts created to warn doctors if patients are underperforming against key recovery metrics.

The technology is extending the stroke rehabilitation process beyond the confines of the treatment centre. “Talking with friends and family at home is a completely different dimension from what we do in therapy,” said Leora Cherney, an expert in aphasia treatment from the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

“Having a detailed understanding of patients’ communication habits outside of the clinic helps us develop better strategies with our patients to improve their speaking skills and speed up their recovery process.”

Internet of Business says

The past few months have seen a range of new IoT technologies that shift the sector beyond its industrial, urban, and domestic heartlands, and into areas that are more personal to human beings. These technologies redefine the concept of wearable devices: an exciting development, particularly in health tech, which is sometimes criticised for developing impersonal devices. These are systems that not only stress and support the patients’ humanity, but in some cases help them to recover or rediscover their true selves.

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Microgrids could hold key to hurricane recovery – and energy resilience

Microgrids are helping communities in Puerto Rico get back on their feet – but smart systems and ‘energy clouds’ might also contribute to greater resilience in the wake of future extreme weather episodes. Jessica Twentyman reports.

It is five months since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, yet around one-third of the US territory’s residents – some 900,000 people – are still living without electricity.

But for pupils at S.U. Matrullas, a school located in the remote town of Orocovis in the island’s Central Mountain Range, it’s lessons as normal. That’s thanks to the donation of two smart energy-storage systems from German residential battery company, Sonnen. These are paired with a 15 kilowatt rooftop solar system provided by local renewable energy specialist, Pura Energia.

Together, these pieces of equipment form a microgrid that will provide enough energy to keep the school open and supplied with clean, renewable energy – rather than it having to rely on a noisy and far less environmentally friendly gas-fuelled generator.

A microgrid is a small local energy grid with control capabilities, based on connected sensors and other IoT technologies that enable it to operate independently of traditional grids.

The school has been completely off the main supply grids since the hurricane struck in September 2017, and was not expecting to be reconnected for many months to come. Now, school officials reckon they won’t need to reconnect with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), even once the main power supply is restored to the area.

Microgrids post-hurricane recovery and energy resilience
The solar array from Pura Energia installed at S.U. Matrullas school in Puerto Rico as part of a microgrid.

Read more: Analysis: 2018 looks set to see a surge in microgrids

More than just recovery

S.U. Matrullus is the site of the ninth and tenth microgrid systems that Sonnen and Pura Energia have installed on the island since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico. Others have been installed at relief centres, food distribution centres, and community laundromats, supporting households in areas where water has been contaminated by the Leptospirosis bacteria.

According to Adam Gentner, Sonnen’s director of business development in Latin America, “These microgrids effectively form the blueprint for more than just recovery, but also for preparation for islands and regions around the world that are susceptible to natural disasters and power outages.”

This is an important point: microgrids have a potentially huge role to play, not just in recovery, but also in ongoing energy resilience. And, as seen at S.U. Matrullas, microgrids often incorporate renewable energy sources, and include battery storage, too.

As previously discussed on Internet of Business, microgrids are a huge IoT opportunity, as they’re comprised of equipment that requires sensors, connectivity, and analytics to perform at its best. The smart battery systems from Sonnen, for example, rely on a self-learning algorithm to decide when to charge and discharge the battery, based on data it processes on energy usage patterns, photovoltaic output, weather predictions, and grid tariff rates.

Read more: GE’s Maher Chebbo on the journey to a digitally transformed energy sector

Improving island life

There is a huge opportunity for microgrids and smart systems on the storm-ravaged islands of the Caribbean, which last year had to deal with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in swift succession. Most of these islands operate an energy infrastructure based on one large generator powered by imported fossil fuels, with power transported along above-ground cables. In other words, it’s unnecessarily dirty, costly – and vulnerable.

It follows that sustainable alternatives, such as wind and solar power, could do much to increase resiliency – although it’s worth noting that several solar farms on these islands did get trashed during these storms, so a future based on solar-plus-batteries may not be enough.

But a recent report on Puerto Rico’s energy future seems to agree that microgrids have a big role to play. Prepared by more than a dozen organisations, including the island’s power authority PREPA, it calls for a decade-long plan of improvement programmes that is likely to cost somewhere in the region of $ 17 billion.

In particular, it proposes a two-pronged approach to microgrid adoption. First, critical centres vital to post-storm recovery – such as hospital, police and fire stations, emergency shelters, air and sea ports, and water treatment plants – should operate in isolation as microgrids, using technologies such as combined heat and power systems, rooftop solar, battery storage, and smart energy management systems.

Second, remote communities should have their own microgrids that enable them to operate independently – and remain disconnected – from the larger grid.

Read more: Chirp and EDF Energy team up on power station connectivity project

A resilient and renewables-based future?

One of the contributors to the Puerto Rico report was Navigant Research, which specialises in energy market analysis. It follows microgrids closely, and last week released a report estimating that culmulative spending on microgrid-enabling technologies will reach almost $ 112 billion by 2026.

