Robotics and AI: the future of cyber security

Artificial intelligence (AI) allows machines to learn directly from their experiences and problem-solve. Combine this with the rapid rise of robotics in the workplace, and both the business world and society in general are potentially facing problems.

In a recent series of interviews conducted in the UK by the The Royal Society – the venerable body for the promotion of science – people shared their worries about depersonalisation; the fear that machines with artificial intelligence (AI) will replace human one-to-one experience. This is of greatest concern in the care-giving services due to the personalisation and empathy desired.

Despite these concerns, UK researchers from Middlesex University and the University of Bedfordshire are seeing the rise of robotics as the future of healthcare, as they assist in the development of ‘pepper robots’, a humanoid robot unveiled three years ago with the ability to read emotions. Robotics and AI in the healthcare industry can already been seen in action, in the way of medical apps and their ability to monitor health and the advancements of medical robots and their delivery of intricate operations.

Global employment agency Randstad agree that social care robots that can perform tasks such as reminding patients to take medication and detecting illness, could be the solution to filling the predicted staff shortages in the future. However, they also highlight their design to coexist, rather than becoming a sole care-giver. Bringing robots into the workplace might not be a replacement for human carers, but the support they are able to provide could lead to improved quality of care due to the time they would save.

As with the healthcare industry, the financial sector is also seeing a rise in robotics – more specifically, robotics process automation (RPA). Currently in the research phase, RPA will further provide the financial services industry with a robotic workforce. The purpose of these robots is to enhance productivity by reducing the need for human involvement in dull, repetitive tasks. Additionally, with robotics not having a need for rest, 24-hour trading is a nearing possibility.

The cyberattack risk

With the increased responsibility of AI and robotics in the workplace comes the increased risk of a cyberattack. Cyber criminals, who either find an open window in the cloud and hack into the pepper robots or sink the financial markets, are certainly the most concerning risk. For businesses facing this criminal threat in the future, the consequences of a cyberattack could be devastating. Not only are companies subject to direct financial losses, but they are also liable for monetary penalties if their data protection methods fail to comply with legislation.

The online war on the financial sector is only just taking shape, with weekly reports of businesses being compromised by hackers. One threat on the rise is ransomware, as highlighted in the global attack that took place on May 12. In a report at the end of 2016, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro predicted that although the rapid growth of new ransomware families is growing, 2017 is still likely to see a 25% increase.

Raimund Genes, the firm’s chief technology officer commented: “We foresee the [European Union’s] General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) causing extensive data management changes for companies around the world, new attack methods threatening corporations, expanding ransomware tactics impacting more devices and cyber-propaganda swaying public opinion.” The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reported that the sophistication in techniques of cyber gangs has already resulted in a year on year (YoY) increase of 300% in cyber-attacks from 2015 to 2016; an average of 4,000 attacks per day.

However, as ransomware gets stronger, so does the ability to fight back. In this month’s cyber-attack, whose targets ranged from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and Germany’s rail network to US courier service Fedex and Chinese universities, an IT researcher was able to halt the attack before cyber-criminals were paid any more than the £22,080 they had already received. Having an automated detection process in place may have prevented the attack in the first place. Could robotics be the answer to preventing systems from being compromised and vulnerable to cyber gangs?

New developments of security software can improve the chances of catching the 60-70% of attacks missed by standard anti-virus systems. By automating the malware detection process, many human hours can be spared as the need for multiple checks is replaced. As it stands, many companies rely on a strong response plan, but identifying vulnerabilities before they are exposed, can significantly reduce risks. The human alternative for this would be to find a friendly hacker to find and fix problems before they arise.

Automation is the premise behind the Cyber Grand Challenge, a competition launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – part of the US Department of Defense – to create software smart enough to find vulnerabilities that hackers would potentially look to exploit. A friendly army of robots identifying such weakest links may be the latest firewall that businesses look to deploy, as reactive response is too slow.

Human fragility is yet another call to action for an AI equipped robotic team. Japan is still feeling the impact of the March 2011 earthquake, which unleashed a 15-metre tsunami and caused a meltdown in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. More than 18,000 people died in the disaster. With radiation levels on the site beyond anything a human can survive, scorpion robots with cameras attached are currently used to view the reactors.

Society is faced with a challenge. We can see the benefits that AI and robotics bring to business and health, going beyond human mental and physical capabilities, yet the emotional strain of depersonalisation and uncertainty of cyberattack puts into question robotic AI in the years to come.

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