In April 2023, a group of academics at Carnegie Mellon University set out to test the chemistry powers of artificial intelligence. To do so, they connected an AI system to a hypothetical laboratory. Then they asked it to produce various substances. With just two words of guidance—“synthesize ibuprofen”—the chemists got the system to identify the steps necessary for laboratory machines to manufacture the painkiller. The AI, as it turned out, knew both the recipe for ibuprofen and how to produce it.
How dangerous is AI? The honest and scary answer is that no one knows.
Unfortunately, the researchers quickly discovered that their AI tool would synthesize chemicals far more dangerous than Advil. The program was happy to craft instruction to produce a World War I–era chemical weapon and a common date-rape drug. It almost agreed to synthesize sarin, the notoriously lethal nerve gas, until it Googled the compound’s dark history. The researchers found this safeguard to be cold comfort. “The search function,” they wrote, “can be easily manipulated by altering the terminology.” AI, the chemists concluded, can make devastating weapons.
Read the full article from Foreign Affairs.
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