The Rise of AI-Powered Weapons
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Towards the end of my conversation with Geoff Hinton, he touched on a couple of things that need a little more explaining. One of them was Alpha Fold.
GEOFFREY HINTON Which predicts the 3D shape of protein molecules from the sequence of bases that define the molecule.
BROOKE GLADSTONE An important development because protein misfolding is known to contribute to the pathogenesis of diseases like Alzheimer's. Alpha Fold is anA.I.system developed by DeepMind, a subsidiary of Alphabet.
CLIP Now, a couple of days ago, DeepMind has announced that its second iteration of the AlphaFold system has quote unquote solved the 50 year old grand challenge problem of protein folding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There are other labs working on this software, too. This is University of Washington, Seattle biochemist David Baker.
DAVID BAKER We've designed new proteins to break down gluten in your stomach for celiac disease and other proteins to stimulate your immune system to fight cancer. These advances are the beginning of the protein design revolution.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Hinton also described his fear of autonomous lethal weapons powered by A.I.. I followed up on that with Matt Devost, an international cybersecurity expert who started his career hacking into the systems for the U.S. Department of Defense back in the nineties. He gave me the beginners class on autonomous lethality.
MATT DEVOST Where once a target has been designated by a human decision maker, the weapon will have autonomy to kind of operate and get there, ready to navigate the terrain properly, make decisions based on how it achieves the impact of that target for example.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There isn't a kid back in Oklahoma running it on a board. It can make a decision and change its path based on its own information.
MATT DEVOST And probably much more quickly than a human drone operator would be able to achieve. Now, that doesn't mean that we're going to take humans out of the decision making equation with regards to what gets targeted.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Not yet, anyway.
MATT DEVOST Not yet, but in how it achieves the mission and the ability to basically act in a swarm capacity and make decisions amongst themselves by adjusting their mission profile based on the swarm intelligence.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah, that's when multiple weapons are simultaneously operating and communicating with each other –
MATT DEVOST ...with each other.
BROOKE GLADSTONE – making decisions based on each other's behavior. That's drone technology. But how would the next generation of swarming weapons behave?
MATT DEVOST What gets really interesting is if they start to demonstrate an ability to operate in a way that is more humane or cognizant of the human impact than a human decision maker would be able to do, in which case now you start to have some autonomy with regards to the targeting itself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Can you give me an example of that?
MATT DEVOST You know, trying to target this facility, but we're trying to minimize the potential for collateral damage. And the drone is aware enough to know that a bus just pulled up next to the facility where there is a autonomy that is built into the weapons that allows them to make a decision or abort a decision or delay a decision based on a situation that even a human being doesn't have the capacity to make that decision because it's changing so rapidly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right now, we wouldn't allow weapons to autonomously target, but that could happen one day. And it brings up images of Dr. Strangelove and Fail safe.
MATT DEVOST That is going to be a concern. I think we've articulated pretty clearly, at least at the U.S. government level, that humans will remain in the loop as it relates to targeting other humans. It's different if you're targeting drones or you're targeting a communications tower, etc.. But we could reach a point in which the drones are more efficient and more humane decision makers based on theA.I.capabilities and analytics that they're able to achieve the same way that we might someday decide that we should allow only self-driving cars. You know, humans do a really good job of killing a lot of ourselves in motor vehicles every year. There may be a point in time in which theA.I.is a more sensible and objective decision maker.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Obviously, these newA.I.tools will have an impact on intelligence gathering and collection. And you say that for you Chat GPT three was a wow moment.
MATT DEVOST It was for a couple of reasons, you know. One is that interacts with you based on questions and you're able to refine it like the same way that you could refine your conversation with the human being. Tell me more or make a counterargument. But it also does a great job of understanding nuanced concepts. I gave it an example. A friend of mine, Bill Kroll, who used to be. Deputy director of the National Security Agency had a quote a few years ago where he said the cybersecurity industry has a thousand points of light but no illumination. I asked Chat GPT "what do you think Bill meant when he said that?" And it gave an incredible answer. It said, "When someone says that the cybersecurity industry has a thousand points of light and no illumination, they are expressing frustration with the fragmented and disorganized nature of the industry. The term A thousand points of Light refers to many different players and stakeholders, including government agencies, private companies and individuals, security experts. Each of these players brings their own unique perspective and expertise to the field. But the lack of coordination and collaboration among them make it difficult to develop a comprehensive and effective approach to cybersecurity."
