Transitioning Analysis of Current and Future Catastrophic Risks from Emerging-Threat Technologies

Principal Investigator: 
Performance Period: 
November 2015 to June 2016
Commercialization Status: 
Some rapidly developing technologies, such as in synthetic biology, seem to pose much greater risks of catastrophe in the future than they do today. However, risk assessments that focus on what is usually thought to be possible in the near term may overlook indicators of developments that would enable more-catastrophic events. These risks could be significantly reduced with enough foresight and warning. This proposed third year of work builds on, and extends, the first-year CREATE project “Analysis of Current and Future Catastrophic Risks from Emerging-Threat Technologies” and the second-year project “Extending Analysis of Current and Future Catastrophic Risks from Emerging-Threat Technologies.” The proposed third year of work focuses primarily on transitioning the project’s previous research for use by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Bio-Terrorism Risk Assessment (BTRA) to enhance the BTRA’s ability to assess risks from emerging-threat technologies. In the first two years of the project, we developed and prototyped a methodology for analyzing risks and risk-management tradeoffs of potential emerging threats by systematically identifying potential catastrophe-enabling developments and indicators of precursor events; estimating probabilities of facing precursors; assessing tradeoffs of available options; and continually monitoring for potential indicators of catastrophe precursors and updating probability estimates with new information and new judgments. We also applied the project methodology to a potential emerging-threat technology area: the use of synthetic biology to produce bio-weapon agents [1].