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Terrorists could build deadly chemical weapons with AI in just two years, ministers warn

Artificial Intelligence could help terrorists develop chemical, biological and radiological weapons within the next two years, the Government has warned.

Official papers raised the prospect of the new technology causing so many job losses that there is an “unemployment crisis”. In a speech on Thursday, Rishi Sunak will urge world leaders to take action now to give citizens “peace of mind” that they will be kept safe.

Ministers have published papers setting out for the first time the potential opportunities and risks from the new technology. Within the next two years they warned that the biggest dangers included possible cyber-attacks, a rise in fraud and the production of child sexual abuse images. Between now and 2025, the government said there was a risk that AI could be used to “enhance terrorist capabilities” in propaganda, recruitment, attack planning and the development of “chemical, biological and radiological weapons”.

A document prepared by the Government Office for Science envisaged different ways that artificial intelligence could evolve. Under a “Wild West” scenario, it said misuse of AI in the future could cause “societal unrest as many members of the public fall victim to organised crime”. In this situation it imagined there would be “economic damage” as businesses “have trade secrets stolen on a large scale”. Although the technology could create some new jobs, in this scenario it said there would be “concerns of an unemployment crisis” because of the losses from automation.

It also warned of the potential that the “internet [would be] seen as increasingly polluted, with concern about the historical record”. A separate Government paper suggested that misinformation spread by AI could encourage people to “make dangerous decisions, for example through suggesting toxic substances as medicine”.

Under another scenario, the Government foresaw there could be “frequent and severe” AI-based cyber-attacks on infrastructure and public services. It suggested that in 2030 “intelligence services [would] start to become aware of terrorist groups trying to develop bioweapons using these tools”.

The document concluded: “Given the significant uncertainty in predicting AI developments, there is insufficient evidence to rule out that highly capable future Frontier AI systems, if misaligned or inadequately controlled, could pose an existential threat. However, many experts consider this a risk with very low likelihood and few plausible routes to being realised.”

The Government said the documents would “inform discussions” at an international summit on AI safety that is being hosted by the PM at Bletchley Park next week. In a speech ahead of the gathering, Mr Sunak will say: “AI will bring new knowledge, new opportunities for economic growth, new advances in human capability, and the chance to solve problems we once thought beyond us. But it also brings new dangers and new fears.

“So, the responsible thing for me to do is to address those fears head on, giving you the peace of mind that we will keep you safe, while making sure you and your children have all the opportunities for a better future that AI can bring. Doing the right thing, not the easy thing, means being honest with people about the risks from these technologies.”