Navigant analyst Peter Asmus says, “Microgrids represent a key component of an emerging ‘energy cloud’ focused on resilience and renewable energy integration. Biomass, combined heat and power, diesel, fuel cells, hydroelectric, solar PV, and wind represent the lion’s share of potential revenue for microgrid implementation spending, and serve as the backbone of the microgrid value proposition: maximising the value of onsite power generation.”

Internet of Business says

For the 900,000 Puerto Ricans still living without power, resilience can’t come quick enough. The use of renewables, meanwhile, would mean greater self-reliance when it comes to energy generation, allowing them to use the island’s own resources to generate the power its people need.

Smart, connected, distributed energy networks are not just a stopgap solution while traditional infrastructures are being repaired; they can be a radical, better alternative to legacy systems.

Coming soon: Our Internet of Energy event will be taking place in Berlin, Germany on 6 & 7 March 2018. Attendees will hear how companies in this sector are harnessing the power of IoT to transform distributed energy resources. 

Internet of Energy DE

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MWC 2018: Smart wine, tools and cities from Deutsche Telekom IoT

Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom is looking to put 5G technologies in as many different applications and devices as possible, according to demonstrations planned for the Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona next week.

Here are some of the highlights.

Smart wine

The company’s Greek operator Cosmote has partnered with ISTMOS to offer a solution that monitors individual bottles of wine while they are stored and tracks them during transport to their final destination.

NB-IoT sensors monitor temperature, humidity, and luminosity, and the results can be checked via an app that reads the QR code on each bottle.

ISTMOS produces specialist real-time data recording and automated alert systems for the wine trade, to ensure that wine is stored and transported in ideal conditions. Deutsche Telekom said this opens up new business models in the wine market, with every bottle telling the story of its storage and journey, avoiding waste, losses, and spoiled produce.

This isn’t the first smart wine system. In 2015, for example. Thin Film Electronics partnered with accountability systems specialist G World Group to produce smart wine bottles using printed NFC OpenSense tags. A trial programme was run with the Ferngrove wine group, which exports over 600,000 bottles annually to China.

Meanwhile, smart beer systems have been developed by several technology and business partnerships.

Read more: Cheers for connected beer, all hail to the Internet of Ale

Smart tools

T-Mobile Austria has teamed up with Austrian smart machinery company, ToolSense, to collect usage data from tools, such as electric saws, drills, and jack-hammers.

The data analytics system within these machines is based on Deutsche Telekom’s IoT connectivity, and could help improve important key performance criteria, such as the tools’ longevity, energy consumption, and wear and tear.

Combined with enterprise asset management (EAM) systems and data analytics, IoT solutions such as these turn tools into smart, connected networks that help manage their own sustainability.

ToolSense creates plug-and-play IoT systems that avoid engineers and site owners having to waste time by setting up the technology.

The company says: “Tool connectivity has to work directly, out of the box and without the contractor having to do anything. That’s why we work with the newest telecommunication technologies: to connect the tool directly, without needing a gateway – just like your smartphone.”

Any concerns that these systems might drain the batteries on handheld tools are countered by the company. “At the moment, connected tools solutions just stream sensor data over long periods of time. This is energy-expensive and especially draining for battery tools. There’s a smarter way: We analyse the sensor data directly on the ToolSense-Module, compress it locally and just send the insights – that’s why we are more energy-efficient than current BLE solutions.”

Smart bridges

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has been working with BS2 Sicherheitssysteme to develop an NB-IoT-based monitoring system for bridges, tunnels, buildings, and other massive structures in the built environment.

Sensors monitor environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and corrosion, and can be incorporated as early as the design and building stage to create a construction early warning system. These are the critical factors that can cause irreparable damage to structures, such as to the reinforced steel within concrete structures.

The telco said that sensors can pick up warning signs long before they can be seen by engineers, making structures smarter, safer, and more sustainable, reducing damage and minimising future repair work, costs – and travel delays.

Integrated visions

Ingo Hofacker, SVP of IoT at Deutsche Telekom’s T-Systems Digital Division, said: “With the rapid expansion of our NB-IoT network as part of 5G in Europe and the USA, the diversity of innovative solutions in a wide variety of industries is also growing.

“Applications such as the smart wine bottle, smart tools, or smart bridges will change our view of existing challenges and accelerate the development of new business models.”

Deutsche Telekom’s NB-IoT network is now live in the US, and in eight European markets: Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Greece.

Internet of Business says

These smart projects and industry-specific startups reveal that the IoT isn’t just something that will be imposed on the environment from outside, but will be incorporated into a huge variety of objects, spaces, and services at the design stage.

As long as costs and power usage can be kept as low as possible – something that itself demands smart thinking – the IoT will soon be something that most people accept and, importantly, appreciate the value of.

IoTBuild is coming to San Francisco, CA on March 27 & 28, 2018 – Sign up to learn all you need to know about building an IoT ecosystem.IoT Build

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