IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > CatRisks > Cyber > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi
Tesla (or Google) and the risk of massively distributed physical terrorist attacks
Marcelo Rinesi   Sep 18, 2017  

You know, an autonomous car is only a software vulnerability away from being a lethal autonomous weapon, and a successful autonomous car company is only a hack away from being the world’s largest (if single-use) urban combat force. Such an event would easily be the worst terrorist attack in history.

Imagine a year’s worth of traffic car deaths, in multiple countries all over the world, during a single, horrifying span of ten minutes. And how ready is your underfunded public transit system to cope with a large proportion of the city’s cars being unusable during the few days it takes the company to deal with the hack while everybody is going at them with pitchforks both legal and more or less literal?

But this is a science-fictional premise that’s already been used in fiction more than once. In the real world, the whole of our critical software infrastructure is practically impervious to any form of attack, and, if nothing else, companies take the ethical responsibilities inherent in their control over data and systems with the seriousness it demands, even lobbying for higher levels of regulation than less technically sophisticated public and governments demand. And, while current on-board software systems are known to be ridiculously vulnerable to remote attacks, it’s only to be expected that more complex programs running on heterogeneous large-scale platforms under overlapping spheres of regulation and oversight will be much safer. 

So nothing to worry about.

Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.


The biggest blind-spot with driverless cars is the supposition that
the only danger of abuse comes from crackers who were not intended
to have control of them.

Malicious functionalities are normal in other proprietary software
(see, so why expect cars to be an exception?
I expect driverless cars will be designed with a back door that can be
used by the “security” forces to tell the car to bring its passengers
straight to jail, or the political police, with the doors locked.

Never trust a program that isn’t free (controlled by the users)!

Written like a true digitalcentrist. However, terrorist attacks, using autonomous vehicles, would not follow your narrative, but since I’ve done some research in that area, I’m also not going to give anyone any big ideas.

Your projection of ethics, on to companies, was amusing…

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: New papers on Moral Enhancement and Brain-Based Lie Detection

Previous entry: The Reality of Virtual Reality: A Philosophical Analysis