A.I. And Us: How The Internet Spawned Our Own Worst Enemy

The online world's big data and nanosecond velocity means we are losing control of the machines we've built ourselves. How can we avoid becoming victims of our own intelligence?

"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"
"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"
Torsten Krauel

BERLIN — Last weekend, in London, it was reported that for the first time a computer program passed what is known as the Turing test by fooling 30% of the people it chatted with into believing they were interacting with a human being.

This blurs the borders between people and computers. Chess computers have beaten people before, but they were carrying out a set of rules devised by humans. Computers with emotional intelligence can now trick us. If in the near future we get a text message that is, for example ironic, or kindhearted, it could be from a memory chip that — while it doesn’t know what feelings are — can compute them.

And if the computer can access all available data about us on the Internet, then this artificial intelligence effectively removes that big umbrella that has protected individual privacy for some 200 years, at least in democracies. When computers can pretend to be people and use the sum total of their vast knowledge to influence us, we effectively revert — in a new digital way — to a new state of monarchy.

The Internet has already removed the protection of time and space. Al Gore and others have written about this. A computer can be located in Tahiti, in Würzburg or in Nowosibirsk — it doesn’t make any difference. And a cyber attack, or the sale of some stocks, can take place in a fraction of a second.

In this context it’s crucial to be nanoseconds ahead of the game to recognize intent or have time to react to something that has occurred. The whole history of human society and technology is also the story of rapidly shrinking gaps in reaction times and the time necessary to think things through — and in the past 25 years that gap has shrunk to just about zero.

Ahead of the clock

For rocket attacks, there was an early warning system that gave about a half-hour reaction time. But in a cyber war, it will depend on whether secret services have planted radars that have real-time capacity. As for the buying and selling of stocks: In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, brokers had the time, even if it was only a matter of minutes, to place calls to find out what stock prices were doing, and place orders accordingly. Now, banks, hedge funds and businesses invest billions to find out about transactions the moment they happen, or even a fraction of a second earlier.

That all becomes easier the more information we have about people. If the market wants to look inside our heads, it will be able to anticipate our behavior, which is why so much is invested in real-time data analysis.

But election campaigns do the same thing. They know that increasing numbers of voters don’t decide who to vote for until the last minute. Politicians thus want to know the realities of the lives of these voters so that they can use the right tailor-made words to influence them. American campaign headquarters have become high-tech data machines.

Because in a nanosecond world where everything is interrelated, secret services and politicians and activists want to be able to identify relevant developments in real time. So, for example, they seek ways to recognize as quickly as possible any unusual news spreading on Twitter or other communication pages.

Time and space have always meant that we could be forewarned, have some time to figure out a reaction even if it was just to protect ourselves. That’s over. Now people can no longer be sure if the Internet is obeying humans or instead computers that have simply come to know what emotional stimuli are. The situation is claustrophobic.

Both ways

Humans with all their contradictions react to the disappearance of the protective umbrella in contradictory ways. On the one hand, we protest being monitored and want to prevent computers from secretly watching our every move. On the other hand, even ordinary folks like the idea of having eyes everywhere.

We want to know, right now, why the subway is late. We want a text message and pictures immediately if our home is being broken into. We want to record our body’s reactions to physical activity. When we’re leaving for a vacation, we want to know what the weather’s like wherever we’re heading. And we want stock information at our fingertips as fast as the big financial firms have it.

This thirst for information is destroying the private sphere, not least because it means people have devices in their homes that broadcast information nonstop to the exterior. Last weekend’s breakthrough potentially means the information doesn’t go to humans but to other machines following their own agendas.

It is no longer pure fantasy that computers on the Internet generate misinformation so that other computers can gain those nanoseconds worth of advance warning. Then people look on helplessly as they did during the 2008 bank crash when they lost control of the financial tools they themselves had developed.

Living together in a real-time world order is a little like being in a packed elevator — an elevator that like the space ship in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey is controlled by a rebel computer. Players in the economy, military and politics, but more and more also regular folks, are beginning somewhat uneasily to register the Internet-induced loss of the protection provided by space, time and the private sphere.

Conceived of by the Pentagon to keep lines of communication open after atomic attack, the Internet has become a threat. Humankind has once again outsmarted itself. We now need confidence in our ability to find a way to neutralize the enemy.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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