A team from Google Brain, Google’s deep learning project, has shown that machines can learn how to protect their messages from prying eyes, New Scientist reports.
Researchers Martín Abadi and David Andersen demonstrate that neural networks, or “neural nets” – computing systems that are loosely based on artificial neurones – can work out how to use a simple encryption technique.
In their experiment, computers were able to make their own form of encryption using machine learning, without being taught specific cryptographic algorithms. The encryption was very basic, especially compared to our current human-designed systems. Even so, it is still an interesting step for neural nets, which the authors state “are generally not meant to be great at cryptography”.
We don’t know exactly how the encryption method works, as machine learning provides a solution but not an easy way to understand how it is reached. In practice, this also means that it is hard to give any security guarantees for an encryption method created in this way, so the practical implications for the technology could be limited.
“Computing with neural nets on this scale has only become possible in the last few years, so we really are at the beginning of what’s possible,” says Joe Sturonas of encryption company PKWARE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.