Welsh AI pioneer helps Harvard assess North Korea’s biological research capability

Amplyfi, an artificial intelligence firm based in Cardiff, has been helping specialists at Harvard University assess North Korea’s biological research capabilities.

The company contributed its proprietary surface/deep web harvesting and analytics technology in a bid to explore the country’s broad biological research capacities.

It teamed up with Harvard on a new study assessing bioweapons’ capabilities in North Korea. A special report has been published by Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Named The Known and Unknown: North Korea’s Biological Weapons Program, the paper surveys the country’s bioweapons program which is thought to have started in the 1960s.

There’s been little public information available about bioweapons activities in North Korea. The report is a landmark achievement for academics.

It argues that complacency is a major risk and efforts should be made to combat any potential emerging bioweapons threat. Previously, it’s been assumed that North Korea has 13 types of biological agents including anthrax and the plague.

The new report gives experts a view into the pivotal role new technology will play in cultivating breakthroughs in intelligence gathering to identify and monitor the acquisition of biological research capability by North Korea.

Amplyfi’s proprietary artificial intelligence platform DataVoyant was used in the project, mining 840,000 websites that contained broad biological references.

Of these, 23,000 were revealed to have associations with North Korea; 170 of which pointed to particular organisations and institutions.

The company said that while traditional research methodologies focused on how to glean intelligence on related activities within North Korea, DataVoyant revealed indirect external channels through which North Korea might acquire knowledge.

Vernon Gibson, a visiting distinguished scholar at the Belfer Center and former Ministry of Defence Chief Scientific Adviser, said: “Advances in artificial intelligence are fundamentally changing how organisations can generate intelligence at speeds and accuracy not seen before.

“DataVoyant revealed seemingly benign ways in which North Korea is acquiring knowledge and capability that could potentially enhance its biological weapons program – right down to identifying specific individuals.

“Such technology will be game-changing for how intelligence critical for maintaining National Security can be acquired faster and more cost effectively.”

Chris Ganje, CEO of Amplyfi, said: “With the massive growth of open source data, there is an unfathomable quantity of insight online that is largely untapped.

“However, a standard internet search engine only scrapes the surface of what is available. New breakthroughs in data mining, particularly of the deep web which is at least 500 times larger than the surface web, has the potential to unlock a rich vein of information previously not directly accessible.

He added: “Cutting-edge artificial intelligence tools like DataVoyant can simultaneously harvest, curate, and make sense of unstructured big data; in this case identifying North Korean activities for potentially acquiring bioweapons knowledge.

“This serves to demonstrate the significant scope that technologies such as DataVoyant have to play in transforming global research and intelligence gathering.”