Microsoft’s founder and CEO and one of the richest people in the world, Bill Gates, warned recently that bioterrorism has become a greater threat for mankind than nuclear weapons, being able to sweep 30 million casualties in just a year.
He argues that the majority of nuclear weapons today are made, controlled and distributed under governmental and international supervision. While biological threats can be created both by humans and by nature, and have the potential to rapidly distribute and harm millions of people before they even get detected and contained.
During the speech at the crowded Munich Security Conference, Gates pointed out that viruses, both biological and computer ones, are becoming more and more powerful, and that the world leaders should start paying great attention to their rise and spread. “The next epidemic has a good chance of originating on a computer screen,” Gates said.
This can hardly come as a surprise to those who follow IT news. There is an ongoing debate for years now on whether or not artificial and virtual intelligence (AI and VI) should be implemented into anti-virus software to make it more efficient in fighting malware. And while it may seem like a good idea at first, experts warn that experimenting with a true AI is like playing with a wild lion. You never know how will it behave the moment you let your guard down.
Also, just as AI can be implemented to do good, it can also be used to cause damage. According to several reports and studies, humankind is just a few steps from creating a true AI, and therefore, a potential AI malware. Which, if ever created, will be able to outsmart and beat even the best anti-virus software. And if this kind of malware ever reaches the World Wide Web, it will have a potential to devastate the whole world by causing chaos in international payment systems, nuclear power plants, defense networks and even military installations.
But Gates is even more worried about biological threats such as viruses and bacteria, which have caused worldwide crisis several times during human history. Recalling the Great Plague, the 1918 Flu pandemic, and the recent African ebola outbreak, Gates pointed out that in the near future humanity may face a grave danger, bigger and worse than anything it ever experienced so far.
“Whether it originated from a laboratory or from nature, epidemiologists warn that a pathogen substance can travel great distances and spread very fast once it gets airborne. In just one year, it could kill as many as 30 million people”, Gates warned during his speech. “That’s why governments must prepare for such a scenario the same way they prepare for war”.
His co-panelists shared some of his views and fears. “Disease and violence are killing fewer people than ever before, but it’s spreading more quickly,” said Erna Solberg, the Prime minister of Norway. “We have forgotten how catastrophic those epidemics have been.”
Gates called the world leaders and governments to invest into technologies and methods that could provide countries with means to combat pandemics and biological attacks. These include vaccines, medical and NBC equipment, drugs, new safety standards and campaigns that serve to inform people of the importance of hygiene and healthy lifestyle.