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Cyber Attacks: Robots are learning War


Screenshot of StarCraft, A purely Strategy game played on real time.

Robots are now learning Cyber Attacks through video games. They trained themselves by playing video games such as GO and StarCraft

Researchers in Silicon Valley are using strategy games, such as Starcraft II. This will teach systems how to solve complex problems on their own.

The UK  Ministry of Defence report on artificial intelligence warns that Robots that train themselves in battle tactics by playing video games could be used to mount cyber-attacks.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) fears that artificial intelligence can be “readily adapted” to wage cyber war.


Officials are particularly concerned about the ability of rogue states and terrorists to mount advanced persistent threat attacks, which can disable critical infrastructure and steal sensitive information. North Korea have been accused of such attacks recently.

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A.I Why We Should Be Cautious.

The MOD report has expressively stated that A.I should be used cautiously.

According to the report “not only will AI increase the variety and tempo of cyber-attacks, it will also decrease the cost and increase the variety of actors able to undertake this activity,” the report says.

“As the requirement for skilled specialists involved in the attack diminishes, the limitation will become access to the AI algorithms needed to conduct such an attack.

“In other words, any actor with the financial resources to buy, or steal, an AI APT (advanced persistent threat) system could gain access to tremendous offensive cyber-capability, even if that actor is relatively ignorant of internet security technology.

“Given that the cost of replicating software can be nearly zero, that may hardly present any constraint at all. This is likely to be a live issue by 2020 or soon thereafter.

“For example, the state-of-the-art AI is being trained in tactical reasoning by playing computer strategy games.

“AIs like this could then be readily adapted to drive APT cyber-attack tactics, where the AI is competing against human or non-adaptive automated cyber-defenders.”

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DeepMind and Artificial Intelligence Research.

In case you may not know, DeepMind is a company acquired by Google in 2014 and it is tasked with researching about Artificial Intelligence. It famously built AlphaGO program in 2016. When the  AlphaGO aided by A.I beats a professional GO player it drew lots of attention.

DeepMind for Google has teams based in London and Mountain View, California, and they are currently hiring software engineers, research scientists and research engineers in both locations. If you want to be part of a team that works at the forefront of machine learning at a global scale, take a look at their  Careerspage for current opportunities.

Back to the nitty gritty of this article. According to BBC the UK MOD report,  cites Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence research project, which is using Starcraft II – a real-time strategy game for PC and Mac users, launched in 2010 – to train programs to think for themselves.

London-based DeepMind, which says it is committed to making the world a “better place” through artificial intelligence, by solving complex problems such as climate change, has also used Atari and Go games to train its systems.

But, like other artificial intelligence researchers, those at DeepMind were attracted to the complexity and fast-moving nature of Starcraft, which involves a three-way conflict between humans, the insectoid Zerg and Protoss aliens.

Growing Trend

Starcraft players build bases to gather resources that help make combat units to seek out and destroy opponents.

Other technology companies, including Facebook, have now developed artificial intelligence bots to play the game after makers, Blizzard Entertainment, released tools to enable them to do so.

AlphaGO playing GO game

Google / DeepMind AlphaGO artificial intelligence competing a human Lee Sedol

Human players trounced artificial intelligence bots made by Facebook, DeepMind and other companies in a Starcraft tournament in November.

Sejong University in Seoul hosted the StarCraft tournament and this year was the first in which the AI-controlled programs, known as bots, played against a human opponent. Before now the bots only played each other. The StarCraft Star Song Byung-Gu won 4:0 to AI.

The bots did not pose much of a challenge for Mr Song, who took a total of 27 minutes to defeat all four. The longest match lasted over 10 minutes and the shortest just four and a half, reports the Technology Review.

Mr Song overcame the bots even though they could act much more swiftly than any human could. Top StarCraft players can make up to 600 actions per minute as they gather resources, explore the game map and fight opponents.

These victories is suggesting that there are still some ways to go before the robots take over.

BBC reported that Steven Murdoch, an information security research fellow at University College London, said artificial intelligence bots with the ability to carry out sophisticated cyber-attacks on their own were “fairly far away”.

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Even those that could play games, such as Go and Starcraft, against humans were “not very creative” and relied on following “a simple set of rules”.

“As technology advances, more automation will be available, particularly for the delivery of malicious software, but the preparation of attacks and development of tactics will still require human expertise for the foreseeable future,” he told BBC News.

AI programs could be stolen and misused, as the MoD says in its report, but current systems “are quite specific to a particular task and it takes considerable skill and expertise to adapt a system to a new application area,” he added.

The MoD report says the private sector is leading the way in artificial intelligence research – and the technology industry’s reluctance to appear too close to defence or security agencies is creating a skills shortage in the military.

“Some Western commercial entities have publicly declared policies stating they will not contract with defence or security agencies, which may compound the challenges facing the MoD,” says the report.

“This is in stark contrast to other states, which have enshrined access rights to expertise, technology and data in their national legislation.”

The report proposes setting up a register “of security cleared UK nationals with AI and robotics skills” to be called on in times of emergency.


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