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Taking a ‘narrow’ view of artificial intelligence

Digital brain

Artificial intelligence is a term that’s risen to become one of the most talked about topics across many technology and business fields. Just look at LinkedIn, for example - #artificialintelligence has nearly 2.5 million followers! By comparison, #digitalforensics has only just under 6,000 followers, which says something about just how interested people are in artificial intelligence.

I think it’s important to have an honest and realistic understanding of what artificial intelligence is (and isn’t), the effects it will have on the world as it advances and how it has already transformed many of the business practices we take for granted today.

Over the next few months, I’d like to dive into the many facets of artificial intelligence that apply directly to digital forensics and investigations. While I’m looking at the subject from one perspective, many of these views can easily apply to other functions, technologies and industries. To begin the conversation, I think it’s important to look at some of the overlooked distinctions in the types of artificial intelligence to understand where we are today and where we’re headed in the future.

Artificial Intelligence: ANI, AGI and ASI

According to IBM, a leader in AI development, artificial intelligence “leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” Discussions about AI range from the futuristically mundane (self-driving cars, a reality even today) to the downright dystopian (who hasn’t seen The Matrix?). I think it’s safe to say that self-driving vehicles aren’t going to take the world over tomorrow and enslave mankind, yet the same label is applied.

There must be some distinction under the broader umbrella of artificial intelligence. This is where the terms artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), artificial general intelligence (AGI) and artificial superintelligence (ASI) come into play.

Artificial narrow intelligence

ANI, which also goes by the term “weak AI” is where we’re mostly at today. This form of AI is programmed to perform a specific task, and as far back as 1996 we saw this with the famous set of chess matches between Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue. Not only does ANI operate on a specific task, it also uses a specific set of data to base its decision-making on.

With the advent of the internet and so much data available so readily, ANI can foster the illusion of broader intelligence, but realistically speaking ANI lives up to its name of ‘narrow’ intelligence, what many of us today regard as machine learning. The differences between true artificial intelligence and machine learning deserve their own article (or several!).

Artificial general intelligence

AGI, “strong AI,” moves into the realm of exhibiting the flexibility of actual human intelligence. Probably the best example of this at present is IBM’s Project Debater, which by some estimates can debate topics at the level of a high school sophomore. This kind of intelligence, which lacks what we would consider sentience, is difficult to produce in computers despite the advances made to date in processing power and speed.

Artificial superintelligence

ASI raises the bar another level, surpassing human intelligence. This is likely not something we’ll need to worry about until much farther into the future; I’ll potentially touch on ASI in an article down the road.

What does ANI mean right now for investigations?

There's always a conversation about whether artificial intelligence will someday replace examiners, which I think is unlikely. There is simply still too much value in the human perspective and decision-making process to expect computers to take over completely given the state of the technology.

What is true, however, is that ANI has changed the face of investigations. Gone are the days of heavy manual file carving or hex review; there’s simply no need to get that technical anymore inside of every investigation. And while I’d rather not think too much about it, artificial intelligence has done wonders by limiting the amount of time examiners need to spend looking at the disturbing images and videos that make up CP/CSAM cases.

Artificial intelligence, even at the ANI level, has come a long way in its ability to automatically identify things like skin tone, body parts, drugs, weapons and other common artifacts that can lead investigators to the truth in a case.

It’s interesting, as I considered this topic, just how far technology has progressed. It’s possible to do so much more in an accelerated window of time as an examiner. I’m not a computer ‘nerd’ in the traditional sense – a fact that I’m sure many IT departments I’ve worked with can attest to – but I get genuinely excited as a forensic examiner thinking about the possibilities that exist by combining the Nuix Engine with existing artificial intelligence capabilities.

And I’m looking forward to exploring the topic of artificial intelligence, along with other investigations subjects, in the articles to come!