Man Plus Machine: IBM Brings Science Fiction to Life With Cognitive Security

Authored by Jeff Man.

When I first learned that I would be attending IBM InterConnect to provide feedback on IBM’s efforts related to cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Watson, I started to reflect on how much IBM has already influenced the IT and security industries during the span of my career.

My first recollection was from my early days of working for a boutique consulting practice where we often lost bids to larger, more established firms. I became familiar with a saying, “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM,” which I took to mean, “You might not be getting the best, but you’re getting a company with a solid reputation, so nobody will hold you accountable for their efforts, good or bad.”

The Evolution of IBM Innovation

The more I thought about my experiences with IBM, the more I realized how many IBM technologies I have encountered over the years and how innovative and life-changing they were. I thought back to my college days and remembered how invaluable my IBM Selectric II electric typewriter was for doing homework and writing term papers. I don’t even remember how I got it — I think it was surplus from my mom’s office — but I sure remember how much quicker and easier it was to use over a manual typewriter.

A few years later, when I began my career at the National Security Agency (NSA), I was soon provided with a brand new toy — a personal computer. In those days, we got upgraded systems nearly every year, and I still remember when I was upgraded to the IBM AT, complete with a 10 MB hard disk drive! Even my first laptop was an IBM PC Convertible, which weighed a mere 13 pounds and featured an Intel 8088 CPU running at 4.77 MHz, 256 KB of RAM and dual 3.5-inch floppy drives.

During my time as a security consultant in the commercial world, I often encountered IBM mainframes running my customers’ critical business and financial systems. Even as a PCI Qualified Security Assessor (QSA), I frequently ran into the IBM 4690 operating system, which was specifically designed to run point-of-sale (POS) systems.

IBM has certainly been an innovative company over the years, which is why it still around and driving innovation today. InterConnect promises to be an exciting forum for learning and experiencing what IBM is doing to bring could, IoT and cognitive technologies to cybersecurity.

Five days is not enough time to do justice to even one of these topics, yet alone all three. InterConnect is offering over 2,000 sessions that include keynotes, discussions, breakout sessions, labs, hands-on training and innovation talks that are sure to highlight some of IBM’s most valuable tools for managing and securing cloud and IoT infrastructure.

Peer Into the Future at InterConnect

While there is an obvious security aspect in play with cloud services, there is a lot of ground to cover with the variety IBM offers. The IBM Bluemix cloud platform has something for everybody in terms of infrastructure, compute services, data storage and network operations. The company is even attempting to use Watson to architect and create customized cloud solutions for each customer.

IBM advertises three IoT services: the IBM Watson IoT Platform, which enables you to set up and manage your connected devices; Context Mapping, which provides physical object trajectories by leveraging geospatial services; and the IoT for Electronics Starter, which allows apps to manage connected electronics devices in your network.

Every cloud and IoT-related product IBM is advertising includes Watson as a critical component or, at least, a key discriminant. As I considered the three topics, I found myself most interested in Watson, cognitive security, and the notions of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Man and Machine

AI has been a prevalent theme in science fiction since the invention of computers. My father was an avid science fiction fan, and one of my earliest childhood memories was being taken to a movie theater to see “2001: A Space Odyssey.” One of the stars of the film is an artificially intelligent computer called Hal, which is designed to be infallible and error proof, but — spoiler alert — eventually malfunctions and must be shut down.

I also watched “Star Trek: The Original Series” as a young child in the 1960s, and I can remember several episodes that involved humans combating supposedly superior intellectual forces in the form of supercomputers. There was Nomad from “The Changeling,” Norman from “I, Mudd,” and M-5 from “The Ultimate Computer.”

The main recurring theme is that since machines are inevitably flawed and therefore untrustworthy, they could never truly replace humankind. This theme even permeates into my favorite hacker movie, “WarGames,” in which the protagonists struggle to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

The release of “The Terminator” induced a significant shift in the science fiction canon. Now, the typical storyline revolves around a scenario in which machines are perfect, self-aware and determined to exterminate the real threat to civilization: humanity. In “Ex Machina,” for example, machines consider humans to be entirely unnecessary.

There is a third theme in science fiction when it comes to artificial intelligence, which is embodied in the character of Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Data is a self-aware, artificially intelligent entity that recognizes its own machine state and aspires to become more human. Most importantly, Data recognizes that being human is the ultimate, desired state.

The Cognitive Security Era Is Near

Sadly, at least for now, there is still a significant gap between the science fiction version of artificial intelligence and the reality. We recently had a good discussion about artificial intelligence on “Paul’s Security Weekly,” where we discussed the capabilities of machine learning, the direction of current research and some of the biggest challenges in designing smarter, self-learning machines.

That brings us back to IBM Watson. I really want to meet Watson. I want Watson to be something along the lines of the Hal 9000, but with the demeanor of Data.

IBM has certainly left a huge footprint on the technology landscape and wants to keep it going. With all this in mind, I look forward to soaking up as much information and knowledge as I can at InterConnect.

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Security Intelligence Staff

Security Intelligence Staff

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