How AI and ML Help Secure America’s Grid Infrastructure
Revolution is upon us, and it isn’t the political kind.
This one is spurred by an evolution of technology that will reshape the world, irrevocably altering how we live, work, and interact with each other and our environment. Some in the tech industry refer to it as the fourth industrial revolution. From the smallest local VPN service to national power grids and infrastructure, technology is making our lives safer and more efficient.
It all starts with intelligence, both human and artificial.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
There’s a saying in the tech industry that a computer is only as smart as the person who programs it. That’s still true, in essence. But, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) seeks to take humans out of the equation.
At its most basic level, AI is technology that is able to learn and evolve independently of external direction, oversight, and intervention. The goal is to eliminate human error and allow technology to run efficiently in the background so that we can put our focus on more important things.
It’s what will allow professionals and customer service representatives to focus on, providing more personalized assistance while tech takes care of the routine chores, and changing production forever.
Although we haven’t yet created true AI like you see in the movies, we’re on the way. Big data and machine learning are changing the industry in every sector, at every level. We’ve already experienced how technologies like chatbots, digital marketing, and automated production are altering the nature of service and manufacturing jobs. It’s also threatening to make some careers in banking, law, and medicine obsolete.
The technology is in place to read and interpret X-rays and other diagnostic output faster and with more accuracy than a radiologist, and programs exist that can search and analyze case law faster than a team of paralegals. Even repetitive reporting on weather and sports is handled by robots at news outlets like The Associated Press.
Almost any action that is repetitive and has a predictable outcome can be performed more capably by machines.
Advanced tech is also changing our personal lives. Smart homes and cars anticipate road conditions and personal preferences and adjust to enhance our comfort and safety. Not only will machines interact with us, but they will also be able to communicate with each other; we’ve seen the beginning of this with home assistants like Alexa.
Now, it’s being used to upgrade and protect our infrastructure.
Applying AI to Infrastructure Protection
In 1882, the first power station served 59 customers in Lower Manhattan. Today, there are more than 5.8K stations and 2.7M miles of line responsible for keeping the power flowing to nearly half a billion people, and that’s just in the US.
That’s a lot of equipment to protect and maintain.
Our infrastructure is vulnerable to physical decay and cyber interference. The repair and maintenance of structures like roads, bridges, and electric grids take time and manpower, but security is being performed by advanced technology that takes place in the virtual world. This is being developed by integrating informational (IT) and operational technologies (OT).
Specific technologies like machine learning are able to anticipate threats by analyzing and evaluating previous incidents and applying this analysis to current and future events in order to prevent a recurrence. Because the learning is self-directed and intuitive, it eliminates the need for software upgrades or human-initiated reprogramming. This provides cost-efficient, scalable solutions that evolve instantaneously with shifting priorities.
Machine learning applications are able to analyze sensory information at rates and in numbers that are beyond human capability. These tools enable power companies to monitor the health of entire grids as well as individual elements with continuous, live oversight and analysis.
This will impact the future of energy production, delivery, and grid analysis and modeling by:
∙ Reducing cost
∙ Delivering faster, more reliable service
∙ Enhancing grid asset management
∙ Avoiding outages
∙ Improving overall operations
AI-based technologies like blockchain protect data at all levels by making it more impervious to cyber attack. Previous successful hacks were accomplished by detecting and infiltrating systematic vulnerabilities in order to introduce malicious coding or block access from authorized users for ransom.
The increased use of blockchain technology requires more effort by the bad guys. The entire code structure of the chain must be penetrated and changed rather than a single piece of code. Machine learning programs are also able to spot irregularities and react to prevent infiltration in real-time without human oversight.
Threats We Face in the Information Age
The expanding virtual environment is shrinking our physical borders while broadening our horizons. Physical office environments will become a thing of the past. We’ll have personal cyborgs who perform mundane tasks for us, providing more leisure time. Traffic congestion and pollution will be eased by autonomous vehicles that we can call up from a device on our wrists at will instead of buying and maintaining vehicles.
However, more technology also provides more opportunities for fraud, theft, and abuse.
Futuristic prognosticators spend countless hours surveying the current landscape and predicting where it will take us. Some anticipate utopia, while others see danger ahead.
We should embrace rather than fear the positive, but ignore their warnings at our own peril.
Are the Biggest Threats to Our Security Self-Imposed?
Frankly, the thought of independent technology that has the ability to think and act on its own scares the hell out of most people. Even one of Silicon Valley’s golden boys, Elon Musk, admits that part of the impetus behind his Space X program is to provide us with an escape route from this planet when our robot overlords take over the Earth. Skynet learned this lesson too late, but that was just a movie, right?
Perhaps nowhere is the hubris of humanity more evident than in our own governments, who decide on an ever more frequent basis that gathering intelligence on the citizenry is an elected right and obligation. If the AI slaves they invent ever turn on their masters, here’s betting a buck that we can blame bureaucrats and spooks for the resulting Armageddon.
If T2 taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t place all of our security and infrastructure in the hands of technology that could eventually become self-aware and beyond human intervention.
Even the leading minds of our time like Stephen Hawking warn about the dangers of over-reliance on AI. But if there’s one thing that the technological revolution has taught us — you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.