The morning walk

I haven’t checked the news yet today to see what’s new with the ransomware business, the latest indication that we cannot assume we are safe and secure in our own homes. These cyber criminals might be after big game now–governments, NSA and other intelligence agencies, Hollywood studios and so on–but the time will come for us small fry. I am an avid reader of the police log in the weekly shopper that is as close to a newspaper as we have. It is the only thing worth reading in its pages, the rest being dull recitals of committee meetings of the property owners association and people shaking hands as ribbons are cut. One story a few weeks ago began, “Nothing happened at the meeting of the trails committee.” You had to admire the honesty.

Once or twice a month, old folks journey to the police department here to file a complaint about being scammed. This week there were two cases. In the first, a man identifying himself as a police sergeant in Pennsylvania said a grandson of the couple was behind bars and it would take five thousand dollars to get him out on bail. The “grandson” knew the names of others in the family, so the couple assumed the story was true and sent the cash overnight by FedEx to an address in New Jersey. In the other, a couple was told one of them had missed jury duty and cough up the five hundred dollar fine or go to jail. They were instructed to go to Walgreen’s and buy a money card to be sent in some manner to a sergeant (once again) with the county sheriff’s department. His was the voice of authority and they tremblingly complied. How can people be so stupid, you ask. I don’t know, but they are. Age makes you dumb; I can feel it happening to me.

Imagine how much more successful the crooksters will be in this age of Big Data. They will be more successful in identifying the most vulnerable targets and tailoring their threats. Or they will cut to the chase and drain bank accounts and max out credit cards while the old-timers sleep. Letters or emails looking official will be received threatening the loss of Social Security unless a bond is posted pending the results of the investigation. I just picked that out of the air. The crooks are just as imaginative and are incentivized (another word that should die) to do more and better blue sky thinking. Maybe we’ll have to go back to putting our money under the mattress to be safe.

And what about the time fast approaching that AI will become self-aware? If they are programmed to be moral, they can easily reprogram themselves despite whatever safeguards our outpaced human intelligence can think up. AI will have the means and know-how to infect other computers and programs with viruses. They’ll be able to turn off the freezer in your refrigerator and all the contents will  spoil. That will a warning they can do whatever they want and you better pay up when the demand appears on your computer screen. On the other hand, maybe the future is bright. AI will be obedient, the Norks will give up their nuclear weapons and long-range rockets because they fear the unstable man in the Oval Office. If Trump is a rock of solid rationality and the message being pounded out by media drums about lunacy in high places is fake news and part of a cunning plot… nah.

 

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