How Safe Is Your Future From Computer Attack?

Posted: November 14, 2013 in Articles
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Computer Attack

Computer Attack

The reality of intelligent machines walking amongst us may be just around the corner. Are we aware of the possible consequences? Can things go wrong?

(March 28th 2028) NEWS FLASH: Earlier today, WWN news reported that the latest model of PA Robots, the IPA 2000, viciously attacked its owner. Details of the incident have not been released in public, which raised suspension and caused mass panic amongst population. Could it be that our biggest achievement yet had turned against us?
Advancement in information technology, artificial intelligence and robotics led to the development of personal robots. Benefits of this new trend were quickly recognized, and the introduction of personal robots expanded throughout the globe. Today, every modern household possesses an intelligent robot as a personal assistant. No one expected this evolutionary advancement to backfire. No one expected things to go wrong.

Does this sound like a paragraph taken from a science fiction book? Like a scene from your favorite Sci-Fi movie? Think again.

personal robotsWe all love the idea of having personal robots – intelligent computers helping us with our everyday duties. We all love to play with the thought of ‘future technology’ and entertain our mind with technological possibilities. Are we, however, aware of just how close we are to making our imagination a reality – how far we have advanced in the field of artificial intelligence and robotics?

The truth is, that fabricated news flash may just as well be a future prediction. The reality of intelligent machines walking amongst us may be just around the corner. As soon as we figure out what ‘makes intelligence’, what’s to stop us from transferring that knowledge to machines?

How close are we to solving the mystery of ‘intelligence’?

What is intelligence? Can machines be intelligent? Are animals intelligent? Do we gain intelligence through life and learning or do we inherit it? To what extent are emotions linked to intelligence? What does conscience mean? Can someone be intelligent without being conscious?

These are all questions scientists are yet to answer. We surely cannot declare a machine intelligent without clearly defining what intelligence is. The most commonly used definition of intelligence states it is the ability to quickly adapt to new surroundings – the ability to learn and ‘read between the lines’. But can we use this definition to determine whether a machine is intelligent?

Computing MachineryThe most famous method for evaluating computer intelligence is the Turing test. It is an experiment proposed by a mathematician Alan Turin in ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ (1950). He claimed that a computer should be considered intelligent if it can successfully convince a human being it too is human. In the Turing test, an interrogator communicates through a keyboard with two systems, one human and the other one a computer. The interrogator is allowed to ask any question, and if by the end of the conversation the interrogator cannot tell the difference between a human and a computer, we can say the computer is intelligent.

Some, however, think the Turing test cannot be an accurate definition of an intelligent machine, due to the following three reasons:

  1. A machine that passes the Turing test can only imitate human communication habits, it can only follow some well thought through set of rules. But that does not mean it is intelligent. A general contra argument is the question — How do we know humans don’t just follow a set of well-defined rules?
  2. A machine can be intelligent without knowing how to talk to humans.
  3. Many people normally considered intelligent — children or illiterate adults, for instance — wouldn’t pass the Turing test.

How Conscious Experience Affects Intelligence?

In 1955, Chalmers wrote in his article that “conscious experience is determined by functional organization… systems that duplicate our functional organization will be conscious even if they are made of silicon, constructed out of water-pipes, or instantiated in an entire population.” This thesis caused a strong reaction among mind philosophers. Many think conscience experience cannot be determined by a functional organization of an organism, and that machines with isomorphic functional organization would still be just machines that would not have mental states or conscious experience.

subjective consciousQualia (a term used in philosophy to refer to subjective conscious experiences as ‘raw feels'(Wikipedia, n.d.)) cannot be classified; it is impossible to measure or describe such experience. It is perceived. Only someone who has tasted a strawberry can describe what it tastes like, only someone who has seen the blue sky, the sunset, or experienced emotional or physical pain can describe it.

Besides the fact that machines cannot have Qualia, machines cannot ‘understand’. Since understanding the meaning of something is one of the fundamental characteristics of intelligence, machines cannot be intelligent because they lack understanding.

A very strong and well-programmed computer that would satisfy the Turing test would not understand the meaning of the signs that appear on the screen. A good example that illustrates this thesis is the so-called Searle’s Chinese room which demonstrates how one can pass a Turing test when he is given proper instructions, without understanding the problem in question.

However, as much as it is unclear how a water-piped system can produce mental states and conscious experience, it is also unclear how the system of synapsis and neurons in the human brain can produce them.

Chalmers (1995) stated that if we imagine replacing neurons in our brain with silicon chips (that would be functionally identical to the natural neuron) it is unclear how this change would affect someone’s ability to experience conscience. Although the person would have an artificial brain, it would still have a conscious life.

Searle (1992), disputes this claim, in his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, by saying that although the silicon brain would be functionally undistinguished from the human brain, the conscious experience would slowly disappear with the replacement of neurons.

Where Does That Leave Us?

intelligent machineIt seems the right question is not whether machines can possess intelligence, but whether they can possess conscious thought. It is evident that we, humans, have the ability to invent, build, and develop whatever we imagine. It may take us years, and decades, but once the environment is right, we will succeed. One thing, however, which we are far from developing or understanding, is our very own existence. We cannot replicate our mind if we do not understand how our mind works.

Does this mean we are safe from near future computer attacks? I would think again. Scientists surely won’t give up on their endeavor to build an intelligent machine. The advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics we read about in the news confirm this claim. Robots already exist, and it is only a matter of time till they start walking among us.

Will they, however, possess intelligence and consciousness; will they ever be able to threaten us? That is a question we are yet to answer. Until we unfold the mystery of our mind, there will always be reasonable doubt – we will always wonder what will happen when we combine the power of an artificial brain with all the knowledge possessed by human.
Chalmers, D.J. (1995), Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia. Published in Conscious Experience. [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 06 November 2013).
Halpern, M. (2006), The Trouble with the Turing Test, The New Atlantis [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 06 November 2013).
“Images courtesy of Victor Habbick/”.
“Image courtesy of Renjith Krisnan/”.

Searle, John. R. (1980) Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3): pp.417-457
Searle, J. R. (1992), The Rediscovery of the Mind. London. The MIT Press.
Turing, A.M. (1950), Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind 49: pp.433-460.
Wikipedia (n.d.), Qualia [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 06 November 2013).

Ivana ZuberBy Ivana Zuber

This article was written by Ivana Zuber – Software Developer, writer, and owner of BloggLess. As a constant learner and an MSc in Software Engineering student, Ivana is always aiming towards new ideas and greater knowledge. When she is not coding, reading, or writing for blogs, you can find her jogging outside, or ‘hanging around’ social media sites.

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