The head of Britain's MI6 intelligence service, Richard Moore, delivered a rare public speech in Prague on Wednesday, where he warned that China has been striking deals with other countries which allow Beijing to capture data on foreign citizens and national projects.
Countries which agree to those deals with Beijing risk ensnaring themselves "in a data trap" that left them vulnerable to manipulation.
"When China was selling COVID vaccines around the world, it often ensured that recipient countries would have to share their vaccination datasets with Beijing. That is exactly the kind of condition in any deal which should ring alarm bells," said Moore, who noted that MI6 now commits more resources to China issues than anywhere else in a reflection of China's "increasing global significance," as well as the "crucial need to understand both the intent and capability of the Chinese government."
In the UK's most recent integrated review of China's foreign, defense and security policies, Beijing was described as posing "an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see, both in terms of security and values," The Record reports.
"Where there are attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to coerce or create dependencies, we will work closely with others to push back against them," states the review.
According to Moore, China has an advantage over the UK in terms of the "sheer scale" of their ability to provide the "colossal volumes of data" required to train machine learning tools.
"China has added to its immense datasets at home by hoovering up others abroad, and the Chinese authorities are not hugely troubled by questions of personal privacy, or individual data security. They're focused on controlling information and preventing inconvenient truths from being revealed," said Moore.
Meanwhile, MI6 is using artificial intelligence "to augment, but not replace, their own judgement about how people might act in various situations," said Moore, who cited the use of bulk data "to identify and disrupt the flow of weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine."
"AI is going to make information infinitely more accessible, and some have asked whether it will put intelligence services like mine out of business, in fact, the opposite is likely to be true," said Moore. "As AI trawls the ocean of open source, there will be ever greater value in landing, with a well-cast fly, the secrets that lie beyond the reach of its net."
Human agents in the right places are “never just passive collectors of information,” but can be tasked and directed and unlike machine learning tools “can identify new questions we didn't know to ask.”
It could be possible that AI “begins to overtake some aspects of human cognition,” said Moore, and that digital tools could predict some aspects of human behavior better than humans can. “But there will always be an extraordinary bond that allows one person genuinely to confide in another, united by a sense of common humanity and purpose.”
“However, swift and all encompassing the advance of AI, some relationships are going to stay uniquely stubbornly human. And those relationships are at the heart of my service, because my agency is dedicated to preserving human agency.” -The Record
According to Moore, MI6 will likely have more responsibility for collecting intelligence on how hostile nations are using AI "in damaging reckless and unethical ways," and that UK citizens can only be protected if the agency understands that threat.
That said, the intelligence chief noted that it was "absolutely necessary to engage with China. For the simple reason that not a single international problem of any importance can be addressed if we do not."
He also said that while we can't exactly predict how AI will affect humanity, "we can strike out in a spirit of optimism with a willingness to cooperate… China's draft AI regulations emphasize the importance of veracity, accuracy, objectivity, and diversity. I can only say we agree. Let's make those fine words a reality, not a slogan."