A targeted attack on a portion of the population based on people’s DNA sounds like an episode of “Black Mirror.” However, scientists at the University of Cambridge argue that futuristic bioweapons could indeed single out specific groups of people.
What makes this even more frightening is the fact that governments truly haven’t prepared for such a threat. With domestic and international terrorist attacks sadly becoming more and more common, it isn’t too hard to believe that something like this could happen in the future.
According to an article published by The Telegraph, Cambridge scientists attribute the threat of genetically targeted bioweapons to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering. The team wants government officials to start paying attention to these areas before it is too late. They fear that the possibility of a rampant AI system or genetically engineered pandemic causing havoc is too great of a risk to leave things to chance.
The study’s authors write, “The technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at ever cheaper prices, democratising the ability to harm more quickly and lethally.”
Of course, besides a global pandemic, one of the most painful ways terrorists could attack is through genetic targeting. The researchers warn that, theoretically, a bioweapon could be made that kills only people of a certain ethnic background. Obviously, this would be catastrophic on many levels.
While the study doesn’t specifically highlight how such an attack would be possible, it isn’t too difficult to imagine. After all, with systems like CRISPR becoming more accurate every year, the ability to point a deadly pathogen at certain DNA markers isn’t outlandish. In fact, the technology probably already exists and is simply waiting for someone to realize it.
The very real threat of a genetically targeted bioweapon is on the horizon. So, the Cambridge researchers believe that government intervention is the best way to keep people safe. They echo the sentiment of many regarding the tech sector’s nearly unchecked freedom.
One of the authors says, “Our leaders can, and must, act now to better understand the global catastrophic risks that are present and developing.”
His sentiment is an important one. Still, only time will tell if the study is enough to urge lawmakers to act. However, it certainly makes a strong case for legislation that better controls things like genetic engineering and AI.
Meanwhile, some governments are taking active steps to help guard against these futuristic threats. France is currently hiring sci-fi writers to predict dangers that could face the country in the years to come.
For now, people must hope that something as horrible as genetically targeted bioweapons doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. However, hoping that something bad won’t happen isn’t a solution. Ultimately, some form of government oversight will be necessary to help ensure such weapons are never able to exist.