“The biggest risks aren’t just those we don’t yet know about – it’s the speed at which they are coming at us!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
I’ll be on stage this morning at a resort outside of Lucerne, Switzerland. In the room will be the heads of risk management for a vast number of global organizations. Their function is to assess, manage, and mitigate potential future risk – and my job as a futurist is to give them a bit of insight into what they need to anticipate.
So in a nutshell, I’ll them what they really need to worry about is the stuff that we don’t yet know about, yet which is going to come at them really, really fast!
Which is, essentially, an unknown, fast risk.
I’m not copping out on them – I can and will provide an overview of some key risk issues that they need to think about.
But for me, the biggest risk, next to geopolitical instability, is the speed of new risk. For example, this slide from my deck puts into perspective my thoughts on the accelerating risk of artificial intelligence image and video generation.
The entire field of AI text-to-image has matured at a staggering speed in just the last 3 months, with new advancements in sophistication occurring on an almost daily basis. Text-to-video AI systems seem to be evolving at an equally blinding speed. The impact, while providing much fertile ground for creative imaginations, also presents society and organizations with complex new risks. The blur between reality and fiction is going to disappear fast, and everyone is going to soon find it incredibly hard to manage the new risks that come with this trend. The risk is accelerated by the fact that many in society are already primed to be unable to parse fact from fiction – and politicians eagerly ride this trend.
And so someone will soon be able to fake a corporate CEO making some sort of false statement, with the fact that it is fake being barely imperceptible. How do you manage this risk when you barely have this risk on your list of those to be taken seriously? How do you manage this risk when the technology behind it is developing so, so quickly?
This fits into the biggest risk I worry about – and that is that history now shows us that any great technology idea is now used for nefarious purposes.
Case in point: the Internet has proven to be a wonderful tool for mankind, but is equally proving to the technology which is providing for the destruction of democracy worldwide and the rise of right-wing authoritarianism. I read the book of my fellow speaker at this event, Anna Applebaum, who offers up a chilling view of our future. It’s quite the book and will scare the hell out of you, and rightfully so: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism offers up a chilling view of our current reality.
That’s why my Daily Inspiration hit around this theme of the ‘future of risk‘ 3 years ago, before my keynote for the 2019 National Safety Council conference, which featured this idea:
“The greatest risks you face are found with the undefined – the trends that have not yet occurred, the science not yet discovered, inventions not yet invented, and ideas not yet crystallized!” That message became a key part of my storyline on stage:
Bottom line? While risk management professionals are busy understanding, managing, and mitigating existing risks, it’s the unknown that might get someone in the end. And those unknowns are coming at us at a staggering speed.
Think about a few other issues with accelerating change: how will we know if the spatial vision algorithm used by a cobot (cooperative robot) working next to a human has been properly programmed? When we have fleets of interconnected, AI-driven packing and shipping devices scurrying around our factory floor, how do we ensure the proper assumptions have been built into the model? When we build and implement the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) into our processes, how will we ensure their security and integrity, thus providing for proper safety? And how do we manage the new risk that comes from artificial intelligence that is unfolding at such a speed that the blur between fiction and reality is soon set to totally disappear?
These are the things that I think about as a futurist.
We’ve got a lot of challenges around us today, but there is a lot yet more to come.
In the end run – it’s the unknown that will get you every time!