Why robots and smart thermostats keep America’s spy chief up at night

Why robots and smart thermostats keep America’s spy chief up at night

Some people are already used to having their personal information exposed in massive data breaches. But the rise of artificial intelligence and connected computers in everything from toasters to implanted medical device could dramatically raise the stakes of digital security.

In fact, they topped a long list of “global threats” that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper unveiled Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services committee.

“The Internet of Things will connect tens of billions of new physical devices that could be exploited,” Clapper wrote in his Senate testimony. “Artificial intelligence will enable computers to make autonomous decisions” that hackers could disrupt to cause chaos.

For the nation’s spy chief to place those threats so high on his list is a big deal, and it reflects how deeply concerned the intelligence community is about the potential pitfalls of these technologies. But Clapper also found a silver lining, writing in his assessment that the technology can “also create new opportunities for our own intelligence collectors.”

In other words, you can expect America’s intelligence community to use driverless cars, smart thermostats and automated networks for spying purposes, too. And indeed, in the written assessment Clapper notes that “intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” in the future.

Some high-profile figures, such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, fear that unchecked artificial intelligence could even lead to killer robots that escape human control.

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