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Spammers Helping in the Development of AI

Last Friday, New Scientist had this article: Harnessing Spammers to Advance AI.

In a nutshell: spammers are working to figure out how to get a computer to solve captchas, thereby rendering spam-free forms on the web no longer spam-free. We’re supposed to be excited about this I guess. The noble spammers are helping with AI exploration.

The knee jerk reaction of course is that this seems like one of those Oh-the-hackers-are-actually-our-friends arguments. You know how it goes. The devious, underhanded thieves that figure out how to move money, steal identities, and fix SAT scores are actually doing us a favor by pointing weaknesses in our information security systems. These folks are the Robin Hoods of our times. Well, they’re hoods anyways.

Not that I have anything against hackers and computer crime, but lets just call a spade a spade.

And encouraging spammers to decode captchas, well that’s just annoying. Now we’ll have to figure out another level of security. Before you know it, something will be designed that the average human can’t figure out. Pretty soon, only really intelligent geeky types will be able to buy Fredericks of Hollywood stuff. The rest of us will have to go back to shopping downtown. Sheesh.

That’s my knee jerk reaction. The truth of the matter is, a few months ago they installed a new spam blocker at work. Usually when this happens it takes a few hours before the complaints start to overload the system and they have to remove the spam blocker so we can all get our email again. We demand they stop blocking the spam, it’s interfering with legitimate email. We’d rather live with the thousands of offers for Canadian meds, penis enhancement, and cheap rolexes because we can’t live without all the jokes our friends send us.

This time, however, the spam blocker is working and all jokes have passed through unharmed. Yay.

What this means is that while the spam blockers are toiling to break the captcha code model, the other side of the fence is working to make life for spammers hell. It’s cyclical, it’s a madhouse, it works and in the end we have a whole new rat chasing its tail industry. Like the one for the virus creators and virus protection developers. The two spy vs. spy camps go ’round and ’round and we for the most part have nothing to add. We don’t care about them and they pretty much don’t care about us. They have their world and all they need is in that world. As long as we keep our subscriptions updated and on top of the latest software that keeps the whole process working yet invisible to us, we’ll be fine and lots more people have jobs.

It’s like the world in general. I have no idea how that works either, but it keeps on keepin’ on somehow. As long as each little cog keeps turning the whole thing doesn’t slow down. I take comfort in that. I really don’t need to know much more than I already do as long as I keep my little cog cogitating.



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