There’s a very interesting article over at ZDNet about the unintended benefits of the continuing spam wars. The author makes the point that the war between spammers and filter designers has sparked new interest and innovation in the field of AI (artificial intelligence). In order to distinguish between spam and legitimate e-mail, filters must become increasingly “intelligent” as spammers continually find new ways to slip by them. The ongoing adaptation of these machines may one day make them sophisticated enough to pass a Turing test, where a human interviewer blindly interviews two subjects (one human, one computer) and is unable to tell the difference between the two. As the author concludes, “If the evil of spam leads to a renaissance of well-funded research into fundamental knowledge systems–nothing else will do–it could be the final kick we need to create truly intelligent machines.”
This contention mirrors Adam’s point in an earlier post regarding DRM, where he notes that the technological arms race between commercial content producers and those who find ways to defeat their electronic barbed wire is good for all of us in the long run. The dynamic back and forth of building better digital content protection and then watching as a teenager from Norway, for example, defeats that protection, encourages investment into technological innovation which will likely prove to have useful applications for other fields just as the spam wars are for AI development.
Wayne Crews penned a study on the pitfalls of trying to legislate spam out of existence and points out that market-based technological solutions to spam are much more successful and flexible in the long run than legal fixes.