The annual Global Risks Report 2024 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) presents an assessment of current and future socio-economic and political situations, signaling a global risk landscape that is gradually eroding human development progress.
Alongside a milieu of mounting global conflicts, increasing climate hardships, and rising societal restlessness, the WEF report portrays an undesirable outlook, forestalling global shocks in the coming years. The report finds important risks in both the short and long terms.
Its story looks at four structural forces shaping global risks, such as climate change, demographic divides, technological acceleration, and geostrategic shifts. As per the WEF report, the biggest risks for the world over the next two years are misinformation and disinformation, extreme weather events, societal polarization, cyber insecurity, inter-state armed conflict, lack of economic opportunity, inflation, involuntary migration, economic downturn, and pollution.
Some of the risks identified are extreme weather events, critical changes to Earth systems, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, natural resource shortages, misinformation and disinformation, and adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, in the next ten years’ period.
Unambiguously, the report cautions about a disturbing future, marked by a rise in false, AI-generated information. It mentions that advanced technology and declining trust are making manipulated information more powerful. Misinformation and disinformation are significant global risks, exacerbated by user-friendly interfaces for powerful AI models. Hence, it has become challenging to filter out false content.
For both content hosts and creators governments are introducing new regulations, and the regulation of generative AI is still in its early stages. These efforts may support existing measures, but the response might not be able to keep up with the fast-paced development of this field.
Latest technological advancements, especially in AI, make it easier to create and spread fake information, particularly through social media. Misinformation and disinformation go beyond politics, shaping people’s views of reality. False information harms how people see the world, creating problems for society and individuals’ mental health. Vividly, the spread of false information can have far-reaching effects, influencing national elections and leading to protests or even violence.
Once people strongly believe in different things, they are more likely to trust information that aligns with their beliefs, even if it is not objectively accurate. In addition, if people already lack trust in the government and media, questioning the truth of information can make societal divisions even worse. This not only influences politics but also affects areas like health, justice, education, and the environment. Fake information can also lead to more fights, discrimination in workplaces, violent protests, hate crimes, and terrorism.
Regimes and wired platforms, in their efforts to safeguard free speech, face challenges in tackling false information and harmful content. Differing opinions on what the truth is lead to various groups harboring conflicting views of reality. Influential individuals such as conspiracy theorists, politicians, extremists, social media personalities, or business leaders can exploit this discord to expand their influence.
The usage of fabricated facts and untrustworthy content is likely to make digital authoritarianism stronger and it is no secret that technology is often active in controlling people. As such, governments might decide what is true, giving political groups the power to control talks and silence people who disagree with them, such as journalists and critics. Sometimes, citizens even face punishment and political repression for not aligning their views with the promoted unfounded narrative.
All too often, such publications create alarm when they are shared, rather than assuring that armed with this understanding security and resilience teams can act to safeguard people, organizations, and the world around them.
It makes for sobering reading, but it is important to read from the perspective of taking care rather than causing a scare.