Be afraid, be very afraid!

I am not being an alarmist but I want to put a touch of scepticism and caution to the enthusiasm for artificial intelligence (AI).

More and more people are singing hallelujahs to this revolutionary technology. It can write speeches, even complicated treatises; prepare PowerPoint presentations, compose songs, etc. Most people’s only concern is being rendered obsolete because AI can do it all.

But reports from abroad warn us that, as in almost every technological advance, there is a frightening, sinister side to AI.

An American woman almost got conned into sending a ransom payment for her “kidnapped” 15-year-old daughter. The woman got a phone call from somebody who sounded exactly like the teenager. The girl was sobbing on the phone claiming she had been abducted and asked her mother to do exactly as her kidnapper instructed so she could be released.

A man then told the mother to raise up to US$1 million as ransom.

Fortunately, the mother, though distressed, called her daughter who was on a skiing trip and was reassured the girl was safe and sound.

This is the negative side of digitalization – a cyber age version of the long-running Filipino dugo-dugo scam, when scammers would phone homes to say a member of the household met an accident and needed money for medical expenses.

Even now, with smart phones, people still fall victim to this scam.

With AI, the hoax is even more scary – scammers can now fake a person’s face and voice and appear on video chat rooms posing as the real individual.

In China, a technology company owner in the city of Fuzhou was defrauded of US$610,000 through a video call. AI generated copies of his friend’s face and voice to convince him he was talking to the real person. Fortunately, he was able to recover part of the amount after talking to the actual person.

China, according to an online news site, is deeply concerned about the increasing use of AI by fraudsters. Law enforcement agencies have received similar reports of scams before and since this incident with the technology firm owner.

American authorities, according to Arab News, are rattled by these new AI-enabled scams because the tools are “widely available online”. Experts warn against AI’s ability “to demolish the boundaries between reality and faction, handing cyber criminals a cheap and effective technology to propagate disinformation”.

At a recent major conference on AI sponsored by the Aboitiz group of companies, many experts on the new technology expressed their support for regulation of this new scientific advance.

Forewarned is forearmed. The next time you get a distress call from somebody you know, find a way to talk to that person in a safe and secure manner to check if the story is true.

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