TechCast is proud to present results from our study on Promises and Perils of AI. This study was fortunate to include a synthesis of the best judgment from our experts and responses from ChatGPT … that fabled merger of humans and machines. We gently suggest this study may be a model for future decisions made jointly by both AI and humans.
The results lead us to conclude that AI is a powerful tool, but the bold claims and deep fears over a purported “singularity” may be overblown. This study is limited, but we find no evidence to support the prospect for an AGI that is superior to humans, mass unemployment and existential threats commonly professed to be all but certain. As we will show, the data clearly suggest that AI will become far more powerful, yet subject to humanity’s unique powers of higher-consciousness. Our results forecast moderate to strong capabilities for controlling the dangers of AI, only a modest rise in unemployment, and beneficial social and human impacts.
These conclusions challenge the current fears over the AI Revolution, although we readily admit to the possibility of being proven wrong. Because this study synthesizes expert and AI intelligence, it represents a small breakthrough in collective intelligence by including the intelligence of AI. TechCast is confident these findings could help dispel the dangers of a theoretical singularity and to plan for controlling this newfound power responsibly.
A quick summary of our findings:
Almost all 28 respondents in this study see no purpose to a moratorium on AI research; A halt would impossible to enforce and it would encourage rogue operators. It’s obvious.
While strong regulation is essential, we foresee moderate, and possibly even strong, capability to control AI, rather than the existential threats often foretold. That’s good news.
One of of our most salient findings dispels prevailing threats of mass unemployment. We confidently forecast modest increases of roughly 10-12% globally. More good news. Yet there is always the possibility of unemployment approaching crisis levels of 20% or more in some nations and industries.
Half of our respondents think present AI systems are close to AGI even now, and that a full-blown AGI is likely to emerge about 2037. The other half thinks that AGI will arrive “much later or never.” We think this means that AI will become far more intelligent, including simulations of human values, goals, emotions, purpose, etc. But only life possess consciousness, so humans will always prevail. In that sense, TechCast suggests that a super intelligent AI that surpasses human agency is not possible.
Finally, the data suggest substantial gains in social stability and prosperity as well as comparable advances in human intelligence and creativity. Maybe we could lighten up on all the “Sturm und Drang.”
Because this study compared our results with those from ChatGPT, we also gained useful insight into the limits of AI. ChatGPT answered only 3 out of our 6 questions, and its answers tend to favor the system itself. As our previous newsletters suggest, the greatest danger lies in the spread of errors, misinformation, and untold forms of subjective bias.
We conclude AI is likely to become another tool in humankind’s advancing ability to manage knowledge with intelligence, although vastly more powerful and provocative. But the widespread fear over super intelligence, mass unemployment and grave threats prophesied by advocates remains only a theory. Absent some unknown breakthrough, TechCast forecasts good control over AI, huge gains in productivity, improvements in society and gains in human creativity.
Experience in testing and evaluation of military systems (aircraft, army intel systems, Navy replenishment systems), and with automotive components (Delphi). Overseas experience in Africa, Indonesia, and Germany, with the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, and U.S. Africa Command, respectively. PhD in Higher Education Leadership and Policy. MS in Aerospace Engineering and in Administration. Several languages spoken.
