China could rule world’s technology, UK cyber spy chief says

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) -The West must urgently act to ensure China does not dominate important emerging technologies and gain control of the “global operating system,” Britain’s top cyber spy said on Friday.

In an unusually blunt speech, Jeremy Fleming, director of the GCHQ spy agency, said the West faced a battle for control of technologies such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.

“Significant technology leadership is moving East,” Fleming said at Imperial College London. “The concern is that China’s size and technological weight means that it has the potential to control the global operating system.”

“We are now facing a moment of reckoning,” he said.

World powers will compete to shape the future by developing the best technology, hiring the people with the best brains and dominating the global standards that will govern the technologies, Fleming said.

GCHQ, which gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain, has a close relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency and with the eavesdropping agencies of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in a consortium called “Five Eyes”.

Fleming said that if Britain wished to remain a global cyber power then it would have to develop “sovereign” quantum technologies, including cryptographic technologies, to protect sensitive information and capabilities.

Fleming said quantum computing, which uses the phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver a leap forward in computation, was getting closer and posed huge opportunities but also risks.

The West should forge ahead with developing quantum-proof algorithms, he said, “so we’re also prepared for those adversaries who might use a quantum computer to look back at things that we currently think are secure”.

He called for better fostering of market conditions to enable innovation, and create a diversity of supply in a broader set of technologies.

Fleming said China was “bringing all elements of state power to control, influence design and dominate markets” while trying to dominate debates about global standards.

He said digital currencies held significant promise to revolutionize the finance sector but posed a potential threat to liberties if abused by illiberal states as they could enable “significant intrusions into the lives of citizens and companies”.

Russia remains the biggest immediate threat to the West but Communist China’s long-term dominance of technology poses a much bigger problem, he said.

“Russia is affecting the weather, whilst China is shaping the climate,” he said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden, Kate Holton and Timothy Heritage)

Groups call human embryo editing ‘a line we must not cross’

Scientists, scholars and advocates are among those calling for a worldwide ban on the genetic manipulation of human embryos, warning the practice would “irrevocably alter the nature of the human species and society.”

The words appeared in an open letter on the website of the Center for Genetics and Society on Monday, a day before the International Summit on Human Gene Editing began in Washington.
The letter accompanied a report that the Center for Genetics and Society jointly released with the Friends of the Earth, in which the groups call for a ban on editing genes in human embryos.

Modern advancements have brought humans close than ever to creating “genetically modified humans,” but those who signed the open letter agree that humans should not engineer genes that will be passed on to their children, particularly with so little known about long-term effects.

“Genetic modification of children was recently the stuff of science fiction,” Pete Shanks, a consulting researcher with the Center for Genetics and Society and the report’s lead author, said in a statement. “But now, with new technology, the fantasy could become reality. Once the process begins, there will be no going back. This is a line we must not cross.”

The most pertinent technological advancement in the field is CRISPR/Cas9, a cost-effective tool that allows researchers to search for a specific DNA sequence in a cell. Once it finds what it’s looking for, the tool can be used to cut out the DNA strand and paste a different one into its spot.

While those who signed the open letter acknowledge that human gene editing could have some potentially good applications, like treating damaged tissues in a grown person, they wrote there isn’t any justification for tweaking the genes of future children. They wrote that parents who want to prevent their children from inheriting genetic diseases, one of the major arguments used in favor of gene editing, can usually do that another way — like a traditional embryo screening.

The letter also states that allowing any kind of reproductive cell editing “would open the door to an era of high-tech consumer eugenics in which affluent parents seek to choose socially preferred qualities for their children,” or so-called designer babies.

“At a time when economic inequality is surging worldwide, heritable genetic modification could inscribe new forms of inequality and discrimination onto the human genome,” the letter states.

Scientists are expected to discuss recent developments and technologies in human gene editing at this week’s summit. They’re also slated to discuss potential ethical and legal concerns, weigh the risks and benefits of research and examine regulations, according to the summit’s website.