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AI disinformation, “biggest global threat in the short term”

AI disinformation, “biggest global threat in the short term”
A ChapGPT logo on a smartphone in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on 6 December 2023   -  
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Matt Rourke/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Artificial intelligence

Fake and misleading information powered by innovative artificial intelligence, which threatens to erode democracy and polarize society, poses the biggest immediate risk to the global economy, the World Economic Forum said in a report on Wednesday.

In its latest global risks report, the organization adds that a range of environmental risks are among the biggest long-term threats. The report was released ahead of the annual gathering of CEOs and world leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos and is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 experts, industry executives and policymakers.

The report ranks fake news and disinformation as the most serious risk over the next two years, highlighting how rapid technological advances also create new problems or worsen existing ones.

The authors fear that the rise of generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT means that the creation of sophisticated synthetic content that can be used to manipulate groups of people will no longer be limited to people with specialized skills.

AI is expected to be a hot topic next week at the Davos meetings, which are expected to include tech company leaders including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and industry players. AI industry like Meta's Chief AI Scientist, Yann LeCun.

AI-powered fake news and disinformation are emerging as a risk just as billions of people in a large number of countries, including major economies like the United States, Britain, Indonesia, India, Mexico and Pakistan go to the polls this year.

“You can leverage AI to make deepfakes and have real impact on large groups, which really fuels disinformation,” said Carolina Klint, head of risk management at Marsh, whose parent company Marsh McLennan has co-authored the report with Zurich Insurance Group.

“Societies could become even more polarized” as people find it harder to verify facts, she said. Fake news could also be used to fuel questions about the legitimacy of elected governments, "which means democratic processes could be eroded, and that would also lead to even greater societal polarization," Klint said.

The rise of AI brings a host of other risks, she said. It can empower "malicious actors" by making it easier to carry out cyberattacks, for example by automating phishing attempts or creating advanced malware. With AI, "you don't have to be the sharpest tool in the shed to be a bad actor," Klint said.

It can even poison data scraped from the internet to train other AI systems, which is "incredibly difficult to reverse" and could result in additional biases being built into AI models, she said.

The other top global concern among risk survey respondents was climate change. After disinformation and misinformation, extreme weather is the second most pressing near-term risk.

In the long term – defined as ten years – extreme weather was described as the No. 1 threat, followed by four other environmental risks: critical change in Earth systems; loss of biodiversity and collapse of ecosystems; and shortages of natural resources.

“We could be pushed beyond the irreversible tipping point of climate change” over the next decade as Earth systems undergo long-term changes, Klint said.