The World According to AI: Episode 1 Targeted by Algorithm
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary examines the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI), aka machine learning, in civilian drone strikes. The narrator is a human rights lawyer representing the family of a Yemeni man mistakenly targeted in 2012. After extensive investigation, she has learned her client was targeted by Skynet, an algorithm employing a large quantity of metadata the CIA/NSA collected from the phones of suspected “terrorist” couriers. By some strange coincidence this metadata was very similar to that collected from human rights and labor activists the CIA was monitoring. This means Skynet drones are more likely to to target women and children, who tend to be in the front line of dissent protests.
The film also traces the history of machine learning, starting with Alan Turing’s use of primitive calculating machines to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code. IBM’s creation of Big Blue (which beat chess grand master Garry Kasparov in 1997) and Watson (which beat the two highest scoring Jeopardy champions in 2011) are also major events in this story.
The filmmakers go on to explore the growing (and alarming) use of faulty facial recognition algorithms in law enforcement.
From the title, I mistakenly assumed this film was a documentary. It’s actually an extremely well made thriller about a group of hackers who are kidnapped and tortured by Homeland Security.
The film noir style is vaguely reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Algorithm is the better film in my view.
Besides making an important existential statement about the brutal thuggishness of the US security state, it’s also a good introduction for novice hackers to TOR (a protocol developed by Naval Intelligence that prevents the hack from being traced), the “can of worm” (the hardware patch used to break into a computer network), “port knocking” and “black rooms” (where you cover the walls with tinfoil to exclude wi-fi signals).
The easiest way to break into a computer network is to cut the power and install the hack while the system reboots. This is because the firewall always loads last.
I also learned some interesting new torture techniques.