North Korea’s AI Progress Sparks Worries, according to Report

North Korea's AI Progress Sparks Worries, according to Report

A new study has highlighted North Korea’s swift advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, raising concerns globally.

The report, written by Hyuk Kim from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, based in California, highlights how North Korea is leveraging AI across various sectors. These include administering the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, monitoring the safety of nuclear reactors, and ramping up government surveillance.

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Strategic development amid sanctions

Despite the international sanctions push against North Korea, the country has been actively monitoring AI and machine learning technology development. As identified by Hyuk Kim, this will further aid in developing an AI-driven digital economy in its nation. The report, published by the 38 North project, draws from open-source information, including state media and academic journals.

“North Korea’s recent endeavors in AI/ML development signify a strategic investment to bolster its digital economy.”

Notably, some of the North Korean AI researchers have been moving into joining efforts with counterparts abroad, including in China. This trend of international teamwork, more so in advancing technology, raises critical questions about the efficacy of the sanctions slapped on North Korea.

The report highlights that North Korea’s interest in AI is not a recent phenomenon. The establishment of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in 2013 and the promotion of commercial products featuring AI by several companies in recent years reflect the country’s long-term attention to this field. Despite the authoritarian state’s heavily restricted and monitored communications technology, this sustained focus on AI underscores the regime’s persistence to stay abreast of technological advancements.

AI applications: from public health to nuclear safety

The broad applications of AI use in North Korea are evidenced across many domains. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, AI was used in mask-use modeling and decision-making regarding inflection detection according to clinical symptoms. Additionally, North Korean scientists have delved into using AI to maintain the safety of nuclear reactors. This revelation comes at a time when the UN nuclear watchdog and independent experts have observed new activities at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex, potentially indicating the operation of a new reactor and the production of more plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The report also highlighted North Korea’s more menacing use of AI. Seoul’s spy agency found signs that North Korean hackers use generative AI to identify hacking objectives and learn elements of necessary technologies. Although these AI capabilities have not yet been used in cyberattacks, their existence is a significant concern. This advancement, along with North Korea’s intent to develop a wargaming simulation program using machine learning, clearly demonstrates the objective of elevating its military and cyber strength. Such advances in AI could alter North Korea’s operational methods against its rivals.

“For instance, North Korea’s pursuit of a wargaming simulation program using RL reveals intentions to better comprehend operational environments against potential adversaries.”

The implications of North Korea’s AI advancements are profound and multifaceted. As the country continues to develop its AI capabilities, one must ponder: How will these technological strides impact global security dynamics and international efforts to manage North Korea’s growing digital and military prowess?

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