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Reuters Reports Chinese Military Harnessing AI to Analyze Global Genome Data

Can genome data turn into a weapon of mass destruction? Yes, it can, as per Reuters latest report on the influence of the Chinese military on AI and prenatal testing companies. We know of all the great things AI and Data Science are doing for the human race. However, in recent times, we also reported how AI could be used to militarize industries, especially pharma research and genetics. Chinese genome data mining and analysis companies seem to be leading the way in the weaponization of AI capabilities. According to a recent Reuters report, a well-established Chinese company is working with the Chinese military to supply prenatal tests and collect test results to build a population data pool covering global regions.

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In March, US’ The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) issued a warning that Chinese companies are mining and intelligently analyzing data extracted from tools like NIFTY. NIFTY is a non-invasive prenatal test kit that screens blood samples of pregnant women who use it to detect genetic abnormalities such as Down Syndrome. By its own admission, BGI has analyzed over six million samples. But now, Reuters has reported that the count is close to 8 million, taken from women based in 52 countries where BGI NIFTY is sold legally. In the US, it is not sold. So, is the US protected from its genome data getting hacked or weaponized in China?

Now, the latest Reuters report has warned that the Chinese military could be collaborating with BGI to gain a strategic edge by gaining access to one of the world’s most diverse and biggest genome pool of non-invasive blood test samples. If proved right, China would procure a massive advantage in the race to develop highly advanced genetically enhanced drugs. This advantage could be passed on to Chinese pharmaceutical and biomarker companies. What’s most dreaded is that the NSCS fears China could develop engineered pathogens as bioweapons to target the US population and food supply. This is a real threat considering the ongoing pandemic crisis whose origin is tracked speculatively to the Wuhan lab in China.

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According to Anna Puglisi, former U.S. counterintelligence officer, when such companies manage to combine large amounts of genomic data – including mothers and their unborn children – with their medical data and history, it is a really powerful weapon for the Chinese military.

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Why it is dangerous? 

In China, the collection of genomic data is a security matter. Since 2015, China has banned foreign researchers from accessing genomic data. Contrastingly, the US labs practice an open science policy that allows foreign researchers, including Chinese, to gain access to genomic data of US-based citizens. This situation tilts the advantage toward the Chinese side. With AI and advanced Big data analysis tools to manage genomic data, China might use the intelligence to augment its national security and defense systems, mostly using engineered bio-weapons.

Meanwhile, BGI has issued an official statement stating that all its data collection practices are carried out as part of GDPR.

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It said, “All NIPT data collected overseas are stored in BGI’s laboratory in Hong Kong and are destroyed after five years, as stipulated by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).”

BGI says, “As a leader in life science and gene technology, BGI is committed to improving health outcomes worldwide. That is and always has been our mission. Assertions that BGI is motivated by anything other than the advancement of health outcomes are both deeply disappointing and factually incorrect.”

Here’s the link to Reuters’ full report.

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