LAS VEGAS, Nev.— Every year, thousands of information-security specialists, computer scientists, and few mohawked geeks who proudly wear the moniker of hacker gather here for a very particular digital war game:, the DEF CON capture- the-flag, or CTF, competition. To win, you have to find weaknesses in other teams’ defenses, steal their data flags, and protect your own.
But next year, it won’t just be humans squaring off. In addition to the regular DEF CON CTF event, the 2016 meeting will pit seven teams’ robotic hackers against each other in an AI capture-the-flag contest. Then humans will take on the robots.
The robot-vs.-robot battle is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Cyber Grand Challenge series of competitions. (DARPA is not involved with the robots-vs.-humans competition, although some teams may participate in both, agency spokesman Jared Adams said.)
The arrival of an AI system that can outflank humans in breaching security and protecting data in a dynamic game environment would be a force multiplier for defensive cyber security and even offensive cyber warfare. But will war in a machine environment necessarily favor the machines? Not according to many of the hackers at this year’s DEF CON. Everyone who talked to Defense One about next year’s competition were confident that it would be years before a robot team would beat human hackers at their own game.
Cyber Grand Challenge program manager Michael Walker laid out why it’s a better test for artificial intelligence than many other game scenarios, like chess or checkers.…