Modern field guide to security and privacy

Podcast: Thomas Rid on the 'Rise of the Machines'

On this episode of The Cybersecurity Podcast, New America's Peter Singer and Passcode's Sara Sorcher interview Thomas Rid, a war studies professor at King's College, about his new book, "Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History."

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
A man touched the head of a SoftBank robot known as Pepper in Tokyo.

As technology advances, computers are smarter than ever: They can understand human speech and even drive cars. But in order to understand the full capabilities – and limits – of artificial intelligence, we need to understand where these ideas came from, says Thomas Rid, a professor in the department of War Studies at King's College London. 

Mr. Rid joins the Cybersecurity Podcast to talk about his new book, "Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History," a sweeping history of mankind's deep dependence on technology.

Cybernetics is an idea that rose to prominence in the 20th century. Pioneers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholar Norman Wiener defined the term as "the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine" – essentially, he believed that the relationships between man and machine could be symbiotic. 

"Very early on, the pioneers [of cybernetics] expected their machines would be as intelligent as human beings," Mr. Rid tells podcast cohosts New America's Peter Singer and Passcode's Sara Sorcher. "The idea of the singularity, the point when machines would become more intelligence than humans, is a cybernetics idea from the 1960s. A lot of the ideas that guide our work – artificial intelligence, for instance – come from that original source."

As Rid points out, "we have this permanent temptation to project our hopes and our fears into our machines...So it's helpful to know about their failures, in order to avoid history repeating itself." 

Also on this episode, podcast cohost Sara Sorcher, deputy editor of Passcode at The Christian Science Monitor, discusses a recent article by Nathaniel Mott detailing emerging etiquette questions as more people bring personal assistant technology such as Amazon's Alexa into their homes. Podcast cohost Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at New America, discusses his recent trip to Sweden, where officials are viewing cybersecurity threats in military terms. 

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