Forecasting the 2020 US Presidential Election – RESULTS
TechCast has done many provocative studies, but results of this one are unusually fascinating, worrisome and even hopeful. Much of the world is anxiously awaiting either more “Trumpmania” – or Biden normalcy and some resolution toward a complex future. The bar chart below shows the probability of a Trump Win, and the probability of a Biden win is the inverse. Comments from our responding readers are spread out below along a Biden-Trump Spectrum. Some of the 21 respondents are not Americans, but they are following this election closely, which shows that interest is global. We heard from Michael Vidikan, Margherita Abe, Dale Deacon, Peter King, Art Shostak, Jonathan Kolber, Jacques Malan, Clayton Rawlings, Brad Hughes, Ted Gordon, Owen Davies, Chris Garlick, Fernando Ortega, Steve Hausman, Mark Sevening, Wendell Wallach, Hannu Lehtinen, John Freedman, Jose Cordeiro, and Hellmuth Broda.Thanks to all. While the probability data favors Biden winning the election, the results are so close there remains great uncertainty. As the comments make clear, people think Trump will find ways to suppress votes, get outside interference, introduce doubt and challenge the results, while many fear Biden will introduce more socialism and higher taxes. We rely on the collective intelligence of 21 thoughtful readers from around the globe who have examined the Pros and Cons of our background data and made careful estimates. The wide diversity of the sample is especially compelling. If this study were replicated with 21 different people, the results would likely be similar. TechCast has studied our accuracy many times, and this is a typical result, with accuracy roughly within +/- 1- 2 percent. Drawing on the probability data and comments, we sketch out the two possible scenarios that could result, noting both the dangers, challenges and gains. TechCast appreciates fully the heated nature of this issue, and we have strived to focus on the evidence summarized in the background data and comments, often with a touch of forecaster judgment. Trump Wins would produce more confusion, a lingering pandemic and faltering economy, heightened social division and global isolation. American democracy would likely become more autocratic. Apart from gaining a majority on the Supreme Court (more politicalization), it is hard to find benefits. Trump is often thought to be good on the economy, but the evidence shows growth was the same under Obama. And Obama started from the worst crisis since the Great Depression of ’29, while Trump slashed taxes and regulations with little effect.
Biden Wins would require absorbing Trump supporters, controlling the pandemic, taxing the wealthy, improving health care, supporting people of color, rebuilding infrastructure, addressing climate change, immigration and repairing global relations – while fending off charges of socialism. All this seems unlikely, but it could prove a tipping point in the decline of the Republican agenda and autocrats everywhere. Both scenarios are possible, but TechCast relies on the data and concludes that a Biden win is the more likely outcome. It could possibly be a landslide victory, enough to overwhelm Trumpian power plays. We could be proven wrong, of course, but the outcome should be clear sometime after the election. If Biden does win, remember, you heard it here at TechCast.
The coronavirus is a stark reminder of the devastating damage that could be inflicted by cyberattacks, superbugs, freak weather and a variety of other threats. These wild cards are in addition to the existential challenge posed by climate change, gross inequality, financial meltdowns, autocratic governments, terrorism and other massive problems collectively called the Global MegaCrisis.
I sense the world is so frightened by recent disasters that people are searching for new solutions. They seem ready to break from the past that is no longer working. Climate change is starting to bite, for instance, and there is a growing consensus that the status quo is no longer sustainable.
I have studied this dilemma for decades, and I think it can be best understood as a transition to the next stage of social evolution. The Knowledge Age that dominated the last two decades is fading into the past as AI automates knowledge, forcing us to move beyond knowledge and develop a global consciousness able to resolve the MegaCrisis.
Yes, I know this is a bold claim, but that is how the shift to a world of knowledge looked 40 years ago. When computers filled rooms, I recall telling people that we were entering a world of personal computers. The typical response was “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”
Just so, today’s post-factual era illustrates how the smart phone, social media, and autocrats like Trump have moved public attention beyond knowledge and into a world of values, emotions and beliefs. Now the challenge is to use these new powers of social media to shape a global consciousness, or face disaster. While this may seem impossible, that is always the case before major upheavals. Nobody thought the USSR would collapse up until its very end.
In fact, the Business Roundtable’s recent announcement that business should move beyond the bottom line to include the interests of all stakeholders is revolutionary. It has now been promulgated by the World Economic Forum and other influential bodies. The gravity of this change is such that business is now being told to help resolve the climate crisis. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), directed the companies he owns to help address climate costs in their operations; within days, many firms announced climate plans.
