ChatGPT-Powered Vehicles: What are the Security Risks?

We consider the benefits and risks of Volkswagen’s plans to integrate ChatGPT into cars in 2024, enabling the driver to have conversational experiences

Volkswagen has expressed desire to utilise the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the modern vehicle.

The automobile manufacturer announced at CES Las Vegas in January 2024 that drivers will be able to have a conversation with its ChatGPT powered vehicles in the future. It highlighted future intentions to enable the OpenAI platform as a standard feature in select car models starting in the second quarter of 2024.

Stating that ChatGPT will facilitate engaging conversations, address queries, provide vehicle-specific information and offer additional functionalities for drivers, Volkswagen will be the first volume manufacturer to offer Chat GPT as a standard feature.

The car as a ‘conversational companion’

In 2023, ChatGPT developer OpenAI stated it would be releasing a platform for making custom versions of the chatbot for specific use cases. These AI agents, referred to as GPTs by the company, will be accessible via the GPT store.

Likewise, in September 2023, the company stated that it was starting to roll out new voice and image capabilities for ChatGPT. These features were designed to offer a more intuitive interface by allowing the user to have a voice conversation, or to show ChatGPT what they are talking about.

Volkswagen’s proposed ChatGPT integration is expected to unlock a range of capabilities that extend past conventional voice control. One notable feature that has been announced by Volkswagen is the IDA voice assistant, which will enable users to command navigation, adjust air conditioning, seek answers to general knowledge questions and manage infotainment systems simply by saying "Hello IDA" or pressing the steering wheel button.

The automotive industry has consistently been working to improve car user experience. Particularly as is the case with AI, manufacturers are starting to look at how the car could become a conversational companion to improve experiences with natural language requests.

However, these systems have typically been limited to supporting certain commands, such as unlocking a door. Yet, AI developments such as those by Volkswagen could hold huge potential to revolutionise how drivers use and understand cars in the future.

Commenting on these developments, Dennis Kengo Oka, Senior Principal Automotive Security Strategist at Synopsys Software Integrity Group, says: “With the development of powerful AI technologies, there are new opportunities that the automotive industry can seize. Based on these powerful AI language models, automakers can build their own digital assistants and train the AI model with automotive specific information. 

“One can imagine an automaker training their digital assistant with information from the car user manual as well as information on how to support common use cases, including route planning, integration with smart homes and devices and charging. This would allow a user to easily ask questions without having to dig through a large user manual or use and manage multiple devices or systems.”

Are there risks?

Despite the obvious benefits to conversational AI in cars, there are understandably inevitable risks that manufacturers and developers would need to address. Notably, AI in cars could be vulnerable to cyberattacks and threats. Given that AI systems depend on large volumes of data, any type of compromise or loss of data integrity could have serious consequences for the user.

Volkswagen has stated that OpenAI will not retain any of the data used from its ChatGPT cars.

AI hallucinations are also another chatbot risk that could impact these vehicle developments. Hallucinations in this vein simply mean that if a chatbot does not know the answer to a question asked, then it will generate false or misleading information - which could cause severe complications if in a car context.

Kengo Oka comments on possible security implications of car AI, saying: “It is extremely important to consider what type of training data is used as well as apply policies that define what responses with what type of information are allowed. 

“A digital assistant in your car could also be abused to potentially gain certain harmful information. While deploying a digital assistant in your car would provide many benefits and definitely improve the user experience, it is also important to consider the risks. 

“It's imperative that automotive organisations consider what training data is used as well as consider providing some type of restrictions on content in responses, in order to prevent abuse or actions with malicious intent.”

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