World Economic Forum Global Risk Report identifies cyberattacks and data theft as significant economic risks

The Global Risk Report 2017 from the World Economic Forum cites threats to global economic wellbeing ranging from natural disasters and large scale involuntary migration to — this year — risks arising from a “growing cyberdependency.” Specific risks the report calls out in this category are cyberattacks, data fraud and theft, critical infrastructure breakdown, and “adverse consequences of technology advances.” Among economic risks that are most likely to happen, the WEF report called out data theft or fraud as one of the top five most likely risks, and listed cyberattacks as number six.

In the report, there is a discussion of machine learning and AI as emerging technologies with some degree of risk. Regarding privacy, the report stated that: “AI systems are also being used in surveillance and monitoring — analysing video and sound to spot crime, help with anti-terrorism and report unusual activity. How much they will come to reduce overall privacy is a real concern.”

The public dialogue around AI and machine learning is still in its inception, and the current dialogue is hampered to some degree by varying definitions of AI and machine learning. That being said, that machine learning and AI have found their way into this year’s WEF risk report is notable in and of itself and highlights the importance of ongoing, robust public dialogue. The ideal? A respectful, meaningful dialogue based on facts, not fears, and a view toward discovering best practices that ensure fairness, autonomy, and privacy among other desirable conditions.

Image from World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2017, available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GRR17_Report_web.pdf