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This is a linkpost for Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley on Barriers to Bioweapons, episode 74 of the Hear This Idea podcast. For balance, you may want to check 80,000 Hours' profile on prevential catastrophic pandemics, which was last updated on 14 December 2023.


  1. Resources
  2. Transcript
    1. Why is tacit knowledge so hard to transfer?
    2. How could AI change biorisk?
    3. Why is tacit knowledge especially important in biology?
    4. Why do people think building bioweapons is easy? Why does it matter?
    5. Why could bioweapons be especially hard for rogue actors?
    6. Closing questions
    7. Outro

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley is an associate professor at George Mason University and the deputy director of their biodefense program. Sonia has written extensively on the proliferation and non-proliferation of bioweapons, being one of the key voices to have emphasized the challenges that organizations, tacit knowledge, and other factors have caused for states and terrorists that have attempted to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Misconceptions around the ease of bioweapon production — how and why bioweapons programs face unique challenges compared to nuclear weapons programs
  • The crucial role of tacit knowledge in bioweapons production
  • Will AI make bioweapons much easier to develop, or will human expertise remain a major bottleneck?
  • Case studies of bioweapons programs, illustrating the practical difficulties and failures encountered even by well-resourced state actors.
  • (How) has Biological Weapons Convention prevented bioweapon proliferation?
  • Do global political trends point towards proliferation, even without AI?





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