40,000 virtual molecules in six hours.
1. Demons in the algorithms.
Collaborations Pharmaceuticals took a piece of drug-discovery software, called MegaSyn (a piece of artificial intelligence, AI, which the company has developed for the purpose of putting virtual molecules together and then assessing their potential as medicines), and turned one of its functions upside down. Instead of penalizing probable toxicity, as makes sense if a molecule is to be used medically, the modified version of MegaSyn prized it.
The result was terrifying. Trained on the chemical structures of a set of drug-like molecules (defined as substances easily synthesized and likely to be absorbed by the body) taken from a publicly available database, together with those molecules’ known toxicities, the modified software required a mere six hours to generate 40,000 virtual molecules that fell within the researchers’ predefined parameters for possible use as chemical weapons.
The list included many known nerve agents, notably VX, one of the most toxic. But the software also came up with not-yet-synthesized substances predicted to be deadlier still. Worryingly, some of them occupied parts of what chemists call “molecular property space” that were entirely separate from those inhabited by known neurotoxins. This suggests that whole, new classes of chemical weapons might be developed, if anyone wished to try. (Sources: collaborationspharma.com, economist.com, emphasis/italics added by me)
2. Demon in the freezer:
President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned his Russian counterpart on Wednesday against “any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
The explicit warning to Nikolai P. Patrushev, President Vladimir V. Putin’s main national security adviser, reflected escalating concerns in Washington that the Russians, stymied in their hopes of a quick takeover of the country, could resort to weapons of mass destruction.
Officials said there was no direct mention of the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, although two officials said the administration sent a separate warning on that issue through other channels in the opening days of the war, when Mr. Putin announced he was placing Russian nuclear forces on alert.
The White House would not say who initiated Wednesday’s call, though Russia indicated it came at the request of the United States. Mr. Patrushev, who has been in his job for 14 years, was among the Russians targeted by U.S. sanctions immediately after the invasion. (Source: nytimes.com)