This historic shift in consciousness could make corporations models of cooperation for society at large. In short, I think the world is heading toward some type of historic shift in consciousness, a collective epiphany, a code of global ethics, a spiritual revolution, a political paradigm shift or a new mindset. Without a consciousness based on global unity, cooperation and other essential beliefs, there seems little hope. And with a shift to global consciousness, it all seems possible.
Toward a Global Consciousness
The governing ideas inherited from the industrial past are outdated and heading toward disaster. It is a collapse of today’s reigning “materialist” ideology of Capitalism, economic growth, money, power, self-interest, rationality, knowledge, etc. These values remain valid and useful, of course, but they are now badly limited. Prevailing practices in the US, as the most prominent example, are failing to address the climate crisis, low wage employee welfare, universal health care, women’s rights, political gridlock, aging infrastructure and other social issues that lie beyond sheer economics.
This could become a “Collapse of Capitalism” roughly equivalent to the “Collapse of Communism” in the 1990s, and it stems from the same fatal flaw – failure to adapt to a changing world. Communism could not meet the complex demands of the Information Revolution, and now Capitalism seems to be failing to adapt to a unified globe threatened by pandemics, climate change and the other threats making up the MegaCrisis.
The big question remaining is, “What should be the new vision, values, principles, and policies?” At the risk of appearing pedantic, I integrate what has been learned above and my forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge, to outline five principles of what I consider “global consciousness.”
1. Treat the planet and all life forms as sacred.The Fermi Paradox notes that no other civilizations have been detected after decades of SETI searching. This rarity of life reminds us what a miracle plant Earth really is, and that we are responsible for its well-being.
2.Govern the world as a unified whole. Nations remain the major players in this global order, but they should be lightly governed by some type of global institution like the UN and other international bodies. Individuals should continue to be loyal to their nations and local institutions, but they should also accept their role as global citizens.
3. Collaborate with stakeholders to serve collective needs. Free enterprise is the basis of society, and the good news is that business is on the verge of becoming cooperative. The Business Roundtable announcement that all stakeholders should be treated equally with investors seems an historic breakthrough. This move to a quasi-democratic form of enterprise could set a new standard for collaborative behavior and human values throughout modern societies. One of the benefits from a tragedy like this crisis may be a loss of faith in the status quo and an urge to cooperate. I see it everywhere, and it is a blessing in disguise emerging out of chaos.
4.Embrace diversity as an asset. Rather than becoming a uniform pallid bureaucracy, a unified world should embrace the wondrous diversity of cultures and individuals. Working across such differences poses a challenge, naturally, but differences are also a source of new knowledge, talents and human energy.
5.Celebrate community. Any society needs frequent opportunities to gather together in good spirit, enjoy differences and commonalities, and to simply celebrate the glory of life. The World Olympics Games, for instance, are special because they provide a rare feeling of global community. We could witness a flowering of celebratory events over the coming years to nourish the global soul.
This is only one small study, of course, but I hope it provokes thinking toward a widely held vision for planet Earth at a time of crisis. An historic change in consciousness is hardly done overnight, and the obstacles posed by the status quo are formidable. But the Information Revolution provides a powerful method for shaping consciousness by using the Internet and public media. Think of the explosion of ideas, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse.
The task we face is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. Today’s threats to reason is challenging us to counter wrongheaded beliefs and to provide more attractive visions, such as the principles for global consciousness outlined here. I suggest the place to begin is by discussing these ideas as widely as possible, and to shape public opinion roughly along these lines.
I am pleased to provide this summary of my forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge. This is simply a quick outline of the central theme, but the book should come out later this year.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and constructive criticism at Halal@GWU.edu.
The Age of Consciousness Is Here
After flying large aircraft in the Air Force, working on the Apollo Project and a stint in Silicon Valley, I became an academic at UC Berkeley and promptly became fascinated with the revolutionary power of the technology revolution. Although I also study business, economics and the social sciences, I introduced a course on Emerging Technologies in 1980 when information technology began taking off. Soon, a few colleagues and I developed what is arguably the best forecasting system in the world. The project won awards, was featured in a full-page article by The Washington Post, and I was flooded with requests by corporations and governments.