BROOKE GLADSTONE Holy cow.
MATT DEVOST That is an incredible response. Right? And you can tell that. I want you to give a ranking or rating about how confident you are in your analysis. I also want you to provide a counterpoint. Plus, I want you to provide recommendations as to what we can do about this. So if you go in and ask it, what is the probability that Iran will attack a U.S. bank with a cyber weapon? It gives you a response that flows almost exactly like you would see in an intelligence briefing that might be delivered all the way up to the president's daily briefing. So it's fascinating that it is able to not only query all this knowledge and come up with these great responses, but it can also frame the response from the perspective of the audience’s expectations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But it has been shown over and over again that Chat GPT is fundamentally a people pleaser. Yes. It doesn't care if it's true or not. Yes, it will invent sources in order to give you something that has the exact format you're asking for. So you can't trust anything that Chat GPT says. So how can it be helpful in intelligence gathering?
MATT DEVOST Yeah, the intelligence community won't use Chat GPT based on Chat GPT’s existing training dataset. It'll use it based on data sets that are proprietary to the intelligence community. So what we're about to see in the next year and in the coming years is these domain specific versions of Chat GPT, where I control the training data or I tell it that it doesn't have to be the human pleaser, it doesn't have to be conversational. It should use the same heuristics that it's using to derive these answers. But if you don't have a source, you don't invent it. You can't make judgments that aren't based on a particular source. So it's a very quick shift to move away from that inherent bias to using that capability in a way that's very meaningful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Give me an example. Would it interrogate a prisoner of war?
MATT DEVOST I don't know that it would interrogate a prisoner of war, although you could certainly envision where it might be used to augment a human's questions that they're asking. But I think it'll probably get really good at threat assessment, making recommendations for remediating vulnerabilities. I think analysts might also use it to help them through their thinking. Right? They might come up with an assessment and say, tell me how I'm wrong. And theA.I.serves as almost the 10th man rule, if you will, were there by design taking the counter argument. So I think there'll be a lot of unique ways in which the technology is used in the intelligence community.
BROOKE GLADSTONE How imminent is this kind of technology?
MATT DEVOST It's incredibly imminent. The technology clearly exists. We're going to see with version 4.0 a version that is much more constrained with regards to not making things up and is much more current. I mean, one of the existing flaws right now with GPT is the training data ends in 2021. If you now start to have it where there's training data current as of whatever it found in the models this morning, that starts to get very, very interesting and means that this technology can be applied around real term issues in the next year or two years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So another wow moment you had was a challenge several years ago by DARPA. That is the government agency that drives a lot of amazing technology. It gave us the Internet for one thing, and GPS. Tell me about what happened at that DARPA conference.
MATT DEVOST Yeah, so that was fascinating for me. In cybersecurity, we have these contests that we call capture the flag contests, and they really are ways for people to compete, to demonstrate who's the top hacker, who's the top person at attacking systems, new hacks, systems, and you take control of them and then you have to defend the flag. You have to make sure that you patch it and you fix it and you prevent other people from taking over that system and booting you off.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is a cyber war game essentially.
MATT DEVOST Yeah. So in 2016, they brought the finalists out to DEFCON, which is the largest hacker conference in the world – in Las Vegas. And they had the six finalists compete. That was another aha moment for me, you know, where I felt like I was living in the future, similar to the way I felt when I encountered Chat GPT at the beginning of December. I started my career in 1995. It was my job for the Department of Defense to break into systems and show how they were vulnerable and help system owners patch those systems. And here I was being completely replaced by a machine and the machines were very creative and fast. You know, that's an uncomfortable feeling for somebody in the cybersecurity industry, not because of the displacement, but because of the lack of explainability or the lack of understanding with regards to how resilient the patching is or making sure that theA.I.doesn't lose control of its objectives and do something that ends up being malicious behavior. So it's definitely a brave new world in that regard.
