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WEF’s worst global threats: Can we weather the storm?

Skyline view of Davos, Switz., with the St. Johann church in the foreground.

Skyline view of Davos, Switz., with the St. Johann church in the foreground.

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
If it’s light reading you’re after, you might want to skip the latest WEF Global Risks Perception Survey, which tries to identify and rank the hobgoblins that threaten our collective well-being.

This year’s survey suggests that AI-powered misinformation is the world’s biggest short-term threat. False and misleading information, powered by artificial intelligence, threatens to erode democracy and polarize populations, it says.

In a big election year in the United States, Britain, India, Mexico, and Indonesia, many of the 1,500 respondents from the worlds of business and government worried that fake information could be used to raise questions about the legitimacy of election results.

The WEF report says rapid advances in technology are creating new problems and making existing ones worse. There are concerns that AI chatbots like ChatGPT mean synthetic content could be created to misinform and disinform.

AI is one of the four central themes of the forum, with major industry players like Open AI’s Sam Altman, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Meta’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, attending.

Extreme weather was the second most pressing short-term risk to the global economy, followed by societal polarization, cyber insecurity, and inter-state armed conflict.

Within 10 years, extreme weather is expected to become the biggest concern, followed by other environmental risks – changes to the Earth’s systems, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapses, and national resource shortages.

The report’s authors point out that preparedness for global risk has never been more important but that it’s increasingly hindered by a lack of consensus and cooperation.

So we’ll be watching deliberations at Davos this week with the hope of seeing more signs of both.

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