The new edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report ranks and provides us with a longer-term view of the risk landscape. Image: Unsplash/NASA
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- Misinformation and disinformation is the most severe short-term risk the world faces.
- AI is amplifying manipulated and distorted information that could destabilize societies.
- The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 reveals interconnected risks flowing from the misuse of AI.
A series of new risks is emerging that threaten to further destabilize the global order.
In addition to conflict and economic uncertainties that have plagued the world for centuries, widespread access to artificial intelligence (AI) is posing new threats.
The 2024 edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, ranks the most severe threats we face in the short term (two years) and also gives us a longer-term view of the risk landscape (10 years).
There are three major changes from last year’s report and they all relate to the proliferation – and potential misuse – of generative AI. One of these emerging risks is ranked as the most severe in the short term. This is how the new risks break down.
1. Misinformation and disinformation
Manipulated and falsified information is now the most severe short-term risk the world faces, according to the Global Risks Report 2024.
Over the next two years, misinformation and disinformation will present one of the biggest ever challenges to the democratic process.
Almost three billion people are due to take part in elections across the world. Voters in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States are due to vote.
“Misinformation and disinformation may radically disrupt electoral processes in several economies,” the report says. This disruption, according to the report, could trigger civil unrest and confrontation. It will also lead to growing distrust of media and government sources. Misinformation and disinformation will also deepen polarized views in societies where political opinion is already entrenched.
The risk presented by misinformation and disinformation is magnified by the widespread adoption of generative AI to produce what is known as “synthetic content”. This ranges from deepfake videos, voice cloning and the production of counterfeit websites.
Regulators are acting to create new laws to control the misuse of AI but the speed the technology is advancing is likely to outpace the regulatory process.
How is the World Economic Forum creating guardrails for Artificial Intelligence?
2. Adverse outcomes of AI technologies
Beyond the threat to democracy and social cohesion, the potential downsides of AI are another growing risk to feature in the Global Risks Report 2024.
In the report’s two-year timeframe, AI-related risks rank 29th in severity, but fast-forward 10 years and the threat rises to number six in the rankings as AI becomes embedded in every aspect of society. In addition to the spread of false information, risks include the mass loss of jobs, the weaponization of AI for military use, criminal use of AI to mount cyberattacks and inherent bias in AI systems being used by businesses and nation-states.
A further AI-related risk stems from a cautious approach to regulation, which has so far favoured innovation over caution in the face of uncertainties about the potential outcomes AI may produce.
3. Technological power concentration
AI is rapidly emerging as the most powerful technology humans have ever developed – with myriad potential applications in civilian and military settings.
The Global Risks Report 2024 raises concerns about the nature of how such a powerful and transformative technology is being developed, stating: “The production of AI technologies is highly concentrated, in a singular, globally integrated supply chain that favours a few companies and countries. This creates significant supply-chain risks that may unfold over the coming decade.”
Among these risks are the prioritization of national security interests in AI development, spiralling costs of production due to an inflationary scramble for components – including minerals and semiconductors – and anti-competitive practices to enhance profits.
According to the report, the EU is already considering regulations to rein in the powers of “digital gatekeepers” to ensure fair competition in the development of AI.
There’s little doubt that AI offers huge potential to enhance the human experience in spheres as diverse as healthcare, education, employment and entertainment. But as the Global Risks Report 2024 highlights, this emerging technology is creating new risks that, if not managed carefully, could pose some of the biggest threats humanity will face in the coming decades.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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