North Korea develops AI; raises security concerns

North Korea actively pursues AI and machine learning development for diverse applications, raising security concerns.

North Korea is actively engaging in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning across various sectors, encompassing responses to COVID-19, safeguarding nuclear reactors, wargaming simulations, and government surveillance, as outlined in a recent study. North Korea is actively pursuing advanced technology, including AI hardware, despite facing international sanctions due to its nuclear weapons program, as indicated by a study conducted by Hyuk Kim from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.

Kim’s report, published by the 38 North project on Tuesday, suggests that North Korea’s recent focus on AI and machine learning signifies a strategic investment to enhance its digital economy. The study draws on open-source information, including state media and journals, revealing that some North Korean AI researchers have collaborated with foreign scholars, including those from China.

North Korea established the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in 2013, and several companies in recent years have promoted commercial products featuring AI, according to the report. The country’s authoritarian regime heavily restricts and monitors communications technology.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea utilized AI to create a model for assessing proper mask usage and prioritizing clinical symptom indicators of infection, highlighting the multifaceted applications of AI in addressing public health challenges. The study also notes North Korean scientists’ research into using AI for ensuring the safety of nuclear reactors, raising concerns given recent indications that a new reactor at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex may be operational, potentially contributing to plutonium production for nuclear weapons.

Kim emphasizes the challenges posed by North Korea’s AI development, particularly its pursuit of a wargaming simulation program using machine learning. This suggests an intent to understand operational environments against potential adversaries better. Ongoing collaborations with foreign scholars are identified as a source of concern for the existing sanctions regime.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported signs of North Korean hackers using generative AI to identify targets and acquire technologies for hacking. However, no concrete evidence of its use in cyberattacks has been observed.