The Coming AI Hackers

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Hacking is inherently a creative process. It’s finding a vulnerability in a system: something the system allows, but is unintended and unanticipated by the system’s creators—something that follows the rules of the system but subverts its intent. Normally, we think of hacking as something done to computer systems, but we can extend this conceptualization to any system of rules. The tax code can be hacked; vulnerabilities are called loopholes and exploits are called tax avoidance strategies. Financial markets can be hacked. So can any system of laws, or democracy itself. This is a human endeavor, but we can imagine a world where AIs can be hackers. AIs are already finding new vulnerabilities in computer code and loopholes in contracts. We need to consider a world where hacks or our social, economic, and political systems are discovered at computer speeds, and then exploited at computer scale. Right now, our systems of “patching” these systems operate at human speeds, which won’t nearly be enough.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.