Bugs - Barokong - Teknoiot

28 May 2020

Bugs - Barokong

Do we have your attention yet? I ran across the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, which thinks about the tail events that could destroy civilization.

Here is a nice thought to keep you up at night, given how  unprepared our governments have revealed themselves to be. It's an old thought, but perhaps one our governments will start to take more seriously:

there is a trade-off in natural pandemics between transmissibility and lethality – if a pathogen kills its host too quickly, the host can’t infect many other people. But due to biotechnological advances, it may soon be possible to engineer pathogens to be more infectious, more fatal, and to have a delayed onset – and so be far more dangerous.
New breakthroughs like the targeted genome editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 are increasing our capabilities; and the cost of DNA sequencing/synthesis and the hurdle of expertise are rapidly decreasing. ...
An engineered pandemic could escape from a lab, or it could be deliberately used as a weapon. During the 20th century several countries had state-run bioweapons programmes, and we know of several non-state groups that have attempted to acquire bioweapons.
Almost singlehandedly, one postdoc was recently able to recreate horsepox (similar to smallpox, which killed 300m in the 20th Century) from scratch in only six months. Capabilities that were once only in the hands of governments will soon be within reach of non-state actors.
A novel pathogen, designed to be deadlier than anything in nature, could severely affect the entire world. As Lord Rees has said “The global village will have its village idiots, and they'll have global range”.
Now think about a terrorist group or a country developing both the virus and the vaccine, which would take a year to develop otherwise. It's like a James Bond movie, except entirely realistic.

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