AI generated disinformation largest global risk of 2024

17 January 2024

Experts say the proliferation of disinformation created with artificial intelligence (AI) is currently the greatest short-term global risk. That is according to the Global Risk Report 2024 from Marsh McLennan and the World Economic Forum, which shows how AI-generated disinformation is contributing to the widening of social and political divides.

The risk of a greater dissemination of misinformation and disinformation is linked to another top risk listed in the report: Namely, societal polarization, which was judged to be the third most pressing short-term risk globally.

And with climate change continuing to present serious challenges to people across the globe, extreme weather is the top long-term global risk, followed by critical change to Earth systems.

AI generated disinformation largest global risk of 2024

As far as misinformation and disinformation, the increasing use of incredibly powerful Generative AI tools is a major concern, according to the respondents in the report. A major fear is the potential for online disinformation to corrupt the outcomes of elections, particularly in countries with weaker democratic systems.

“Artificial intelligence breakthroughs will radically disrupt the risk outlook for organizations with many struggling to react to threats arising from misinformation, disintermediation and strategic miscalculation,” said Carolina Klint, chief commercial officer for Europe at Marsh McLennan.

With a growing distrust in information, media, and governments sources, comes a deepening of polarized views – a vicious cycle that could trigger civil unrest and possibly confrontation. There is a real risk for repression and erosion of rights as authorities seek to crack down on the proliferation of false information. There are also clearly serious risks arising from inaction.

Stepping in to govern

Governments are beginning to take action against the risks involved with AI by introducing updated regulations aimed at addressing online disinformation and illegal content, targeting both hosts and creators. The evolving regulations include measures related to generative AI, with China, for instance, requiring watermarks on AI-generated content so authorities can more easily detect false information – and even unintentional misinformation from AI ‘hallucinated’ content.

The EU is currently working on its ‘AI Act’, a set of rules that will regulate the use of AI in the bloc. Joe Biden’s White House has also looked to buck the trend, hoping to get ahead of problems with AI-generated content, by developing the so-called ‘AI Bill of Rights’. However, the overall effectiveness and speed of regulation are expected to lag behind the rapid pace of technological development.

AI generated disinformation largest global risk of 2024

Overall, the results of the Marsh McLennan survey paint a largely negative picture for the world in the next two years, expected to worsen over the next decade. In a survey conducted in September 2023, 54% of respondents foresee some instability and a moderate risk of global catastrophes, while an additional 30% expect even more turbulent conditions.

Looking ahead over the 10-year horizon, nearly two-thirds of respondents anticipate a stormy or turbulent outlook and less than 10% expect a calm outlook with few risks. A lot of this conditioning for chaos is likely to come from the incredibly turbulent recent past, with Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and uncontrollable inflation creating havoc for global systems.

The Global Risk Report 2024 gathered opinions from over 1,400 risk experts worldwide, highlighting that nearly three billion people globally are set to participate in elections over the next two years. The report underscores the potential impact of widespread false information on the credibility of newly elected governments, posing risks of unrest ranging from violent protests to civil confrontations and terrorism.

“An unstable global order characterized by polarizing narratives and insecurity, the worsening impacts of extreme weather and economic uncertainty are causing accelerating risks – including misinformation and disinformation – to propagate,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the WEF.

“World leaders must come together to address short-term crises as well as lay the groundwork for a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive future.”