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WEF flags spread of fake news in AI age as top short-term risk

Over the long term, climate-related risks dominate list of threats as world nears or crosses ‘climate tipping points’               

WEF flags spread of fake news in AI age as top short-term risk
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Misinformation and disinformation pose the biggest risk to the world over the short term, a survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF) said.

The growing concern about misinformation and disinformation is in large part driven by the potential for artificial intelligence (AI), in the hands of bad actors, to flood global information systems with false narratives, the Geneva-based organization said in the report.

Over the next two years, the WEF’s Global Risks Perception Survey said, “foreign and domestic actors alike will leverage misinformation and disinformation to widen societal and political divides”.

This risk is enhanced by a large number of elections in the near future, with more than 3 billion people due to head to the polls in 2024 and 2025, including in major economies like the US, India and the United Kingdom, it said.

The WEF report was released only hours following an incident where a hacked X (previously known as Twitter) account belonging to the US Securities and Exchange Commission posted about the approval of a spot-Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, leading to a temporary spike in Bitcoin’s value.

The report suggested that the spread of mis- and disinformation could lead to civil unrest, but could also drive government-driven censorship, domestic propaganda and controls on the free flow of information.

The Geneva-based organization will next week host global elite, including politicians and business leaders from India, in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos under the theme “Rebuilding Trust”.

The findings of the survey are based on insights from nearly 1,500 global experts from academia, business, government, the international community and civil society.

More than half (54%) of the respondents expect significant degree of instability and a moderate risk of global catastrophes, while another 30% see things getting even worse, envisioning looming global catastrophes and with a “stormy” or “turbulent” period ahead in the next two years.

Over the longer term, climate-related risks contribute 5 of the top 10 threats as the world nears or crosses “climate tipping points”.

The risk posed by extreme weather events tops the list as nations remain unprepared for the “triggering of long-term, potentially irreversible and self-perpetuating changes to select planetary systems (which) could be passed at or before 1.5C of global warming, currently anticipated to be reached by the early 2030s”.

While the threat of extreme weather is seen as an immediate one, there was disagreement about the urgency of other climate-related risks such as the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem collapse.

Concern about these risks was significantly higher among younger respondents to the survey, prompting fears that mitigation could be delayed beyond the point where meaningful action can be taken.

With diminishing trust, political polarization and a volatile geopolitical landscape, the potential for cooperation to tackle global risks is under pressure. The report finds that solutions could emerge as a result of more localized cooperation on the part of nations, corporations and even individual citizens.

However, given the scale of the economic, political and environmental challenges the world is facing, the report said, “cross-border collaboration at scale remains critical for risks that are decisive for human security and prosperity”.

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