In its recently released Global Risks Report 2024, the World Economic Forum (WEF) identifies the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) technology as a catalyst for two of the most significant global risks: AI-generated misinformation and cyberattacks. The report defines “global risk” as events or conditions that could adversely impact a substantial portion of global GDP, population, or natural resources.
AI misinformation takes center stage
The Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) conducted by WEF reveals a notable concern among respondents, with 53% identifying AI-generated misinformation as the second most critical global risk in 2024. The ease with which individuals can now create and disseminate misleading information using AI models is a cause for alarm. The report notes that AI-generated misinformation no longer demands a specialized skill set, thanks to user-friendly interfaces linked to large-scale AI models. This accessibility has led to an alarming proliferation of falsified information and synthetic content, encompassing sophisticated voice cloning and counterfeit websites.
Cyberattacks secure the fifth position among global risks for 2024, with 39% of respondents recognizing them as a major concern. WEF emphasizes that cyber threats remain at the forefront of global risk outlooks, ranking among the top three concerns for both government and private-sector respondents. The ubiquity and severity of cyberattacks underscore their enduring significance on the global stage.
AI models enable misinformation proliferation
WEF points out that the advent of AI models has simplified the creation and dissemination of misinformation, removing the necessity for specialized skills. The report highlights the rise of so-called ‘synthetic’ content, encompassing everything from voice cloning to counterfeit websites. WEF observes that AI models empower purveyors of misinformation, making it imperative for regulatory measures to address both the hosts and creators of online disinformation and illegal content.
Addressing the growing risks
Governments are responding to the escalating risks associated with AI-generated misinformation by introducing new and evolving regulations. These measures target not only the creators but also the hosts of online disinformation and illegal content. In addition to current regulatory efforts, WEF anticipates nascent regulation of generative AI, with China’s example of watermarking AI-generated content as a potential solution. Nevertheless, the report acknowledges that the pace and efficacy of regulation are unlikely to match the rapid development of AI technologies.
Bridging the digital gap
WEF’s report sheds light on the potential consequences of the convergence of technological advances and geopolitical dynamics. It suggests that if commercial incentives and geopolitical imperatives dictate the development of AI and other frontier technologies, a digital gap could emerge, creating winners and losers across advanced and developing economies. The disparity in the distribution of benefits and risks could leave vulnerable countries and communities digitally isolated, hindering their ability to leverage AI breakthroughs in economic productivity, finance, climate, education, healthcare, and job creation.
As AI technology continues to advance, the global community faces a pressing need to address the risks associated with AI-generated misinformation and cyberattacks. WEF’s Global Risks Report 2024 underscores the importance of proactive regulatory measures and international collaboration to mitigate the negative impacts of AI on a global scale. Striking a balance between technological innovation and responsible governance will be crucial in navigating the complex landscape of AI-related risks and ensuring a more equitable distribution of benefits across nations and communities.