A pharmaceutical company in Raleigh, North Carolina has discovered that artificial intelligence (AI) technology could be used to design chemical weapons.
The company, Collaborations Pharmaceuticals, uses AI to search for potential treatments for rare or infectious diseases and to make sure any drugs they discover are safe.
Sean Ekins, the president, and CEO of the company, revealed that a Swiss organisation that works to protect people from nuclear, biological, and chemical threats asked Collaborations Pharmaceuticals to find out whether the AI technology they use for drug discovery could be misused.
The findings were unprecedented. In just six hours, MegaSyn, the company’s automated software came up with designs for 40,000 highly toxic molecules similar to and including VX, a deadly nerve agent that is one of the most toxic and rapidly acting chemical weapons ever developed that can be absorbed through the skin, inhalation or ingestion.
“We flipped the switch of one of the models,” Ekins recalls, “So instead of making molecules that were not toxic, it now made very toxic molecules, after we looked at the types of molecules that came back, we saw it was able to design a chemical weapon…VX is so deadly literally a grain the size of a salt grain would be enough to kill you, it definitely disturbed me just to think of the ease that we were able to do it.”
Once the company published its research in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, the findings drew the attention of the White House Office of Science and Technology as well as other US federal agencies.
Two bills were introduced in the US Congress with the aim to protect people from the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
The research also drew the attention of Netflix which included the company and its research in its documentary “Unknown: Killer Robots”.
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