I also began to understand that the real story was not about the technology itself, or even its social fallout. Instead, it seems the technology revolution is driving an unrecognized social upheaval from “knowledge” to “consciousness.” The most striking example is the advent of today’s “post-factual world.”
The post-factual phenomenon forces us to see that the Age of Knowledge, which dominated the last two decades, is receding under today’s flood of smart phones, social media, artificial intelligence and autocrats like Trump. Knowledge is still crucial, but the tech revolution is driving the world beyond knowledge into a new frontier governed by emotions, values, beliefs and higher-order thought. I think this means that an “Age of Consciousness” is here, though one may not like its current form. Whatever one thinks of President Trump, almost all would concede that he is brilliant at creating an alternative reality. He is a master at shaping consciousness.
But why should we be guided by this epidemic of fake news, ignorance and outright lies? Because this eruption of unreasonableness has enveloped the globe, and it provides a clue to the new world of consciousness now being born. It’s like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, and a shot across the bow of ships of state. Politicians in Russia, Turkey, England, and Brazil, to name a few, now take refuge in dismissing criticism as fake news. Authors have called it an “Assault on Intelligence,” “The Death of Truth,” “A World Without Facts,” “The Death of Expertise,” “Truth Decay” and “The Fake News Fallacy.” 
This rule of unreason pervades life today, and numerous examples suggest it is epidemic. The US government, for instance, has been locked in stalemate for decades, even though Congress has more knowledge than it can handle. Emotional issues like abortion, gun control, immigration and the other roadblocks to a sane society have been studied to death, yet gridlock persists because of conflicting values, self-interest, and a hunger for power – consciousness again.
This brutal reality should make it rather obvious that the roots of disorder that plague our time are not rational problems to solve. They involve all the complex, messy, emotional baggage generated by normal people; they hinge on matters of subjective consciousness. The domain of consciousness is where the problems lie, and so it is also where the solutions are to be found.
Beneath this tectonic shifting in consciousness is the driving force of artificial intelligence (AI), automating knowledge work and driving us into this new frontier. The rapid advance of AI is probably the most powerful force for change today.Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on … more profound than fire or electricity.”  The result has left business, government and the public alarmed at the impending crisis in which roughly half of present jobs are eliminated and causing social chaos. AI poses one of the most perplexing questions of our time: what lies beyond knowledge?
As this book will show, everything beyond knowledge is subjective consciousness, and the advance of AI is more evidence that we are moving into this confusing new domain. This historic shift in social evolution is illustrated by the graph below which makes the case vividly. I have struggled with this problem for years, and the result is this accurate plot of what I call the “Life Cycle of Evolution.” The logarithmic time scale is needed to encompass the billions of years at the start of the LCE as well as decades today. Without a log scale, the shape of the LCE would not be recognizable. The curve would simply make a sharp turn up.
In this clarifying light, the next stage of social evolution becomes rather easy to envision. The data show accelerating progress through the earlier stages, and the logical next stage is the culminating birth of an Age of Consciousness, about now in 2020. A global level of consciousness is needed because it is increasingly clear that we are all dependent on one another in this single planet, that we should strive to become global citizens. The inspiration for this concept is provided by the brilliant insight of the Jesuit anthropologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who envisioned the world guided by a web of consciousness that envelops the globe. 
Yes, this is a bold claim. I have earned a good living and a small measure of fame by forecasting change. Publications attest to the accuracy of my forecasts in the 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000.  At that time, I recall telling people that personal computers were coming, only to be greeted with “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”
Yet in 2000, PCs were everywhere, books on knowledge became rife, corporations competed to become “knowledge organizations” and the majority of jobs required working with computers to manage knowledge. I am equally confident that an age of consciousness is here today, and we simply do not yet understand this intriguing new frontier.
