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Emerging technologies pose challenges to the control of biological weapons, new SIPRI report

Emerging technologies pose challenges to the control of biological weapons, new SIPRI report
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(Berlin/Stockholm, 14 March 2019) Advances in additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence and robotics could increase the possibilities for the development, production and use of biological weapons. The existing biological arms control and non-proliferation governance framework needs to be adapted to address these security risks, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Read the report here.

The SIPRI report, ‘Bio Plus X: Arms Control and the Convergence of Biology and Emerging Technologies’, will be presented at the international conference ‘2019. Capturing technology. Rethinking arms control’ at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin on 15 March 2019.


Emerging technologies could facilitate the production and use of biological weapons

The report explores the risks and challenges posed by the interaction of developments in biotechnology and advances in three emerging technologies: additive manufacturing (so-called 3D printing), artificial intelligence and robotics. ‘Each of these technologies could, in its own way, facilitate the development, production and use of biological weapons, and make them more dangerous,’ says Kolja Brockmann, Researcher at SIPRI and lead author of the report. ‘The increased use of robots in laboratories could lead to significant gains in productivity during the design-build-test cycle of biological weapons, while artificial intelligence could be used to find new ways to optimize the transmissibility or virulence of a biological agent,’ says Dr Vincent Boulanin, Senior Researcher at SIPRI on emerging technologies.


Governance frameworks must be strengthened and re-envisioned

All three technologies are difficult to control, particularly due to their digitization and their dual-use nature. ‘A key challenge for effective biological arms control is that treaty structures and the institutional arrangements in ministries and government agencies do not correspond to today’s technical realities,’ says Dr Sibylle Bauer, Director of the SIPRI Armament and Disarmament programme.


New policy options could address governance issues

The report recommends that, in order to tackle the governance issues presented by emerging technologies, national governments need to monitor and assess developments in science and technology on a more systematic basis. They should also strengthen international efforts to foster responsible science and biosecurity awareness. In addition, the report suggests that the private sector should reinforce self-regulation and compliance standards.


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