China Is Gaining Technical Supremacy

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a potentially transformational technology that will have broad social, economic, national security, and geopolitical implications for the UK, US and around the world. 

“Significant technology leadership is moving East” and causing a conflict of interests and values, Jeremy Fleming, director of government electronic surveillance agency GCHQ, said in a recent speech, warning that Western nations risk losing control of their Internet security.

GCHQ gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain and has a close relationship with the US National Security Agency and with the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called "Five Eyes". 

Russia remains the biggest immediate threat to the West but China's long-term dominance of technology poses a much bigger problem, according to Fleming.

The West must urgently act to ensure China does not dominate important emerging technologies and gain control of the "global operating system", Fleming said. “Without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West; we are now facing a moment of reckoning,” Fleming says.

Pulling no punches, Fleming addressed the battle for leadership and control of key technologies like AI.

Fleming said that AI is a major research focus, along with robotics, drone detection and quantum computing, which might offer new ways to protect your own communications or break into other people's. He outlined the case of MI5, Britain's domestic security agency, which has a limited number of agents to follow terrorist suspects or foreign spies on the streets of the UK. How do you work out the best locations to position those agents, knowing your target will be moving, while ensuring your agents are not spotted themselves? The answer is to use technology to create an artificial simulated environment, like an advanced computer game mirroring the real world. This would allow staff to model different outcomes and work out how to maximise coverage of the suspect with minimal risk of discovery. 

if Britain wants to remain a global cyber power then it would have to develop "sovereign" quantum technologies, including cryptographic technologies, to protect sensitive information and capabilities.

Fleming said Quantum Computing, which uses the phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver a leap forward in computation, was getting closer and posed huge opportunities but also risks. The West should forge ahead with developing quantum-proof algorithms, he said, "so we're also prepared for those adversaries who might use a quantum computer to look back at things that we currently think are secure".

This message has been reinforced by Professor Anthony Finkelstein, the outgoing British Chief Scientific adviser for national security. 

Prof. Finkelstein points to a series of challenges the UK faces in maintaining an edge. One is keeping pace with exponential technological change which fundamentally challenges the operating model of intelligence agencies.  The next is that "the focus for technological leadership is moving eastwards", he said in an echo of Fleming's remarks. Science and technology has itself become the focus for geopolitical competition. "It's a domain in which power is contested and which defines a state's capability," according to Finkelstein.

Britain should not take its status as a cyber power for granted, and it should work on developing “sovereign technologies” such as high-speed quantum computing and cryptographic technology to protect sensitive information, Fleming said. 

Brookings:       Metro:       SCMP:        Economic Times:      Bloomberg:      AP News:      Reuters:     BBC

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