Forget Artificial Intelligence. Why ‘Artificial Stupidity’ Is the Real Threat

Feb 15, 2017

David Ulevitch, head of Cisco's security business, has a problem with the hype around artificial intelligence, the field that encompasses the booming computer science discipline of machine learning.

Suddenly, everyone in the tech world is buzzing about the subject. Marketers, especially ones in the cybersecurity industry, have started plugging it as something of a panacea; there's no network AI can't protect, if the salespeople are to be believed. (Alternatively, others warn that a super-intelligence could destroy the world, Terminator-style.)

"The real threat in security is not whether we have things that are too smart," Ulevitch told Fortune in advance of his Wednesday RSA security conference keynote, during which he planned to touch on the topic. "I'm more concerned about 'Artificial Stupidity.'"

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Whenever someone starts dropping the latest buzzwords—algorithms, analytics, AI—Ulevitch tunes them out, he said. "That's like saying you have Wi-Fi," he said. "That doesn't tell me that your security is good."

For Ulevitch, one of the most compelling features for a cybersecurity product is what he calls "integration out of the box." Too many cybersecurity companies simply offer APIs, or application programming interfaces, which puts the burden on customers to connect them to their existing defenses.

That's not good enough, in Ulevitch's view. New tools should be instantly compatible with the networks they're designed to protect. "APIs just represent potential," he said. "Only a small fraction of companies deal with them."

Integrations are the solution, according to Ulevitch. They take the load off the IT managers and security pros, who don't have the resources and time to sync everything up themselves.

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This preference for integrated products has been a driving factor behind Cisco's (csco) security strategy, helping to explain its vast array of partnerships and frequent acquisitions, per Ulevitch. (In fact, he landed at Cisco after the company purchased his startup OpenDNS for $635 million two years ago.)

Ulevitch used a domestic analogy to explain his view of the digital threat landscape. You might have a nice picket fence protecting your yard, he said, but unless you reinforce the barrier, sizable holes still exist between the pickets.

"You need something much more firm, formidable, holistic, and tied together," he said.

That's the smart approach—and no artificially so.

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