The Future of AI and Finding Delight at RSA Conference 2024

Posted on by Greg McDonough

The final day of RSA Conference 2024 marks a return to the themes outlined by RSA Executive Chairman Hugh Thompson in his Monday keynote speech on The Power of Community. The concepts of risk, artificial intelligence (AI), and community were everywhere this week and Thursday was no exception. Some of the day’s most interesting panels addressed the uncertainty surrounding the risks that AI generated, autonomous hacking systems present, the private sector’s role in shaping the future policies regarding the development of AI in the United States, and the healing power of finding delight with the cybersecurity community.

Fear and Uncertainty

The trending rise in burnout over the past year is closely related to the growing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) surrounding potentially emerging threats such as AI driven autonomous hacking systems capable of attacking without oversight, fear, or exhaustion. Thursday morning’s Autonomous Hacking Systems - Future Risk or FUD? with Justin Hutchens confirmed that many, although not all, fears related to the rise of AI are justified. In his research with ChatGpt 4.0, he found that it was able to autonomously perform penetration testing with a “frightening” degree of success. While Hutchens hopes he is wrong in regards to some of his bleaker predictions, he does feel it is important to look past the unrealistic fears that AI will suddenly develop sentience and rise up against humans and recognize, “unfortunately, consciousness is not a prerequisite for catastrophic risk.” As neural networks grow larger, so will their capabilities and the potential for abuse in the hands of nation-state actors could be catastrophic. With the importance placed on the rapid development in the AI arms race between nation-states, it is a matter of when, not if, AI progresses past controls. Hutchens warns that the cybersecurity industry needs to take action now and innovate to adequately create defenses for the future.

The potential threats posed by sophisticated AI systems is not limited to autonomous hacking and In Private Sector's Power Play: Shaping AI and Cybersecurity Policy with moderator Kevin Mandia, panelists Sarah Barrington, Lisa Kaplan, Matthew Olsen, and Alex Stamos, the panel presented their views on AI in the present and the direction that AI development will take in the future. In order to ensure that this progress strikes the right balance between regulation and innovation, members of the cybersecurity community need to work cooperatively to shape the future of AI. All of the panelists agreed that the clear campaigns of manipulation, misdirection, and misinformation currently infecting elections world-wide presented a serious concern. With the growing sophistication of deepfake technology that can create hyper realistic video and audio representations of celebrities, politicians, and other influential people, voters are being deceived into agendas created by malicious foreign nation-state actors and organizations. As Kaplan pointed out, these attacks are constant and ongoing because “democracy is not a seasonal sport.” In addition to the threat presented democracy, several of the panelists pointed out that deepfakes and AI present a serious threat to child safety, citing its abuse in regards to child abuse and pornography. Despite the tenor of the presentation, all of the panelists were optimistic that the defensive capabilities of AI will continue to evolve and stay ahead of its malicious threats. However, as Mandia stated, “we need to get out in front,” and continue to be proactive in regards to safeguarding the use of AI.

Finding Delight

If any of the discussions on the negative implications of AI technology left audience members feeling overwhelmed or pessimistic, there were plenty of opportunities at RSA Conference 2024 to find reasons to be happy. As part of RSA Conference’s efforts to combat the growing tide of burnout in the cybersecurity community, this week featured a variety of approaches to hack the mind and restore a sense of joy and connection. One of the simplest, and most effective, of these talks was the Secret to a Healthier Life? Fun! with Catherine Price, who began her Wednesday keynote speech with the dictionary definition of fun before beginning to explain the definition of fun that her daughter gave her - “fun is sunshine.” Price went on to explain that “true fun,” which is a “feeling not an activity,” consists of three elements: playfulness, connection, and flow. Price urged the audience to make finding fun in their lives a priority by focusing on things that bring delight and recognizing them with a finger pointed in the air and the simple mantra of “1-2-3 delight!” She concluded her speech by agreeing with her daughter and adding, “Fun is sunshine. It’s a distillation of life’s energy and the more often we experience it, the more we are going to feel that we are actually alive.”

With a focus on fun, RSA Conference 2024 hosted a closing celebration with Alicia Keys whose performance certainly made everyone in the room feel alive before trickling out into the San Francisco sunshine and heading home. 

Greg McDonough

Cybersecurity Writer, Freelance

RSAC Insights

artificial intelligence & machine learning professional development professional development & workforce Professional / Workforce Development

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