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Oscar Williams

News editor

Basic algorithms could “choke” the internet, WEF experts warn

World leaders must draw up new regulations to govern AI or risk low-level algorithms slowly choking the internet, experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum have warned.

The WEF’s annual assessment of global risks suggests that over the next ten years people could be “crowded out” of the web as “AI weeds” proliferate, diminish internet efficiency and undermine businesses’ service delivery.

The report’s authors ask: “What if the adverse impact of artificial intelligence (AI) involves not a superintelligence that takes control from humans but “AI weeds”—low-level algorithms that slowly choke off the internet?”

“The development of overarching norms, regulations and governance structures for AI will be crucial,” the authors write. “Without a robust and enforceable regulatory framework, there is a risk that humans will in effect be crowded out from the internet by the proliferation of AI.”

The prospect of unregulated algorithms proliferating online is just one factor that raises the risks of the internet being fragmented into regional or national “walled gardens”, according to experts surveyed by WEF ahead of its annual meeting in Davos.

Cross border cyber attacks, economic protectionism, regulatory divergence and censorship could all lead to the “balkanisation” of the web in the next decade, the report warns.

“Some might welcome a move towards a less hyper-globalized online world, but many would not,” the authors state. “Resistance would be likely, as would the rapid growth of illegal workarounds. The pace of technological development would slow and its trajectory would change. Human rights abuses would likely increase as advances in international monitoring were rolled back.”

The survey ranked large-scale cyber attacks third out of all threats in terms of likelihood, while rising cyber-dependency is considered the second most significant driver shaping the risk landscape in the next decade.

Dan Sloshberg, Director Product Marketing at Mimecast commented: “With the WEF Global Risks Report highlighting the severity of ransomware and phishing emails as a primary cybercrime tactic, organisations and communities need more focus, support and training on cybersecurity than ever before.”