OPINION: Security challenges posed by AI and 5G

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - As the public discourse on the fourth industrial revolution and Artificial Intelligence (AI) gathers momentum, there is a need for a more focused and comprehensive look at 5G-enabled systems.

Also, there is an urgent need for taking some hard decisions since 5G networks would remain the basic tool for ensuring effective and efficient harnessing of Artificial Intelligence. In real terms it is truly a 21st century technology which has the potential to change our lives or at least our lifestyles. By itself, the fourth industrial revolution- driven AI is completely dependent on data and its linkages, its communication and processing, particularly the speed of processing.

It is often said that just as land was the raw material for the agricultural age and iron the raw material for the industrial age, data is the raw material for the information age. It is, however, quite a paradoxical situation that while Indians are virtually at the top of the ladder in IT capabilities, within the country we have given this sensitive subject little thought. Much more is desired.

The result is that today there is hardly any Indian company on the scene, which continues to be dominated by Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft besides Baidu, Alibaba and Ten Cents from China. AI is developed essentially through data mined from digital platforms. Such voluminous data is analysed for various patterns and trends and then turned into intelligence.

Thus, our economic and commercial data whose ownership is genuinely Indian is bound to get into foreign hands – those we could call the artificial intelligence superpowers. Today, AI can play a significant role in regulating our lives, from each item of our daily routine to complexities of cyber warfare. Operating certain models of washing machines already equipped with a fuzzy logic system, to switching on the AC and lights before you are back home or pre-heating the bath or oven, are all realities.

Also, AI can direct a computer to take evasive action, in case of an attack; it can direct shutting of a nuclear power plant in case of a computer perceived threat. At this rate, in the near future, the internet of things (IOT) is bound to take charge of our lives at some stage. On the flip side, it can also very easily tamper with driverless cars and traffic lights and bring an entire city to a grinding halt. In a situation like this, all operations in cyber space, whether personalised or otherwise will have to be secure and hence encrypted.

In future, advance encryption techniques will ensure that our cyber space remain secure, for which we will have to have well trained professionals in cyber security. This also would mean creation of additional jobs. One of the most common examples of AI is that of high-frequency trading in stock exchanges through computers, independent of any human commands.

Without any extraneous intervention, in a fraction of a second the computer can spot market differentials on a very small scale and execute transactions which would make money as per instructions. Similarly, specialised algorithms used in arbitrage trading can detect small differences in market values to determine opportunities for profit. The emerging scenario is a combination of software defined networks for AI, operating at 5th generation (5G) speeds, for applications through the Internet of Things.

Thus, 5G is the medium, AI gives the command and IOT handles its applications through enabled devices. While we are thinking in terms of advanced technological applications, we have to realise that most of our computer operations on Google and Microsoft are subjects of local US laws and hence vulnerable. Most vulnerable is email traffic on the net, which is also a subject of US laws and can be legally intercepted. As was brought out in the Congressional hearings of Mark Zuckerberg, not much could be achieved on data leaks from Facebook.

In fact, the only thing Zuckerberg could offer was an apology, which he also repeated before the European Union. As such, in addition to the protection of our data, the most important issue is the establishment of 5G networks. The Chinese electronic giant Huawei has emerged as a big player in this field. This conglomerate had been trying to make inroads into India for over a decade but had been denied permission because of security-related concerns.

In fact it is understood that at one time an adverse advisory had also been issued. But later, after a few years, imports of cheap computer hardware from Huawei were permitted. When this company had applied for a manufacturing facility in 2013, it was denied; however, later under the changed circumstances in 2015, permission had been granted. But considering the geopolitics of our relations with China and related security implications along with vulnerability of our economy, caution needs to be exercised.

Particularly so, as in the long run they have shown a propensity to virtually overwhelm the recipient. At the same time, we are also aware that despite severe criticism, the contract for development of 5G networks in the United Kingdom was awarded to Huawei and in the ensuing collateral damage Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson had to be sacked. While the Chinese trade war with USA is quite recent and has been occupying the headlines only during the last few weeks, they have already, smoothly and silently made significant inroads into European markets.

For instance, during the last ten years their investment in Europe exceeds over $320 billion. It is hard to admit but their scale of operations takes them to the level of an economic superpower with foreign policy and security implications in strategic areas. As the world is already in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, we should not be left behind.

Accordingly, a decision on establishment of 5G networks has to be considered keeping in view our security and geopolitical interests. In the area of AI, all existing players are either USbased or Chinese and with our immense IT related inherent strengths, it is high time that we develop our own digital search engines and do not end up merely as a client state.

(The writer is a former Governor of Meghalaya and Uttarakhand and a former Commissioner of Delhi Police)

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