Virtual Reality Is a National Security Threat

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U.S. intelligence officials say artificial intelligence, virtual reality and gene-editing pose just as much of a national security threat as Middle Eastern terrorist groups, Chinese hackers and Russian spies.

The warning comes from James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who released his unclassified report on national security threats to Congress this week.

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Experts say these emerging, and in some cases already commercialized, technologies are particularly dangerous because they are dual-use, meaning they have both both military and commercial applications. VR can be used to enhance the video game experience, as well as train jet fighter pilots, for example.

Dual use can also mean good and bad, said Daniel Gerstein, senior analyst at the Rand Corporation and a former under secretary at the Department of Homeland Security

“Imagine if a terrorist could get a hold of these technologies and conduct virtual rehearsals of an attack?” he said.

Because these technologies can be used in dangerous ways, said Gerstein, you have to think about them as potential threats and how they might contribute to risks we could face.

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Gerstein mentioned apps that turn a smartphone into a ballistic rangefinder to help launch weapons, or facial recognition systems that make going undercover almost impossible.

“If everybody’s face is recognized,” he said, “it’s hard to put in a covert team.”

In his report, Clapper noted that the so-called "Internet of things,” which connects our homes and offices to Internet-based sensors, could also be used by nefarious groups.

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