Hacking in the World of Artificial Intelligence
One of the things we haven't talked about much is the concept of human intervention when it comes to the dangers of artificial intelligence, especially in its early stages, where we are now with the technology.
This may be far less of a "doomsday" or apocalyptic scenario, but the consequences could still be quite devastating on a person by person basis, or even affect larger groups depending on where a machine learning algorithm is deployed.
We want to look at very specific cases where reinforcement learning is deployed with public access, much like how you can tell Google Translate that a translation is incorrect, and submit your improvements to them.
Another good example would be marking an email that is not in your spam folder, but definitely belongs there, as such so the machine learning algorithm will become better over time.
Exploiting these technologies can be done in a variety of ways, and while I initially thought it would take a large group to skew the learning of a machine by flooding it with many badly labeled training examples, it would not be impossible to have this done by some kind of botnet.
See, most machine learning algorithms learn by training them on a so-called "labeled" data set, which is a large set of input data, and a label which is the desired perfect output of that input data.
The training data goes through the network, and the output of the network is then compared to the perfect labeled output.
If the output of the network is different than the label, the weights of the network are adjusted through an optimization algorithm, and the next training step is performed.
This is what I mean by injecting badly labeled data, if there is some way you can give the machine learning algorithm new training data, which you have deliberately labeled the wrong way, it will still try to perfectly learn this badly labeled data, and this will result in false predictions.
We have actually seen a very real-world example of this when Microsoft deployed their Twitter bot called Tay.
Tay was a chatbot deployed to Twitter with the idea that it would learn from the conversations it had with the reputable people on the social platform.
Unfortunately, in less than 24 hours, people had manipulated the bot to spout mostly racist hate-speech.
What we can glean from this experiment is that we should never underestimate how easy it is for the Internet to join forces and manipulate any big-data structures.
The same can be seen whenever some company launches an innocent Internet poll to determine the name of a new research vessel, though Boaty McBoatface was innocent enough.
There is no predicting how the masses will react in the end.
All this is just proof of concept though, what we are talking about when we say exploiting machine learning algorithms is not done by the masses, but by a small group, or individual with a large botnet, that wants to achieve a self-serving goal, whether the reward be financial gain, status, or political in nature.
Machine learning models are incredibly volatile structures still, and messing with the training data can results in very inaccurate or even skewed outputs, which isn't so bad in the case of a simple Twitter bot experiment, but if the data collected is of a more sensitive nature, things can get out of hand real quick.
I ran into this myself not so long ago while I was using Twitter to build up a corpus for training Word2Vec.
The idea was to plug into the Twitter stream and following the topic "refugees," as I was looking to build a related dictionary of words around the word "refugee."
This has something to do with a project I will be launching soon, so more about that in a future post.
In any case, this was right after one of the recent attacks in London, and because the attacker had parents who were refugees, which was something everybody had an opinion on, soon my results were skewed entirely the way of "terrorist," which not only didn't make any sense in the context I was looking for, it also messed up my desired output at the end of my model, so I had to find another way to build up the corpus.
Of course there is no real chance that malicious individuals would ever be able to exploit systems deployed by a company as large, well-staffed, and deeply integrated in the core technology as Google.
Yet, in a world where more and more companies, big or small, are deploying their own individual A.I. strategies we are going to have to assume that the tech will be misunderstood by some, and mistakes will be made.
Artificial intelligence is hot right now, all the rage, and for sure the new buzz-word, and if you have ever worked in tech in any kind of capacity, you know what that can do to people managing a company.
This is in no way different from companies just throwing up a cheap web application firewall, and thinking their security is taken care of, or people using 2-step authentication on their social media accounts, which was what left them vulnerable from social engineering attacks towards the cellphone provider's help desks.
This topic deserves as much attention as all the other negative scenarios around A.I. and I even submit that this is way more important in the beginning stages, because the singularity and such buzz-words are still very far ahead of us, yet machine learning is present more and more around us.