What Our Machines Dont Know
Asimov's laws of robotics are a warning to IT security practitioners.My middle-school sons both want to see the movie, "I, Robot," when it debuts next month. Fortunately, theres time enough between the last day of school and the first day of the movies opening to enforce our family rule: If you want to see the movie, you have to read the book first. And every technically literate person ought to read "I, Robot"if only for the insights it offers into debugging the complex behaviors that can arise from just a few simple rules. I thought of this and other robot stories of Isaac Asimov when I saw this mornings story in USA Today about Lancope Inc.s oddly named "StealthWatch+Therminator" intrusion detection system. "Therminator," it turns out, comes from the products use of algorithms drawn from thermodynamicsand first developed by a mathematician at the National Security Agencyto identify unusual behaviors that depart from "network equilibrium."
Whats the connection with Asimovs Laws of Robotics? The answer is not in the collected stories of "I, Robot," but in one of Asimovs robot novels, "The Naked Sun." Investigating a murder, Asimovs fictional detective Elijah Baley declares that "The First Law of Robotics has been deliberately misquoted": It should not be said, he warns his listener, that "A robot may not harm a human being." Rather, he asserts that the law should be stated as "A robot may do nothing that, to its knowledge, will harm a human being." The difference is one that allows a robot to be used, for example, to administer poison to a person: The person who gives the deceptive orders to the robot is the murderer, but the supposed safety of all interactions between robots and people is nonetheless compromised.