Speaking at the Tourism and Hospitality Educators Forum in Sydney on 11 December, Dr. Foster elaborated on the potentially catastrophic vulnerabilities of a civilization becoming increasingly overreliant on technology year by year.
The Internet of Things is the latest pop-science fad, describing devices of all kinds connected to the internet,from refrigerators and washing machines to thermostats, light bulbs, self-driving cars, and even rubber ducks. IoT devices rely on the internet to relay commands from the user’s smartphone, or from the device itself, to a network server, which in turn activates the connected thermostat, light bulb, garage door opener, or rubber duck.
“A refrigerator linked to the IoT, upon detecting a shortage of milk or eggs, might send the relevant information by email to the nearest grocery store,” Foster explained. “In 2014, a hacked smart refrigerator sent unsolicited messages to routers, multimedia centers, smart TVs and other smart refrigerators. Such attacks have since become commonplace. To illustrate the gravity of the risk, a virus called Stuxnet was able to decommission uranium enrichment centrifuges with ease.”
“It has been demonstrated with much publicity that any car or truck with an internet connection can be hacked by means of any WiFi-equipped device,” Foster said. “An ominous threat is posed by drones with WiFi connections, capable of hacking and taking control of virtually any device, or infecting it with a cybervirus. Medical devices, such as an insulin pump, can be hacked and the attacker can alter the dosage and schedule of the insulin release. Even pacemakers can be invaded, enabling an attacker to perform mass murder.”
Foster expressed dismay at how “hacks and database leaks related to internet-connected Hello Kitty, Hello Barbie, and other VTech toys placed millions of users at risk. The VTech hack exposed data of nearly five million parents and over 200,000 records for children, including thousands of photos of children and their parents. The Hello Kitty attack compromised the private information of 3.3 million users. The records exposed included first and last names, birthday, gender, country of origin, email addresses, password hint questions and the corresponding answers, and other data.”
Dr. Foster admonished “it has been predicted that, by 2020, 25 billion devices will be connected to the internet, and by 2025, a trillion. Already, there are 4.9 billion devices in the IoT, including smart home-automation devices, consumer products such as smart watches and health monitors, vehicles, and smart infrastructure used in buildings and cities. Unfortunately, virtually any device that can be connected to the internet is vulnerable.”
Foster pointed out that “it is the nature of enterprises, including technology companies, to race to the bottom, maximizing profits by minimizing costs. Conspicuously, the cost of designing and incorporating security safeguards against hacker attacks, sabotage, terrorism, and other inevitable hazards are routinely omitted in the design, engineering, and manufacturing of AI-empowered devices. The breakneck rush to AI we are seeing today is driven mainly by flashy entrepreneurs hoping to spur stock prices, starry-eyed startups in search of capital, and university researchers looking for funding.”
“Technology-related job losses in industrialized countries,” Foster warned, “unless mitigated by governments and employers, will result in extreme wealth inequality, spurring increased social upheaval, mass migration, crime, and civil unrest. Increased dependence on technology will make civilization as a whole vulnerable to sudden collapse as a result of numerous causes, including sabotage, depletion of available resources, and adverse natural phenomena such as solar storms and climate events.”
“Nevertheless, continued penetration of artificial intelligence into our daily lives is unpreventable,” Dr. Foster admitted. “Thinking machine chaos may already be inevitable. Most likely it will occur not as a sudden explosion of out-of-control autonomous devices, but as a phenomenon that makes its way into everyday life, much in the same methodical way as natural disasters resulting from climate change. T. S. Elliot mused that the world will end ‘not with a bang but a whimper.’ Though overreliance on emergent technologies may not end the world, it will unavoidably complicate and challenge human existence.”
For more information, contact Dennis Foster at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis L. Foster is a leading authority on Artificial Intelligence. He designed the software behind the first automated medical diagnostic system introduced in 1974, and has created numerous AI systems deployed worldwide over the last 30 years. He has written 62 books, including two bestsellers and seven book club selections. His latest work, Your Obsolete Brain, is published by The Life Science Institute.