Artificial intelligence will change the world of espionage, but it won’t replace the need for human spies, the head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency says in prepared remarks released on Wednesday.
Richard Moore, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, is set to speak in Prague on evolving threats to the West and argue that the “human factor” will remain crucial in an era of rapidly evolving machine learning.
“AI is going to make information infinitely more accessible and some have asked whether it will put intelligence services like mine out of business,” he says in extracts released in advance by the UK government.
“In fact, the opposite is likely to be true," he adds. "As AI trawls the ocean of open source, there will be even greater value in landing, with a well-cast fly, the secrets that lie beyond the reach of its nets.”
Moore, who has previously warned that the West was falling behind rivals in the AI race, will argue that “the unique characteristics of human agents in the right places will become still more significant,” highlighting spies’ ability to “influence decisions inside a government or terrorist group.”
Speaking publicly about spycraft is still something of a novelty for Britain’s intelligence services. The government refused even to confirm the existence of MI6 until 1992, and public speeches by its leaders are infrequent.
Moore has chosen to give Wednesday's address in the Czech capital, home of the 1968 “Prague Spring” freedom movement that was crushed by Soviet tanks.
According to the extracts, Moore will tell his audience at the British ambassador’s residence that President Vladimir Putin is still failing to achieve his war aims.
He will also accuse Russia of “imperialism” in Africa and will call out Iran for fuelling further conflict in Ukraine by supplying Russia with drones and other weapons.
Moore’s only other public speech since becoming head of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, almost three years ago also touched on the power and threat posed by AI.
In the November 2021 address, he accused the West of being slow to reckon with AI’s disruptive impact and of lagging behind adversaries who are “pouring money and ambition” into AI and other cutting-edge technologies.