The Guardian view on the future of crime: it will be online

The dangers of machine intelligence will grow as it spreads. We need to prepare now

When software gets smarter, the first effect is to empower the already powerful. The fantastic powers available now to Google and Facebook, which are now in practice the publishers of most of what appears on the public internet, is one example. More sinister is the power of nation states to spy on us, to manipulate their own citizens, and to disrupt the workings of their enemies. But these advantages cannot last. Soon they have to be reinforced by law, and ultimately force, as the techniques behind them spread and hardware grows cheaper and more plentiful.

The speed of technological progress, and the ease with which ideas can now spread, mean that few techniques can long remain the preserve of large firms or entities. Every advance in power and convenience available to the ordinary consumer will soon be available to criminals too. Illegal commerce, whether in drugs, forged documents, stolen credit cards or emails, is nearly as slick and well organised as the legal sort. So are the criminal world’s labour exchanges: hiring someone to hack a website, or to boost your Twitter account with fake followers, is easily done. So is renting a botnet of suborned devices to knock an enemy’s website off the net. Last year large chunks of the consumer internet in the US were knocked out for hours, apparently by an assault launched from subverted home security cameras.

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