Magazine article Security Management

Is Anyone Watching the Robots?

Magazine article Security Management

Is Anyone Watching the Robots?

Article excerpt

ROBOTS, LIKE CIRCUS roustabouts, have been created to perform menial, repetitive, and sometimes odious tasks. Now, advanced technology has provided security professionals with new worlds to conquer. Technology is advancing so rapidly that those of us who rely on more traditional ways to protect assets will suddenly find we are on the reverse slope of the power curve.

A new area of technology exists that security professionals must learn about. It is not well known or understood now, but it is something we must understand and get involved in-quickly.

An article appeared in The Washington Post on January 2, 1990, about a Japanese corporation known as Fanuc. Fanuc manufactures robots. Late at night, the Japanese engineers turn off the lights, lock the doors, and leave their plant. The robots continue their work-unwatched and unattended. And what is that work? Reproducing themselves ! Fanuc typifies Japan's vision of the future. That country is on the leading edge of high technology in many areas, and it is making tremendous investments in manufacturing know-how and producing machinery that will probably make Japanese industry more challenging. (Japan now has over 33,000 robots working every day in the country's production systems; the United States has about 5,000.)

According to Deutsche Bank economist Kenneth S. Courtis, Japan will reinvest three times more per capita than the United States in new factories, robots, and other machinery this year. This statement may not come as a surprise to some of us; for the past 25 years, Japan has been working diligently to advance its technology in many fields, one of which is creating robots.

Why robots? Robots work hard without needing vacations or sick leave. Their productivity does not require bonuses at the end of the year, and they have no urge-as people do-to respond to incentive programs. On top of all that, Japanese robots can reproduce themselves.

Japanese industrialists are also experimenting with artificial intelligence and are having no small amount of success. I wonder whether there may be some research conducted to inject DNA into certain computers. That, along with some success with artificial intelligence experiments, could produce intelligent robots-with personalities.

With technological advances materializing so quickly, how do we as information systems security professionals deal with this situation? Just a few years ago, industrialists were looking at technological advances requiring five years to come to production. Now, that time span has been shortened to 18 months and is shrinking still further.

All robots are operated by computer programs. Is security needed? If so, how do we involve security in handling them? Do we sit idly by, await the development of a technological advance, and then try to do something about it? Do we just put out the lights, lock the doors, and hope for the best?

Remember: These robots can be programmed to reproduce themselves continuously - and to what end? Ours? Or, do we meet the challenge now before it becomes a fact? How do we cope with artificial intelligence when we aren't sure what it is? And what about the chemical DNA? Can it be transformed into another form of matter, a solid perhaps, that we can place in an electronic control board?

Since all these robots operate from computer programs, how do we ensure someone, such as a disgruntled computer programmer or hacker, won't inject a virus, a trap door, or a Trojan horse into the robot production system or one particular robot? …

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