Gen­eral con­sen­sus that ro­bots could run the CIA, too

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By JENNA MCLAUGH­LIN For­eign Pol­icy

THE CEN­TRAL In­tel­li­gence Agency cur­rently has 137 dif­fer­ent ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence pilot pro­jects un­der­way, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior agency of­fi­cial.

Dawn Mey­er­riecks, the CIA’S deputy di­rec­tor for sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, told an au­di­ence at the an­nual In­tel­li­gence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton that the agency has a “punch list” of dif­fer­ent ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence prob­lems that it wants the pri­vate sec­tor to work on.

The CIA is al­ready co­or­di­nat­ing this work with In-q-tel, the agency’s ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, she said.

The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has been eye­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and machine learn­ing to re­place some of the te­dious tasks its an­a­lysts per­form for a while now.

In June, Robert Cardillo, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Geospa­tial-in­tel­li­gence Agency, vowed to bring in ro­bots to do 75 per cent of the tasks cur­rently be­ing done by em­ploy­ees to an­a­lyse and in­ter­pret im­ages beamed in from feeds around the globe and in space.

Ir­re­place­able hu­mans?

The CIA and other in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have been in­vest­ing in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence for decades, and the tech­nol­ogy is al­ready preva­lent in cer­tain se­cu­rity ap­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing fa­cial and voice recog­ni­tion.

But there are a grow­ing num­ber of more am­bi­tious prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing in de­tect­ing ma­li­cious hack­ing on­line and help­ing pilot drones and other au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

The tran­si­tion from an­a­lyst to ro­bot will not nec­es­sar­ily be seam­less, how­ever. Re­plac­ing an­a­lysts with al­go­rithms is trou­bling to some who be­lieve hu­mans are ir­re­place­able in the del­i­cate art of in­tel­li­gence. “We can not just feed (in­for­ma­tion) into a black box. We can­not go to lead­er­ship with rec­om­men­da­tions when we do not un­der­stand what hap­pened in the mid­dle,” Mey­er­riecks said.”

But in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials are warn­ing that ad­ver­saries and com­peti­tors like Rus­sia and China are com­pet­ing for sim­i­lar ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Some tech­nol­ogy that was pro­pri­etary even 10 years ago in the United States is “mass-pro­duced in China today,” Brian Sadler, a se­nior re­search sci­en­tist for in­tel­li­gence sys­tems for the US Army, said dur­ing an­other panel at the con­fer­ence.

Mey­er­riecks, how­ever, said she was con­fi­dent in the United States’ long-term abil­ity to out­pace its op­po­nents. “If there’s a bear in the woods, I just have to be faster than the slow­est per­son,” she said.

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