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Artificial intelligence may impact on many jobs held by humans, but the head of Britain’s main intelligence agency says spies can rest easy because theirs are safe. For now.
In a rare public speech in Prague on Wednesday, MI6 chief Richard Moore said that his agency does not see human intelligence gathering as a field that AI is capable of replicating.
Instead, Moore made it clear that MI6 considers that the "opposite is likely to be true," and that "the unique characteristics of human agents in the right places will become still more significant."
Moore left open the possibility that AI could develop to a level where it can "overtake some aspects of human cognition," and that it may happen faster than expected. At the same time, the spymaster expressed his belief that it would not be able to replace the "extraordinary bond" in human relationships that are the bread and butter of intelligence gathering.
Moore, who assumed his position in 2020, has for years spoken about the impact of AI on intelligence operations and national security.
Previously, Moore cautioned that Russia and China were pursuing faster AI development to further their geopolitical goals, and warned that the West needed to take this challenge seriously.
In his speech in Prague, Moore returned to some of those concerns, especially those relating to China. He accused Beijing of "hoovering up" swathes of data domestically and abroad for its AI pursuits. As an example, Moore said China used its export of COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic as a means to swipe data from recipients. This, Moore said, creates a “data trap” that presents dangers for national security.
For all the challenges posed by AI, Moore made clear that MI6 is already making use of the technology to help identify and disrupt weapons flowing to Russia for use in its invasion of Ukraine.
The agency is hardly alone among intelligence services that are pondering what AI means for spying. In the United States, both the CIA and the FBI have made clear they are looking at ways to utilize AI for operations, while protecting secrets from adversaries like China.