Oireachtas committee warned of ‘arms race’ with AI technologies

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An Oireachtas committee has been told there is an “arms race” with artificial intelligence technologies that continue to move beyond our capability to detect them.

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence was holding a session on disinformation and hybrid threats in the context of geopolitical shifts.

In submissions, the committee was told that hybrid attacks and campaigns could be understood as co-ordinated actions across different domains.

For example, cyber attacks that included information manipulation with a view to influencing electoral outcomes.

Different types of tools and organised actions such as disinformation, economic pressure, abuse of migrants, cyber attacks and other covert actions were understood as being combined in hybrid threats.

It was told these threats were growing both in frequency and impact.

Dr Eileen Culloty, deputy director of the Dublin City University (DCU) Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society, told the committee that AI technologies provided a “quite shocking” capacity to speed and scale up the generation of disinformation.

On disinformation, Dr Culloty said people engaged with disinformation for all sorts of reasons, including having lower levels of knowledge about a topic, mistrust in government and the media, and ideological biases.

She said “pre-bunking” could neutralise the effects of disinformation by explaining how it worked and warning people of its threats.

“The challenge lies in reaching people who need it the most,” she said.

She said there was a greater burden placed on public funding and civil society when online platforms could be providing a “much better picture”.

Brigid Laffan, Professor Emeritus European University Institute (EUI) and president of the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels, said security had “ratcheted up the agenda” of the European Union.

“The unipolar world is over. We now live in a multipolar world where the rules-based international order is much weaker and under threat,” she said.

She said EU member states found themselves in a very different security landscape due to hybrid threats which were used to undermine public trust in institutions.

She said there were “core economic interests at play” when considering Ireland’s vulnerability.

“We can’t afford a major incident in relation to multinational investment in Ireland, also our own critical infrastructure,” she said.

Ms Caitriona Heinl, executive director of the Azure Forum for Contemporary Security Strategy and adjunct research fellow at University College Dublin, said the objectives of hybrid threats included undermining public trust in democratic institutions, deepening unhealthy polarisation both nationally and internationally, challenging the core values of democratic societies, gaining geopolitical influence and power through harming and undermining others, and affecting the decision-making capability of political leaders.

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