The World Economic Forum global risks report (PDF 5.2 MB) is out, and dominating the risk landscape is extreme weather, climate action failure and biodiversity issues. All critical issues, which have the potential to shape our future as humanity; and truly deserve and require political debate and solutions.
But just below these high profile issues are two risks, which are at the heart of our society achieving the full potential of the fourth industrial revolution. These risks may themselves provide the basis for a more sustainable digital world – these are cyberattacks and information infrastructure breakdown.
The world has become digital. The majority of the world’s population is now online, contributing to a digital economy, which is fundamental to our economic growth, as well as being the creator of trillion-dollar companies. The next waves of technology around artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, internet of things and hyperconnected devices offer even greater potential for good, but also the potential for misuse and abuse.
Guiding principles: Achieving international consensus around the security principles we should consider when engineering and developing these systems will be key to maintaining confidence in this digital infrastructure, as well as removing potential barriers to trade.
We’re starting to build smart cities, but what are the cyber planning guidelines and building codes for the virtual infrastructure of these smart cities? What are the ethical guidelines on the development and use of artificial intelligence? How do we ensure that our investments in 5G provide a secure digital infrastructure interconnecting all of our devices and systems?
The recent Paris call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace (held 12 November 2018) was a step on the journey of building consensus around the norms of behavior in cyberspace, attracting 76 States as signatories. The call enshrined key principles such as protecting the core of the internet and strengthening the security of digital products and services. Good principles indeed, but much to translate those fine words into practical actions that help secure our future and the prize of the fourth industrial revolution.
Global outlook is essential: It can be all too easy to forget the benefits that a global digital economy brings, and care is needed to avoid digital protectionism. Every nation has the right to defend its national security, and the approaches to doing so must adapt to our new world. Still, care is needed not to create fragmentation and isolationism.
Being prepared to work together to fight the specter of cyber crime matters too. This also requires international action and consensus. New collaborations will emerge between government and industry as we work to disrupt the activities of increasingly sophisticated and ruthless transnational organized crime groups. We need to be prepared to help police these new digital spaces and to partner with law enforcement organizations to detect and fight cyber crime with greater speed and agility.
Digital trust – the new currency: Our societies are shaped by digital technology in ways that would have seemed alien, unthinkable and perhaps even magical a century ago. It takes time for us to develop new social norms and for us to adapt to technology. Businesses must be ready to play their part in the ethical use of technology respecting the privacy of the customers and employees, while also understanding that cyber security is not an esoteric technical discipline, it’s central to their digital strategy. I suspect governments and regulators will increasingly be reminding businesses of that fact.
The WEF global risks report warns of the consequences of digital fragmentation as geopolitical tensions stand in the way of international consensus over how we take forward the fourth industrial revolution. It’s not just a question over whether we fail to harness the full potential of such technologies, but also whether we as an international community can come together to counter cyber crime and protect the digital infrastructure, which is now the backbone of our world.
There’s a new world ahead, let’s plan to make it a world where we have trust in our digital systems, and where we can feel safe and secure.