You know that character in most horror films — he's usually some grumpy old guy or some crazed social outcast — who warns unsuspecting (usually) teenage victims of their impending death? The World Economic Forum's Global Risks report is kind of like that bloke, completely filled with doom and gloom but offering damn good advice on how to stay alive.
Last year's report pretty much predicted cyber attacks "at the enterprise level", similar to something we saw with Sony later in the year, so these reports tend be soothsayers of a sort.
The newly published report examines all the economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological horrors that could possibly go wrong and access their potential likelihood and impact on the globe in the next decade. Here are all our world crises candidates:
This chart ranges from "meh" yellow to "oh, shit" red and the only technological worry swimming among that sea of "water crises," "unemployment," and "failure of national governance" is cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are so scary, according to the report, because we have no idea how to prepare for them.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, the possibility exists of undesirable applications or effects that could not be anticipated at the time of invention. Some of these risks could be existential – that is, endangering the future of human life.
In other words, we're inventing things faster than we can secure them. For the sake of our expiration date, that can be a bad. Take for instance, the Internet of Things. If CES told us anything, it's that every company is clamouring to plant a flag in this new emerging space. But this boom of what the World Economic Forum calls "hyperconnectivity" along with the increase of cyber attack complexity, pushes cyber crimes as a highly likely risk for us all going forward.
The report cites the growing interest in the connected car as an example of a now potentially lethal risk:
There are more devices to secure against hackers, and bigger downsides from failure: hacking the location data on a car is merely an invasion of privacy, whereas hacking the control system of a car would be a threat to life. The current Internet infrastructure was not developed with such security concerns in mind.
All of this evidence only further supports a Pew Internet Survey from last year that said a devastating cyberattack was all but certain before the year 2025, particular for similar reasons—the inevitable increasing connectivity of our world, which will move attacks from just strictly against our bank accounts to against our well being.
So are we screwed? The World Economic Forum does provide some advice, which essentially boils down to the fact that industries and regulatory bodies need to learn to play nice.
Proactivity is especially crucial here given that the risks that might emerge from entirely new fields of knowledge are impossible to predict. Effective governance at all levels, from industry codes of conduct to national regulations and global cooperation, will determine how well risks from emerging technologies are foreseen and minimized.
Oh, wait. "Effective governance" and "global cooperation?" Maybe we are doomed.
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