British MI6 spy chief warns the race is on for mastery of AI

Western intelligence agencies fear China could within decades dominate all of the key emerging technologies. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The chief of Britain's foreign spy service warned on Tuesday (Nov 30) that the West's adversaries, such as China and Russia, were racing to master artificial intelligence (AI) in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next decade.

The world's spies, from Langley and London to Moscow and Beijing, are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations that have dominated for thousands of years.

Mr Richard Moore, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, said quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power posed a threat that needed to be addressed by the West.

"Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering AI, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage," said Mr Moore, who rarely surfaces for speeches.

Mr Moore, a former diplomat who became MI6 chief in 2020, said technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all tech progress over the past century.

"As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6," he said.

Of particular concern to the West's spies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.

Western intelligence agencies fear that Beijing could within decades dominate all of the key emerging technologies, particularly AI, synthetic biology and genetics.

China's economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.

MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carre's George Smiley to Ian Fleming's James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending Britain and its interests.

Mr Moore said the service would have to change to harness new technologies.

"We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it," he will say. "We must become more open to stay secret."

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