In our daily lives, at work and at play, we are becoming more reliant upon digital technology. Within that technology universe are guardian systems to protect our personal data and valuable assets. Algorithms implemented behind the scenes work to detect, respond to, and block bad actors to protect our credentials, resources, and data from theft and fraud.
In computer parlance, algorithms are instructions used to solve problems or accomplish and streamline tasks. These pieces of code tell computers what to do to create certain outcomes. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)-based algorithms extend this process by using instructions to enable software to learn through the knowledge gathered from increasing amounts of data. Information is gathered, integrated, and analyzed to provide insights that help improve decision-making.
Algorithms can learn and adapt from the data they consume, without human interaction. For example, they help vehicles take advantage of the experience of others on the road in order to improve and expedite the driving experience. Semi-autonomous vehicles let drivers know about upcoming congestion and other potential traffic impediments. Fully autonomous vehicles have even more advanced systems that can take complete control of the vehicle, making all the navigational decisions.
Algorithms Learn to Know Our Digital Personas
AI in conjunction with ML and data analytics are increasingly controlling and modifying how we live, where we live, and what, how, and why we purchase. They build a knowledge base about an individual. AI-based algorithms make decisions using real-time and historical data from multiple sources, instantly analyze the information, and make sophisticated decisions from the insights derived.
As they relate to cybersecurity, algorithms are a strategic digital arsenal in defending against cyberattacks. They are integral to almost every digital device and service we use, enhancing the security of our digital interactions.
We may not be fully aware of how much our daily lives are being affected by algorithms. While companies may benefit from the power of algorithms to craft superior and more personalized services, we may not consider the cost to our personal privacy. These mathematical instructions are altering the world around us, affecting societies and economies. As a result, our digital future will be completely dependent on developing a robust cyber defense.
Cybersecurity Risks Growing, Becoming More Dangerous
A more sinister and destructive form of cyber breach is the ability to compromise a country's critical infrastructure. Destructive forms of cyberattacks can, and have, breached water supplies, disrupted transportation networks, and brought down power grids. When hackers use algorithms targeting the backbone that keeps modern civilization running, we witness firsthand technology's impact as a weapon of mass disruption and industrial sabotage.
We are experiencing a digital revolution within virtually every sector of society, and AI-enabled algorithms will have an increasing influence upon our economics and social interactions. There are major implications and repercussions to navigate, from policy issues and ethical conflicts to legal and privacy realities that will inform our choices and decisions. Algorithms are shaping our relationships and business interactions, quickly becoming the single most influential innovation in history.
Bright Upside, Dark Downside
There are myriad benefits associated with algorithm-based technologies, from crime prevention to advancing and expediting medical diagnostics. Security algorithms are mathematical procedures used to encrypt data. Encoded information requires a software key to transform the data back to its original form. Algorithms can function as the "arms" in a hybrid war of physical and cyber tactics.
The positives for algorithm development will continue to increase and broaden in scope and sophistication. But there is a downside to the proliferation of algorithm influence. We have invited them into almost every environment. Who will ultimately be responsible for protecting property and assessing whether an algorithm is providing a benefit to the public versus harming or violating it?
People, specifically engineers and coders, design algorithms. And like people, algorithms can be flawed and biased in their application. For instance, prediction tools, college admissions, and grading systems all use algorithms. Racial and gender identity biases can be reflected in their results, as well as very skewed and unfair grading system results. This damage can particularly be seen in the judicial system, where algorithms may influence sentencing and probation terms.
While we shouldn't blindly trust algorithms, neither should we dismiss their incredible importance. We rely upon algorithms as a defense to thwart ever increasing cyberattacks. Concomitantly, hackers are developing and using algorithms to exploit security weaknesses, especially state-sponsored and organized cybercrime syndicates. It is a continual technology race to develop algorithms to outwit and defeat the sophisticated machinations of cybercrime.
Are human thought, choice, individualism, and decision-making in jeopardy? We must consider this as we partner with technology and develop regulatory frameworks and boundaries around algorithm management. As their use becomes more sophisticated and pervasive, we will have to learn to embrace the good and regulate to minimize the negatives.