The West faces a moment of reckoning unless it takes profound action to ensure technologies that define its prosperity are not controlled by competitors such as China, the director of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said on Friday.
Britain’s spies believe that China could within decades dominate all of the key emerging technologies of this century, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
In an unusually blunt speech, GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming said that the United Kingdom’s cyber power could not be taken for granted and that the rules were changing in ways that states did not always control.
“Without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West,” Fleming said in a lecture at London’s Imperial College, according a text of his speech released ahead of delivery.
“We are now facing a moment of reckoning.”
GCHQ, which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain, has a close relationship with the US National Security Agency as well as with the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called “Five Eyes”.
Fleming said that if the United Kingdom wished to remain a global cyber power then it would have to develop “sovereign technologies” in areas such as quantum, including cryptographic technologies, to protect sensitive information and capabilities.
He also called for better fostering of the right market conditions to enable innovation, and create a diversity of supply in a broader set of technologies.
“The UK really is a global cyber power – a big animal in the digital world,” he will say. “But historic strength does not mean we can assume we will be in the future.”
In cyber intelligence, the United States is ranked by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center as the top global power, followed by Britain, China and Israel.