Artificial intelligence (AI) could quickly sift through expanding masses of complex date to tackle child sex abuse and trafficking criminals, a security service has said.
GCHQ has set out how AI might be used in the fight against increasingly sophisticated criminal activity.
International networks that carry out human, weapon and drugs trafficking are currently operating with encryption tools and by using virtual currencies such as bitcoin.
The security service believes that technology could allow those networks to be mapped.
It also believes that with advanced systems, online chat rooms could be scanned for evidence of grooming.
Humans struggle to quickly uncover these clandestine activities, but AI will hunt down hidden people and illegal services on the dark web.
It could also help the authorities to identify malicious software that has the potential of crippling businesses, causing damage to assets and lost revenue.
Over the last year, almost half of UK firms and a quarter of charities have reported being the target of a security breach or a cyber attack.
One in five of those incidents has lead to a significant loss of money or data, research shows.
Humans wouldn’t be completely replaced by technology under the new plans – human analysts would remain at the heart of the investigations.
Artificial intelligence would filter data and point towards fragments to aid them.
In a new report, GCHQ acknowledges that there are ethical considerations before such technology is deployed.
Its director, Jeremy Fleming, said: “AI, like so many technologies, offers great promise for society, prosperity and security.
“It’s impact on GCHQ is equally profound. AI is already invaluable in many of our missions as we protect the country, its people and way of life.
“It allows our brilliant analysts to manage vast volumes of complex data and improves decision-making in the face of increasingly complex threats – from protecting children to improving cyber security.
“While this unprecedented technological evolution comes with great opportunity, it also poses significant ethical challenges for all of society, including GCHQ.
“Today we are setting out our plan and commitment to the ethical use of AI in our mission.
“I hope it will inspire further thinking at home and abroad about how we can ensure fairness, transparency and accountability to underpin the use of AI.”
The paper is entitled Ethics of AI: Pioneering a New National Study.
It details how GCHQ plans to devise an AI ethical code of practice and hire more diversely in a bid to ensure the technology is used appropriately.
An AI Lab would be created in Manchester to focus on testing products.
GCHQ warns that a growing number of states are turning to AI as a means of spreading disinformation to shape public perceptions and undermine trust.
Furthering the agency’s own artificial intelligence could be adopted to block botnets on social media, as well as identifying so-called “troll farms”.
The report comes as the Government prepares to publish its Integrated Review into security, defence, development and foreign policy.