Does AI Make You WannaCry?

Cyber-security threats. Ransomware attacks. Software malfunctions. These terms used to be reserved for the most advanced sci-fi films and IT professionals. In a case of life imitating art, these terms have now entered the everyday lexicon and have a real-world impact, outside of the IT department. The recent WannaCry ransomware attack crippled the UK’s NHS’ IT systems, causing appointments to be cancelled and operations to be postponed. Similarly, we saw British Airways fall foul to a software outage which grounded every commercial flight from Gatwick and Heathrow for 24 hours, obviously ruining or, at least delaying, thousands of passenger’s holiday and travel plans. We are used to seeing doomsday cyber scenarios play out in movies, but as our lives become ever more affected by those who wish to cause cyber chaos, can we truly trust technology in this day and age?

The invisible threat

Technology is truly integrated into every aspect of our life. We use technology to work, to relax, for entertainment, to communicate, to plan our schedule, and now some can even use it to do laundry. It stands to reason that the more we rely on technology, the more we need to trust that it will just simply work. But cyber security threats and software issues have the potential to negatively impact the way we live and, in many cases, has made us sceptical when it comes to adopting new technologies. Why would we trust gadgets and services such as AI and self-driving cars that we have seen cause hypothetical worldwide chaos time and time again on the big screen, when simple software faults can ground planes and destroy our health service in real life? Our recent study looked into our perception of emerging technology and it makes for grim reading if you are a technology company. Almost 80 per cent of UK adults looking to buy AI products in the future may reconsider due to the threat of hackers targeting technology. And nearly half (48 per cent) of us claim that we would not purchase AI devices at all due to the threat of cyber-attacks. The revelations regarding 1984-esque Orwellian hacking tools developed and used by the CIA and British intelligence to spy on household connected devices is just one reason why we as consumers are concerned about emerging technology.

The reality of the situation is that society is not yet comfortable with embracing the technology we have watched destroy or take over the world in films time after time. But it is now becoming increasingly obvious that our negative perception is standing in the way of the potential for positive digital transformation and is an issue technology companies must address, if we are to embrace emerging technology.

Who is the master?

Home robots have been designed to help us and eliminate household chores, who would be against that? The problem is that we have seen these devices regularly depicted negatively on-screen. For instance, the AI robotic creation, Ultron, featured in Marvel’s latest Avengers superhero flick was designed with the intention of helping humanity, but inevitably acts in a destructive way that was not intended. In this world, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America were on hand to neutralise the cold hearted robotic threat, but outside the Marvel cinematic universe, the real world does not have a super-powered villain deterrent. Indeed, our study also revealed that less than a quarter (24 per cent) of us believe home robots are safe with over half (52 per cent) concerned they could also fall victim to cyber criminals with malicious intentions. It is, therefore, more important than ever for companies producing home robots to prove these devices are not a menace to society, but are designed to help make our lives easier.

But there is hope! Companies such as Tesla, Apple and Microsoft are pouring a huge amount of time, energy and talent in to developing innovative AI technology, all of which proves that companies are taking our concerns seriously.

It is up to manufacturers of such technology to prove to us that doomsday predictions made in films are works of fiction and nothing more. It is crucial that they place a high importance on prioritising quality to protect the population thus gaining our confidence in regards to emerging technologies. Quality must be integral and prioritised from the initial concept of a new tech product right through to when the device hits the shelf.

Ultimately, if innovations such as AI, autonomous vehicles and smart homes are to become part of our everyday life, government and businesses have a duty to prove to every one of us that stringent precautions have been taken to safeguard and protect human life. Quality is non-negotiable and by proving this is at the core of innovation, businesses will begin to change our current perception of advanced technology.

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