Microsoft Brad Smith Warns AI Could Be Weaponized Against Humanity

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Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s savior or downfall? Many people have begun to evaluate the potential consequences of AI as it becomes more integrated into our everyday lives. Microsoft president Brad Smith recently warned that AI could be a “formidable weapon” with “unintended consequences” if human beings do not use caution.

Smith spoke at the 2019 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. He gave a very Jurassic Park-esque warning and stated, “We shouldn’t just ask what computers can do, we need to ask what they should do.” He noted that we are the first generation to allow machines to make decisions that are typically made by human beings. He then played a clip from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the clip Hal, the AI machine that controls the spaceship, insists that the human beings who are onboard will cause the mission to fail. Smith also drew upon examples from the Terminator movies to underline how the public perceives AI.

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Smith argued that AI could be an incredible tool, but that there should be “guard rails on the technology we are creating to protect against their abuse or their misuse or their unintended consequences.” He particularly insisted that user data needs to be protected. This data can only be guarded if governments and other institutions implement protective measures. He also contended that tech industry leaders need to think about what it means to serve the public and whether their AI products truly benefit humanity. Smith did not provide any immediate, tangible solutions during his talk.

Unfortunately Microsoft does not always seem to respect the privacy of its users. This past summer, the Dutch Data Protection Authority insisted that Windows 10 processes user information without informing them about the kind of data that is collected. They argued that this violates Dutch laws and affects more than four million devices in the Netherlands. It was also recently discovered that Microsoft contractors are able to listen to parts of Cortana interactions and Skype chats. Microsoft argued that they get users’ permission before recording parts of conversations, but many users claimed that they were unaware of this policy.

Microsoft argues that they have worked hard to improve the protection of customer data and their devices. For example, one recent Windows 10 update makes it more difficult for others to tamper with your security settings. It will be interesting to see if other companies were inspired by Smith’s talk and how potential laws and policies manifest.