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:.
This story is more about AI and neural networks than it is about cryptography. The algorithm isn’t any good, but is a perfect example of what I’ve heard called “Schneier’s Law“: Anyone can design a cipher that they themselves cannot break.
Research paper. Note that the researchers work at Google.
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