The counterspy in Ted Bell’s new Alex Hawke novel faces off against a megalomaniac obsessed with horrifying experiments in cyber warfare. But the scariest part about this thriller may be that fiction could become reality.
Best-selling author Bell told Newsmax in an exclusive interview that he chose to focus “Phantom”
on what could happen if artificial intelligence were used for malign purposes, in this case by an Iranian scientist.
“I look out a few years and see what I think is coming in a geopolitical sense that is possibly threatening to the West, to our way of life or civilization in general,” Bell told Newsmax.TV.
“I realized it could be a force for good, or it could equally be a force for evil. I chose to make the villain artificial intelligence,” he said.
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Artificial intelligence is “growing exponentially as a tool” that may be used increasingly in cyber warfare, Bell said. As an example, he points to the Stuxnet computer worm attacks on Iran.
“I would say it’s a factor now, but it’s going to be a huge factor in the near future,” he said.
“Every major player is working on this technology of artificial intelligence,” he said. “As of now, it’s benign . . . but I would say that the day is not far off when artificial intelligence as applied to cyber warfare becomes a threat to everybody.”
Bell wouldn’t say which world players are ahead in the race for artificial intelligence, often referred to as AI, but he did say that the next book in the Hawke series, “Dragon,” will deal with China.
Bell said his position as writer in residence at Cambridge University — he calls it “spy heaven” — gives him a unique advantage when it comes to dealing with international intelligence.
“We’re looking at real-time intelligence on a daily basis, on an hourly basis,” he said. “I’ve got my finger on the pulse, as it were.”
As a former top exec at advertising giant Leo Burnett, Bell said he thinks the United States is losing an international PR war. He cites incidents in Afghanistan such as U.S. troops’ recent inadvertent burning of Qurans and the alleged massacre of 16 civilians at the hands of an American soldier.
“I would say that we’re not actually winning the war of words. We’re sort of slipping behind,” he said.
He believes America should do more with networks such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “We’re falling behind. We should reinvest in telling our side.”
As for Alex Hawke and man’s battle against an ultra-intelligent machine, Bell warns that such a scenario may be more than a plot in a thriller someday.
“The event called the singularity, when machines equal and then surpass our own intellectual capabilities, I would say is within a decade or two,” he said. “At the rate technology is increasing exponentially, it could be sooner.
“We’re going to have to be really careful with these machines,” he said. “We’re ultimately going to have a war with these machines and we might not win it.”
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