Congress charges IARPA with creating prize challenges for 5G, deepfake detection

The advanced research arm of the intelligence community will ask the public for help identifying deepfakes.

Congress is authorizing $10 million in prize money to help the Defense Department reach out to the public to battle foreign disinformation, and to further ramp up the Pentagon’s 5G technologies.

The 2020 defense authorization act allows the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to use the funds for two prize competitions: one for 5G, and the other to study and detect deepfake technology.

Deepfakes are videos manipulated to look like a celebrity or politician said something they did not say. Foreign and domestic groups are using the videos to sway public opinion.

The defense authorization act allows IARPA $5 million specifically for stimulating “the research, development, or commercialization of technologies to automatically detect machine-manipulated media.”

Deepfakes and other disinformation campaigns are a growing concern for DoD and other parts of the government as China and Russia try to interfere in U.S. elections and politics.

“Everything is fair game and I think there is probably some innovation to come in terms of how they undermine our processes and our sources of information,” Levi Gundert, vice president of intelligence and risk at Recorded Future told Federal News Network last November. “There’s so many ways they can attack us. There are fake articles, but it’s not just the written word. It’s media, it’s pictures, it’s videos, it’s doctoring, it’s deep fakes. That’s the scariest part. As a consumer, when you are on social media or even on a mainstream news site there is a question of whether you are listening, watching or reading something that is not true.”

The NDAA also requires the director of national intelligence to tell Congress when a foreign entity uses deepfake technology to interfere with elections.

IARPA is also in charge of another $5 million prize challenge, this one aimed at 5G. The NDAA calls on the agency to “carry out a program to award prizes competitively to stimulate research and development relevant to fifth-generation technology.” The law isn’t much more specific than that, other than stating that the technology can be hardware, software or other technologies relating to 5G wireless networks.

5G is one area where DoD is particularly concerned about Chinese dominance. Last August, Defense Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin said DoD will prioritize 5G technologies.

“We are aware that commercial initiatives in telecommunications far outstrip anything that we can do and would want to do in DoD. We are struggling to become the flea on the tail of telecom’s dog,” Griffin. “We have national security needs and to the extent that we can seed the competitive environment or encourage it to grow in areas that are relevant to us, we want to do that.”

DoD released a handful of notices to the private sector last month about industry days and contracts related to 5G, and installing 5G networks on bases.

Prize challenges are gaining steam within the defense community. DoD previously used them to find vulnerabilities in its networks and to develop AI.

The challenges open DoD up to a wide range of academia, industry and regular citizens with ideas about a subject and don’t limit the department to traditional contractors.

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