Attorneys encouraged to look for ways to mitigate AI risks

The fast pace of technological change — especially the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence — acts as an accelerant to global existential risks, according to Jason Matheny, president and CEO of RAND Corp.

Prior to joining RAND, Matheny led White House policy on technology and national security at the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He gave a keynote address, “Emerging Technologies and Existential Risks,” at the 33rd Annual Review of the Field of National Security Law conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

Matheny also previously served as director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, where he was responsible for developing advanced technologies for the U.S. intelligence community.

Just a few decades ago, the expense and high degree of skill and education necessary to create dangerous biological weapons from scratch acted as a deterrent. However, advances in technology  as well as artificial intelligence have led to a rapid democratization of those factors.

“This is a world that is really going to be complicated to navigate,” Matheny said. “It’s a world where a single sophisticated misanthrope with access to a bank account … to buy like a sedan … could instead use that to build a biological weapon that’s capable of killing millions of people.”

Robust legal tools are needed to mitigate such risks globally, he said, mentioning safety regulations, international coordination and public control of general-purpose AIs.

“We’ve tried to manage in the last few years by repurposing some of the legal instruments that we have from the Cold War,” such as export controls, the Defense Production Act and various kinds of emergency powers. But the kind of legal framework needed to confront this new generation of threats lies at the intersection of technology policy and national security law, he said.

Matheny encouraged lawyers to get involved.

“I wish I were a lawyer because I think that you all are going to be the ones taking on the hardest challenge in front of us, which is to think about what are the legal tools that we need, and how can we use them responsibly and ethically. Fortunately, the world has you all to figure this out.”

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