DoD to fund AI that tracks authoritarian government censorship

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced substantial funding for a project it hopes will help to develop AI technologies capable of automatically analyzing how authoritarian regimes prevent the free flow of information online.

Control over the internet has been a primary method for the restriction of information for many years now. It is exploited in diverse territories around the world to help spread propaganda and to prevent the dissemination of dissenting political opinions. This allows totalitarian regimes to maintain a stranglehold over the populace – particularly in and around election times.

Now, the principal US agency charged with developing technologies for the military is asking for detailed submissions for research concepts funded by its Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) branch. AIE is a special research project that aims to develop groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence technologies for US national security. 

$1 million in funding

According to MeriTalk, AIE will encourage the submission of proposals by providing award funding to the tune of $1 million for successful project applications "in the technical domain of large-scale network measurement to detect information control.” 

In order to gain this funding, successful applicants must provide detailed information over how they intend to "measure how countries censor, block, or throttle specific internet-based activities” and "will also try to determine the technical capabilities that countries use to enable such repressive activities.” Specifically, those submissions must provide the following details:

"Aspects of the information environment they will address or which information control technical capabilities they seek to characterize;

"Scope of and granularity of measurement

"Where and how they will collect information

"Methods for tracking changes to the information environment over time

"End-user/analyst presentation, to include output data formats that will enable easy dissemination and analysis

"Reasoning for how current internet freedom end-users can directly utilize proposed technologies developed under Measuring the Information Control Environment.”

As a result, it is expected that the proposed AI algorithms should be able to analyze changes to how content such as text, images, audio, and video is shared online – and how methods like packet routing, IP address filtering, and DNS filtering – are abused to prevent the flow of content deemed to be harmful to existing power structures. 

Need to know information

DARPA is aware that it is becoming increasingly common for overreaching governments to censor the internet and stem the flow of information. This viewpoint is supported by Freedom House which regularly highlights the downward spiral democracy is suffering around the world.

According to its 2021 Freedom in the World report "as a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny.”

freedom in the world report "Democracy under siege"

Under such circumstances, the US government has decided to ramp up its efforts to develop tools able to accurately determine how governments maintain control over their despotic regions via the blocking of essential information. 

Measuring Information Control Environment (MICE)

AIE’s proposed MICE system will purportedly help the US government to better understand and counter the steady rise of authoritarianism around the globe.

According to DARPA, the project will ultimately "develop algorithms and prototype open-source software” that understands how totalitarian governments restrict information at scale using various methods. The AIE commented:

"There is a need for real-time, comprehensive tools that establish ground truth for how countries are conducting domestic information control."

"This capability would enable the Department of Defense to strengthen existing United States Government efforts to help curtail repressive actions in cyberspace by either raising awareness (and establishing norms) or by the development of tailored capabilities to combat these repressive actions."

Proposals for this funded R&D project must be made by June 30, with awards for those submissions to be granted by the Department of Defense via an OTA. 

As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and with these kinds of tax-funded projects, it remains vital for the US legislature to monitor the proposed technologies and advancements that eventually emerge.

This is to prevent them from potentially being exploited to control internal domestic policy in such a way that it entrenches failing political systems that most US citizens now feel are in need of an overhaul.

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

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