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World Economic Forum warns of AI business risk

Ahead of its annual meeting in Davos, the World Economic Forum warns that artificial intelligence needs strong governance

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2017 has highlighted risks associated with artificial intelligence (AI).

Based on a survey of 750 experts, the report warned that AI, biotech and robotics have among the highest benefits to society, but they also require the most legislation.

The experts surveyed identified 12 emerging technologies. Of the 12, artificial intelligence and robotics were seen to have highest potential for negative consequences, and also the greatest need for better governance.

Notwithstanding its potential to drive economic growth and solve complex challenges, the experts also named AI as the top driver of economic, geopolitical and technological risks among the 12 technologies.

John Drzik, president of global risk and specialties at Marsh & McLenna Companies, said: “Artificial intelligence will enable us to address some of the great issues of our age, such as climate change and population growth, much more effectively. With investment into AI now 10 times higher than it was five years ago, rapid advances are already being made. However, increased reliance on AI will dramatically exacerbate existing risks, such as cyber, making the development of mitigation measures just as crucial.”

The World Economic Forum warned that governance of emerging technologies is patchy. Some are regulated heavily, and others hardly at all because they do not fit under the remit of any existing regulatory body.

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Mechanisms often do not exist for those responsible for governance to interact with people at the cutting edge of research, the report noted. “It can be hard to anticipate what second-order or third-order effects might need to be safeguarded against: history shows that the eventual benefits and risks of a new technology can differ widely from expert opinion at the outset.”

AI has the potential both to disrupt business and put people out of work. Retaining jobs has been a major theme in many recent political campaigns, but Drzik said AI and automation would impact both blue collar and white collar workers.

He said AI technology has already shown it can substitute employees. As an example, he pointed to the Australian mining company Rio Tinto, which has begun using self-driving trucks.

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, the IT industry is looking to use AI to administer ever more complex systems, replacing many of the fuinctions normally run by system administrators.

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