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Risk in Context

Disruptive Technology at the Forefront of Global Risks

Posted by Thomas Quigley February 06, 2017

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The Internet of Things (IoT). 3D printing. These are among the key emerging technologies that can create new markets and disrupt traditional business models, according to this year’s Global Risks Report.

The report, produced by the World Economic Forum with support from Marsh & McLennan Companies, underscores the need to understand these emerging risks in order to manage and even benefit from them.

Emerging Technologies

Respondents to this year’s Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) — one of the key inputs to the analysis in the Global Risk Report — rated AI and robotics as the emerging technology with the greatest potential for negative consequences in the next 10 years. Potential dangers include mismanagement, design vulnerabilities, accidents, and unforeseen events.  

Take for instance autonomous technology such as drones and self-driving cars. Product defects, misuse, malicious acts, or lack of maintenance can result in mass injuries, cyber-attacks, and system disruptions. Machine-learning algorithms can also develop their own biases based on the data they analyze, which can result in problematic outcomes as seen in an experimental Twitter account where an AI application began posting inappropriate tweets.

IoT was also noted for its potential to disrupt business models. These technologies use networked sensors to remotely connect, track, and manage products, systems, and grids. Such devices can use a vast amount of data provided by consumer IoT goods and can serve as entry points for cyber criminals.

Innovations in 3D printing have increased opportunities to develop plastics, metals, drugs, and biological material such as organ tissue, bone, and muscle. However, risks abound, from copyright infringement and compromised parts entering the supply chain to general public safety issues due to a lack of regulation.

Preparing for Potential Challenges

In 2017 and beyond, rapidly changing technologies can disrupt labor markets and create uncertainty around liability and risk. The role of governance can affect the impact on global risks. Policymakers and other stakeholders should collaborate to create more flexible forms of local, national, and global governance and risk management procedures.

The risks and uncertainty also require companies to better understand the underlying technologies and potential ways in which they could fail to perform as intended. To do this, establish a process that:

  • Reviews both current and emerging risks.
  • Applies data to quantify potential loss scenarios.
  • Formalizes the criteria for deciding which risks to transfer, retain, or mitigate.

To see how the broad implications of disruptive technology may affect your organization, use the Global Risks Report to validate your risks, engage in conversations with cross-functional leaders, and assess timeframes during which changing technology may impact your business.

Thomas Quigley

Communications, Media & Technology, US Practice Leader