Wednesday 11 January 2017 12:48 pm

Artificial intelligence and robots are one of the biggest technological risks to the world

Artificial intelligence and robotics are one of the biggest potential risks to humankind of emerging technologies, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.

But, the development of such technology, which is expected to disrupt everything from the world of work to geopolitics, could also conversely bring the biggest benefits to the world.

There must be a trade off between innovation and regulation as well as innovation and security, said John Drzik, president of global risks and specialities at Marsh, one of the contributors to the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Risks Report.

New technologies were identified as having deep connections with social, political and economic challenges in the world, with deeper study in this year's report after first being identified as a risk in focus in 2015.

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"They can exacerbate some of the risk and they can provide solutions to the risks as well," said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, head of global competitiveness and risks at the WEF.

The loss of jobs due to technology is one example of the economic and societal risks, with 86 per cent of manufacturing jobs in the US being lost due to new technology between 1997 and 2007. 

Loss of jobs is a major driver of income inequality and increasing polarisation in society, said Drzeniek-Hanouz, two of the the biggest overall threats to the world right now, according to the report.

"We need to look at greater regulation of these technologies [AI and robotics]" she said adding that they develop faster and they have greater scope than other trends. 

AI and robotics, along with biotech, were identified as the emerging technologies which need better governance, according to the WEF's Global Risks Perception Survey of more than 750 global leaders and which forms part of the report.

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A new World Economic Forum centre in San Francisco will start looking at such governance issues this year.

Several other industry groups have sprung up in recent months. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM launched the Partnership on AI to advance public understanding of the technology, while in the UK the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), a collaborative research centre between top universities, opened last year in Cambridge to explore its implications.

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, along with the Knight Foundation, MIT and Harvard, yesterday launched a $27m fund for researching AI for the public interest.

"The pace of change in technology has been very rapid and much of the focus on investment has been on this innovation to drive benefits," said Drzik.

"What we see is that risk management, with respect to technology has been slower to develop and there needs to be a parallel investment in risk management in order to ensure we're getting the right risk reward balance from technology, both at an overall societal level as well as within individual companies."

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He identified three trends in terms of risks of technologies: a growth in the number of avenues for cyber attacks; uncertainty around legal liabilities and who will be accountable for decisions made by computers; and impact on employment.

Cyber attacks were last year identified as the biggest risk to business by executives in North America in last year's report, however, this year, it was top in many more countries.

"Many business executives noted this is the major risk," said Drzik.

"These new technologies, AI, Internet of things, are creating a broader attack surface for cyber attacks… for those who want to, whether it's steal data, disrupt business, attack industrial controls."

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On the matter of jobs, he said Ai and automation and its impact on the workforce is "a politically volatile issue" which will affect both blue collar and white collar workers: "Business must consider the deployment of this technology."

"They're here being deployed, it's not in the future, It's live it's real and taking roles that would otherwise be done by humans," he said.