Commercial drones could be turned into weapons using AI, report warns

Commercial drones could be turned into weapons using AI, report warns
By Chris Harris
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Rogue states and terrorists could exploit the technology for harmful means, say experts.


Artificial intelligence could be used to turn drones into weapons, spread propaganda or launch a large-scale cyber attack, a new report has warned.

Rogue states, criminals and terrorists could all exploit the technology, according to the study, published today by a broad spectrum of experts.

The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence report looks at AI that is currently or nearly available rather than far-off-in-the-future technologies.

AI is computer systems and machines that can perform tasks that traditionally have required human intelligence.

Examples include driverless cars, online customer support or automatic speech recognition.

'Harmful ends'

Attackers could capitalise on the “proliferation of drones” and re-use them for “harmful ends”, according to the University of Cambridge's Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, who helped put the report together.

It said we could see the “crashing of fleets of autonomous vehicles, turning of commercial drones into missiles or holding critical infrastructure to ransom”.

AI could also herald novel cyber attacks such as automated hacking and the production of highly-believable fake videos to be used as “powerful tools to manipulate public opinion on previously unimaginable scales”.

“Artificial intelligence is a game changer and this report has imagined what the world could look like in the next five to ten years,” said Dr Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, one of the co-authors of the report.

“We live in a world that could become fraught with day-to-day hazards from the misuse of AI and we need to take ownership of the problems – because the risks are real. There are choices that we need to make now, and 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.”

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.

“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.”

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