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Avengers: Age of Ultron has message for cybersec about militarizing the Internet

May 03, 20154 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The new Avengers movie is great and manages to include messages about the surveillance state, NSA-like projects, our fear of AI superintelligence, and even a warning for the cybersecurity community.

Prior to its May 1st U.S. debut, Avengers: Age of Ultron amassed $201.2 million across 44 countries. During its preview night in the U.S., Ultron made $27.6 million; on its first day, Disney reported the movie made $84.46 million. I highly recommend seeing it for pure enjoyment purposes, although you might get struck with tech lust after seeing Tony Stark’s toys. Some folks who have seen the movie say it’s about the surveillance state, NSA-like projects, or our fear of AI superintelligence, and that it even has a message for the cybersecurity community.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier served as a reminder that even our superheroes must fight for freedom by fighting against surveillance. When asked if Avengers: Age of Ultron builds upon the “theme of anxiety about a surveillance/security state run amok,” Mark Ruffalo, the actor who portrays Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, said, “Yeah.”

In fact, according the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, the new Avengers movie is really about the NSA. The film is writer/director Joss Whedon’s “reaction against the long trail of post-9/11 governmental machinations and grand NSA-like projects.”

Without spoilers, you can see in Marvel’s Age of Ultron trailer that Ultron was supposed to save the world. Brody described Ultron as a “supercomputer that anticipates threats and wards them off before they can reach the planet—a world-englobing intelligence network.” In his quest to protect the world, “Tony Stark does the equivalent of militarizing the Internet.”

Ruffalo (the Hulk) told the Wall Street Journal:

It’s not a coincidence, I don’t feel, with this giant surveillance state and this sort of explosion of technology, and now with artificial intelligence — we’re on the brink of an explosion of artificial intelligence — that this movie comes out around this very moment where you have people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking coming out with a warning letter to the world that we should cease and desist further development of artificial intelligence so we can really understand what it is we’re creating with fear that it will come to destroy all mankind.

And at that very moment, a month later, Avengers: Age of Ultron is coming out, where you have the direct manifestation and nightmarish specter of Ultron and all of the collected knowledge of mankind and the ability to be everywhere at once, hits the market, hits the populace.

But Ultron as a villain wasn’t just born out of super-intelligent AI paranoia fueled by dire “AI will end us” statements made by Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates or Steve Wozniak; in 1968, Ultron-5 was depicted as “The Living Automation” in Marvel comic Avengers #55. In fact, mankind has long been afraid of technological singularity. As Vox pointed out, “We’ve been worried about robot uprisings for 200 years.”

The cybersec message in Avengers: Age of Ultron is that while nobody wants medical equipment such as pacemakers to be hacked, “in our desire to save the world, we are likely to destroy it.” Errata Security’s Robert Graham continued by saying, “In the cybersecurity industry, there are many who propose to bring security through authority. They want government mandated rules on how to write code, imposed liability requirements, and so on.”

Graham added:

The cybersecurity industry is weird. We are the first to point out the hollow rhetoric of the surveillance and police state. Yet, we are the first to become totalitarian when we think it’s going to be us who is in control. No, we should learn from Tony Stark: even when it’s us “good guys” who are running the show, we should still resist the urge to impose our authority by force. The tradeoff from the security we demand is often worse than the hackers it would stop.

Now, for a lighter note, as the Avengers actors have been on a press tour promoting the movie, here’s Jeremy Renner, the actor who portrays Hawkeye (Clint Barton), singing about his superpowers.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.