Top 10 Risks of 2014

Some of the top risks that featured in the debate this year:
  1. Artificial Intelligence and superhuman machine intelligence – A trio of impressive people have this year highlighted the threat of “too smart” AI in the long run. Elon Musk said that we are summoning the demon by developing AI, Stephen Hawking cautioned against its unrestrained development, and Nick Bostrom, in his outstanding book Superintelligence, laid out the case why most scenarios for AI all lead to human extinction because of the ways the intelligence will think.
  2. Killer Asteroids – Several projects have been started to scan for killer asteroids that might wipe humanity out before AI gets to do it
  3. Climate Change inaction – If 1 and 2 don’t do humanity in, we can always rely on climate change to deliver. Stunning scenarios were delivered this year of how the world will look as we blow part 2 degree warming. In some ways, it feels like this was the year when we finally started to see a sea (pun intented) change in public sentiment. But the political constraints will ensure that doesn’t mean any meaningful action, at least for now.
  4. Rise of Nonlinear Terrorism – ISIS has clearly showed this year how unpredictable non-state actors can be, and how impactful and lethal.
  5. EU Deflation – The EU continues to balance on the knife’s edge of falling into deflation, further cementing its decline in importance as a region
  6. The Chinese debt crisis – This continues to be the dark horse, the elephant in the room, that is only mentioned in whispers. May or may not cause a rerun of the financial crisis.
  7. A Thirty-Year Middle East Sunni-Shia conflict – A real danger is that ISIS is just the most visible piece of a the century-long brewing Sunni-Shia conflict, and that we’ll eventually see a Saudi-Iran conflict.
  8. Oil at $50 (mostly if you’re Russia/Venezuela/Iraq) – Most of the world is cheering the falling oil prices, but it also has negative effects, and not just for the world’s petrodictatorships. If US shale producers get squeezed out, the Gulf states regain their power to dictate the terms of the world economy.
  9. South China Sea – The rise of a Sino-centric Asia continues to be most prominently reflected in the fears of a conflict starting from an incident in the South China Sea, given the multitude of interested parties and the unregulated waters.
  10. Climate conflicts – As we wait longer in tackling climate change, the danger grows of climate-driven conflicts, over water, food, arable land, and other commodities that will become scarce in the decades to come.

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