Overseas experts worry how North Korea might use AI

North Korea’s notorious history of hacking could get further reinforced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) (Image: FOTOGRIN, Courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc.)

North Korea is using artificial intelligence to assist its extensive hacking activity and appears to be exploring the possibility of developing its own generative AI, according to South Korean intelligence experts.

Seoul and its allies are anxious to map out other areas where the North Koreans may boost their capabilities with AI, in particular military applications.

The heightened concern follows last month’s visit to Pyongyang by Russian President Vladimir Putin, when the two countries upgraded their defense relationship. The June 19 agreement includes a commitment to full-scale cooperation in science and technology and, notably, AI.

“We have identified circumstances where generative AI is used to search and identify hacking targets,” said an official from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, quoted in Digital Daily, a Korean publication. “There are also trends indicating efforts to develop their own generative AI.” 

Experts are stressing the need to pay attention to North Korea’s future actions in this area.

According to a report in NK Kyongje, overseas experts have taken note of an in-depth paper on generative AI in the January 2024 issue of “Computer and Program Technology,” which is published in Pyongyang by the Central Information Agency for Science and Technology, as an indication that the regime is putting some of its best minds on the sector.

“They have the talent and can develop it,” said a programmer in Seoul who graduated from the North’s Kim Chaek University of Technology before defecting. 

By way of illustration, students from Kim Chaek University of Technology and Kim Il-sung University swept the top four positions last year in a hacking competition hosted by the American IT company HackerEarth. The first-placed student scored a perfect 800 points.

The students benefited from the country’s Gifted High Schools system that nurtures prodigies in math and science. Candidates are selected annually via regional math competitions. They invariably end up at Kim Chaek University of Technology and go on to specialize in nuclear weapons among other sectors.

“The challenge will be how to deal with international exchange, internet access, and high-performance hardware, all of which are necessary for developing the latest AI technologies,” the defector said.

Over the past year, North Korea has demonstrated a focus on promoting informatization and developing the latest technologies, dedicating full effort to these areas. Specifically, it has drawn public attention to its research on next-generation mobile communication technologies such as 4G and 5G, the promotion of cloud computing research, and the expansion of AI applications.

Lee Jia

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