BROOKE GLADSTONE How do we ensure that these weapons are safe to deploy? How do we ensure that they don't commit war crimes?
MATT DEVOST Yeah, I think we'll have clearly defined ethics around the use of artificial intelligence as it relates to things that could impact human lives or human safety. What's going to be disconcerting is when we encounter adversaries that don't have the same ethics and do we end up having to unleash some sort of autonomy in our weapons because our adversaries have launched autonomous weapons against us? Put in a position of having to violate some of our principles because it's the only way to appropriately defend ourselves. If we dig a little deeper, though, there are some other core risks. These technologies all run on systems that are vulnerable, so we have an underlying responsibility to make sure that the infrastructure is robust and is secure. You also need to make sure where the training data has an open collection model. Chat GPT draws intelligence from the Internet itself that you are aware of adversaries that might try and pollute that environment. What if I decide that putting blog posts up, writing websites, taking out advertisements, going on Twitter to pursue a particular narrative that will influence the decision making of a particular AI? And then the third area is going to be around the robustness of the algorithms and making sure that we have removed bias. I think that will drive in the Department of Defense a requirement for what we call explainable AI. TheA.I.has to describe to us in understandable terms how it arrived at that decision.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The debate over the drones was that Americans wouldn't be killed if we use them. Critics say we've overused them because the cost to us is so low. We've already been able to destroy the world many times over for 70 years. But the ability to be more surgical in our destruction and even to hand off our own autonomy to machines that may well be smarter than we are is a terrifying prospect.
MATT DEVOST It is right. We need to figure out what levels of agency we want to retain as it relates to war fighting. We said, well, we want to maintain the decision making as it relates to other human beings. But what if over and over again, A.I. Make better decisions, safer decisions than human beings? Do we abdicate that responsibility? Do I lose the agency of being able to interpret what is misinformation with my own brain, or do I abdicate it to an A.I. System that does it for me? So that is definitely going to be one of the fundamental questions that we face over the next decade. Where do we retain agency and where do we decide that the machines can do it better?
BROOKE GLADSTONE You seem to be suggesting that it may turn out that humans are far more dangerous.
MATT DEVOST In some domains, that humans might be more dangerous.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I'm thinking of the Cuban Missile Crisis and how the tape suggests that John Kennedy was pretty much alone in wanting to make that deal to take American missiles out of Turkey so that Khrushchev would take them out of Cuba. I'm just wondering if there had been an advanced Chat bot advisor in the room whether he would have stood with Kennedy or not.
MATT DEVOST Yeah, it makes you definitely consider what does the training data look like for a decision like that. I don't want to think that I'm a fan of abdicating control to the machines. I'm certainly not. We have to figure out which are fundamentally human decisions and which are the ones that can be automated or augmented.
BROOKE GLADSTONE It depends what you think of human nature – right? I mean, if there is a machine that is developed to help us fight the best war. Is there a possibility that that machine may say, best not go to war.
MATT DEVOST As long as we get it to understand our objectives and our constraints? You know, you could sit and say, would the world be a better place right now if Russia were run by some sort of autonomous A.I.? Possibly. But, you know, if the A.I. has been programed with the same biases, the same tendencies, the same ambitions, it might be more efficient than Putin in perpetrating these atrocities.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Matt, thank you very much.
MATT DEVOST Yes, of course. It was my pleasure. Enjoyed the conversation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Matt Devost is the CEO and co-founder of the global strategic advisory firm OODA, LLC. And that's what we got on A.I. this week!
On the Media is produced by Micah Loewinger, Eloise Blondiau, Molly Schwartz, Rebecca Clarke-Callender, Candice Wang and Suzanne Gaber with help from Temi George. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson, our engineers this week were Andrew Nerviano and Sean Sundra. Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media, is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
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