In just six hours, artificial intelligence was able to ‘simply’ create 40,000 new potential chemical weapons. This is according to researchers who created a “bad actor” drug-developing AI to examine how it might be abused to produce evil arms.
The worrying study was released in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence. Scientists demonstrated how simple it was to modify the AI so that it became a dangerous tool.
The AI was said to come up with possible chemical weapons similar to one of the most dangerous nerve agents of all time. That dangerous substance is called VX.
VX is a tasteless and odorless nerve agent and even the smallest drop can cause a human to sweat and twitch.
A larger dose can cause convulsions and can even stop a person from breathing completely.
The scientists were told to withhold the specific details on how they managed to turn good-acting AI into an evil version.
Fabio Urbina, the lead author of the paper, told The Verge: “Broadly, the way it works for this experiment is that we have a lot of datasets historically of molecules that have been tested to see whether they’re toxic or not.”
“In particular, the one that we focus on here is VX. It is an inhibitor of what’s known as acetylcholinesterase.”
“Whenever you do anything muscle-related, your neurons use acetylcholinesterase as a signal to basically say “go move your muscles.”
“The way VX is lethal is it actually stops your diaphragm, your lung muscles, from being able to move so your lungs become paralyzed.”
He went on to explain that his team took the data usually given to AI to see if something is toxic and changed how the AI processed it.
Urbina told The Verge: “We weren’t really sure what we were going to get. Our generative models are fairly new technologies.”
“So we haven’t widely used them a lot.”
“The biggest thing that jumped out at first was that a lot of the generated compounds were predicted to be actually more toxic than VX.
“And the reason that’s surprising is because VX is basically one of the most potent compounds known. Meaning you need a very, very, very little amount of it to be lethal.”
The scientists were mostly shocked about how easy they found the experiment was to conduct.
A lot of data they used could be found online for free.
The researchers were even in two minds about publishing their study in case it encouraged bad actors to copy it.
Urbina explained: “The dataset they used on the AI could be downloaded for free and they worry that all it takes is some coding knowledge to turn a good AI into a chemical weapon-making machine.”
“At the end of the day, we decided that we kind of want to get ahead of this. Because if it’s possible for us to do it, it’s likely that some adversarial agent somewhere is maybe already thinking about it or in the future is going to think about it.”