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UK to use AI to detect foreign threats

Artificial intelligence will be used in conjunction with traditional spying techniques, a UK government minister said

The UK’s intelligence services are set to use information compiled by artificial intelligence to help detect foreign threats that might be overlooked by humans, according to plans outlined by security minister Tom Tugendhat.

In a column published in The Telegraph on Wednesday, Tugendhat said a new government department – the Open Source Intelligence Hub (OSINT) – will use information gathered from open sources to assist its more traditional intelligence services, MI5 and MI6.

Formal plans, including the scope and size of the unit, have yet to be established but are expected to be put in place by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in May.

“Traditional spying will still lift the curtain on the plans of our enemies,” Tugendhat wrote. “We still need to listen and look where they want to hide.” 

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He added that “intelligence has changed” over the past decade, prompting the UK’s intelligence services to divine new methods to identify and eliminate foreign threats. The new hub will also add “richness and detail” to existing methods of information gathering, he said.

Tugendhat denied that AI would be used to gather intelligence on the British public, insisting it would only survey information which was already in the public domain.

The move comes a little more than two weeks after UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt set aside £3.5 billion ($4.3 billion) in the government’s budget to fund programs in London’s science and technology sectors, which he predicted last year would transform it into a tech “superpower.”

The AI unit will also be used to target distributors of alleged “disinformation,” Tugendhat explained. “We’re seeing our security undermined by the attempt to tear us apart, to spread disinformation, to spread lies in our communities,” he said.

The newly introduced unit should rival the work being done by the likes of Bellingcat, the controversial group which specializes in the analysis of open-source information, Tugendhat said. While billed as an investigative fact-checking group, Bellingcat also receives funding from a number of Western states and was designated as a “foreign agent” by Russia in 2021.

March 31, 2023 at 12:29AM

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