“There’s been a bio revolution in these last 10 years, with convergence of science and computing and AI and data sciences,” said Luciana Borio, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the acquisition of those technologies and tools have proliferated, and the barriers to acquisition of those tools are lower now. And I think that we are in a very dangerous situation.”
Daniel Gerstein, a senior policy researcher at Rand, referred to the “democratization” of the means to make biological weapons. Some of the work of making them can be done on a desktop, he said. The same technologies that have enabled an aerosol form of insulin can be used for nefarious purposes, he noted.
The coronavirus pandemic showed in real time how devastating disease outbreaks can be. If one were deliberately begun, it could be worse.
“The biological threats that are enabled by advances in synthetic biology make it possible to design pathogens that are even more severe, that are even more deadly, than what we find in nature,” said Rand’s president and CEO, Jason Matheny. “And the capabilities are accessible not just to state biological weapons programs that unfortunately persist today, but also to individuals.”
Lessons from social media
The same surveillance networks can detect either natural, human-made or accidentally released pathogens. But telling the difference remains a challenge, George said.