Speculation over who will succeed Daniel Craig as the next James Bond may have been rife for months, but back in the real world it seems that 007 is becoming obsolete as MI5 kicks off a major recruitment drive to build an army of data and behavioural scientists to combat terrorist threats.
The intelligence service, headed up by director general Sir Andrew Parker, is aiming to increase the number of data and behavioural scientists it employs by up to 50% this year to alter the balance of its recruitment and develop a new style of spy for the future.
MI5 is also understood to want to work more closely with tech firms, including start-ups in London, to develop new ways of using technology such as artificial intelligence and drones to protect national security.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Parker suggested MI5 would also have to form partnerships with retailers, banks and Internet companies to access information about the 3,000 people it has under close investigation at any one time.
“The private sector has way more information and data about any of us than MI5 would ever have about the individuals we’re interested in,” he said. “I’m talking about our focused interest in the few thousand people that . . . we need to know more about.”
The next step is to use machine learning to extract useful intelligence from this vast quantity of information held by the private sector. Parker said he was particularly interested in AI “because of our need to be able to make sense of the data lives of thousands of people in as near to realtime as we can get to”.
However, he conceded: “[Technology] will never replace our need to also have human insight, because technology and data will never tell us what is going on in people’s heads. What people’s real intent and thoughts are, that they might share with another human being.”