Former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said Monday he fears that artificial intelligence will empower America’s enemies to engage in biological warfare.
Speaking via videoconference on a plane after visiting Ukraine, Mr. Schmidt told reporters he is particularly worried about AI’s use in developing new viruses capable of harming Americans.
“The biggest issue with AI is actually going to be something which we don’t talk about very much, which is its use in biological conflict,” Mr. Schmidt said. “It’s going to be possible for bad actors to take the large databases of how biology works and use it to generate things which hurt human beings.”
Mr. Schmidt leads the nonprofit Special Competitive Studies Project that published a new report on Monday warning that America cannot afford to lose the fight for technological advantage against China.
Speaking at a virtual gathering organized by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security, he said he is participating in a commission studying emerging bioterrorism threats, which has been organized by Congress but has yet to begin meeting.
“There is a general concern that the database of viruses can be expanded greatly by using AI techniques, which will generate new chemistry, which can generate new viruses,” Mr. Schmidt said.
New technology may not make it easier to trace a virus’ origin or whether anyone is using a virus as a weapon.
Debate about COVID-19’s origins and its spread from China has raged since the onset of the pandemic. Social media platforms restricted digital discussion of the topic, but Facebook later reversed its ban on posts about the virus being manufactured in a Chinese lab.
The range of enemies capable of waging a biological conflict furthered by artificial intelligence will not simply be limited to major powers such as China and Russia, according to the Special Competitive Studies Project.
The group’s report said advances in technology will foster greater “individualization of war.”
“As synthetic biology advances, more people can create pathogens, either from synthetic or naturally occurring DNA,” the report said. “By expanding the power of individuals, technology will increase uncertainty about which actions are taken by a state, by those acting on behalf of a state, or those acting on their own.”
Advances in artificial intelligence can also facilitate microtargeted attacks on Americans.
“Our adversaries are working to acquire, analyze, and weaponize data on DNA, dating preferences, shopping tendencies, social networking, and professional experiences of much of the U.S. population,” the report said.
“Empowered by AI, this could allow foreign intelligence services to micro-target senior civilian and military leaders by denigrating them in the public domain and orchestrating character assassination efforts, which would put such senior leaders under considerable pressure and distract them from discharging their duties,” it explained.
The Special Competitive Studies Project styled itself as a nonprofit successor to the federal government’s National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence created in a 2018 defense bill. The commission’s final report advocated for spending billions more taxpayer dollars to avoid falling behind China.
The nonprofit team of national security officials and technologists warned that the U.S. cannot beat China one-on-one in a major fight for the control of future technology that has the potential to remake economies and dominate people’s lives.
The group outlined a doomsday scenario of China emerging victorious and wielding influence across the globe, effectively ending an era of open internet characterized by the free flow of information online.
“Neither the United States nor any of its allies on their own can compete at scale with the PRC in the tech competition,” the report said.
The group advocated for closer collaboration between America and its allies to compete with China.