The Wall Street Journal’s story of organized crime rings that steal phones and passwords to drain the victim’s bank account is just the latest example of what feels like a never-ending escalation of threats involving technology. If even the biggest companies and governments aren’t immune to data theft, what hope is there for average people like you and me to defend ourselves?
It feels like we’re defenceless against scam phone calls, like the ones that claim to be from a credit card company advising of a fraudulent transaction but hoping to obtain your card number to commit fraud. It is to the point that I will no longer answer my phone unless the caller’s ID is displayed, and I have well over a hundred numbers blocked.
We receive countless spam emails, some of them looking quite legitimate, but all containing links that lead to criminals who will take over your computer and sometimes demand ransom to restore what’s rightfully yours. The scammers are becoming more clever, disguising themselves as services we often use. My business receives e-mails claiming to be from Microsoft and asking for password-resets for frequently used software, and I keep flagging as spam messages that contain faked, virus-infested ‘voicemail’ clips. My junk and detected items folders are filling up quickly these days.
Now that we’re all shopping more online, scammers are masquerading as Amazon and other delivery service notices, or else they claim to be from popular retailers like Costco, congratulating us for winning a prize. With frequent online photo-sharing, criminals send e-mails claiming to contain photos of people we know – like the half-dozen messages I have received in the past few months with a “photo-sharing” link from someone claiming to be my dad.
We have firewalls and anti-virus software on our computers, and can use virtual private networks to avoid prying eyes, and yet we are inundated with a daily barrage of attempts to invade our privacy and steal our data.
“We must be careful that we don’t rush towards a future that, instead of unleashing the potential of technology, we’ll see our rights curbed by it,” Women Leading in AI co-founder Ivana Bartoletti wrote in An Artificial Revolution, On Power, Politics, and AI. It’s good advice about the long-term benefit of pausing to take stock of the direction we’re headed in, and to use our natural human intelligence to create the best possible future for ourselves and generations to follow.
If we have the intelligence to create the artificial intelligence that now shapes our daily lives, then surely we have the intelligence to protect ourselves.
There are positive signs that the world is waking up to the threats that technology can pose if we aren’t careful. Governments and organizations, including the European Union, are developing and considering more stringent AI regulations. The potential for harm of powerful new technology like GPT-4 has become a subject of global debate, from which a consensus might emerge on how the human species can move forward in a safe manner. In the meantime, some are even calling for a 6-month moratorium on further development of the technology, to allow for discussion and development of regulations.
What else can we do?
Sometimes, as the saying goes, the best defence is a good offence.
We can look for and promote leaders who understand the security and privacy issues with technology. We can demand that the issues be moved to the forefront of public policy discussion. We can do business with technology companies that have not only strong privacy and security policies, but also a demonstrated history of adhering to their own standards.
And, above all, we can believe in our own human intelligence to protect us and to advance the human mission – as “real” intelligence has done for millennia, with no known limitations to continuing for all time to come. Intelligence that is true to itself can exist only in a continuum, to borrow by inference a word used by Marsilio Ficino, the philosopher whose translations introduced Plato and Plato’s geometry to the western world. To know is to have intelligence – and we know that we know, so therefore by definition we have intelligence. Machines require us to define them, but we are self-defining and therefore better. That is, better if we choose to be – as we have the capacity to do or not, according to our self-programming routines. The human soul is a truly powerful thing, in that way.
To quote another saying which history has proven true time and again, “where there is a will, there’s a way.”