Consciousness has been around throughout history, of course, so what is really new? Information and knowledge have also been used in ancient civilization, but the Knowledge Age occurred when information technology matured into the most powerful force on Earth, occupying the bulk of the labor force and our very minds.
In a similar way, consciousness is becoming a powerful technology, although barely understood, and it is changing the world. The most prominent example is public media. Think of the explosion of opinion, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse. We are awash with seeing actors, TV stars, politicians, athletes, ordinary people with heart-breaking stories, cute kids doing smart things and influencers like Kim Kardashian.
The challenge is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. As we will see in a moment, today’s threat to reason is challenging us to counter these wrong-headed beliefs and to provide more attractive visions that offer hope. To put it more sharply, we are all shaping consciousness because that is where the action is.
This historic transition also poses enormous threats that must be resolved to avoid disaster and reach global maturity. Climate change, automation of jobs, gross inequality, government gridlock, financial meltdowns, terrorism and more have formed a constellation of end-of-the-world challenges that a colleague and I call the “Global MegaCrisis” or the “Crisis of Global Maturity.  Our studies estimate that roughly 70 percent of the public thinks the present world trajectory is not sustainable. People have deep fears over today’s global crises and failures in governance, and they attribute it to a lack of leadership, vision and cooperation. The World Economic Forum published a report on Global Risks that stops just short of panic. 
The technology revolution will add even greater threats. I draw on my state-of-the-art forecasting system to show how the entire technology revolution is likely to unfold in the years ahead. It shows the vast range of benefits in store, but also the enormous problems of “eating fruit from the biblical tree of knowledge.” Smart cars, for example, will follow a similar path as smart phones. “A car is very much like a cell phone, and that makes it vulnerable to attack from the Internet,” said Jonathan Brossard, a security engineer. Among the AI threats, many are horrified at the prospect of robotic weapons turning on people. Now ponder what could happen when billions of intelligent devices like these are wired together in the Internet of Things?
Even today, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a global disaster, and it has shifted public opinion in favor of social unity and cooperation, the very changes in consciousness proposed in this book. This crisis serves to warn us of the even greater dangers ahead as climate change and the other threats comprising the MegaCrisis hit home in a few years.
This difficult transition can be compared to the transformation every teenager faces when passing through their own crisis of maturity. At some point, the problems become so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to act more wisely and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, this is humanity’s challenge to grow into a sustainable civilization. We are being forced to grow up, to develop a responsible global order, or suffer catastrophe.
This book will provide a sophisticated evolutionary perspective that shows how a global consciousness is emerging to resolve these threats and create a mature civilization. More than a theory, chapters will support this view by showing how people are changing their lives, their work, social institutions and global mindset. As seen in the chapter outline, I make a point of fleshing out these concepts with details, evidence, supporting examples and steps to consider.
I will show how consciousness is that inner place where we live our mental lives and it is changing rapidly. People are practicing mindfulness, living with Nature, using psychedelics and other “technologies of consciousness” to develop compassion and other integrative attitudes that improve health and well-being. Personal shifts in consciousness are also underway as many abandon the dogma of religion to use diverse spiritual resources to guide their own “human spirit.” All this work on consciousness is being used to make sense of a confusing new era and to help us to perform our jobs in a slightly crazed, high-tech world.
We will also see that our collective consciousness is shifting to transform the major organs of society that define how we live our public lives – government, business, universities, religions and other institutions. In each case, I will show that a small avant garde is quietly bringing a mature awareness to these varied facets of society. Drawing on numerous examples, we see how government can become lean and responsive, business is turning democratic, education becoming student centered, and religions moving from doctrine to a personal relationship with the spiritual dimension of life.
For instance, the Business Roundtable announcement that firms should serve all stakeholders rather than profit alone is historic. The New York Times called it a “watershed moment … that raises questions about the very nature of capitalism.”  Leading corporations like Whole Foods, IKEA, Nucor Steel, Nortel, and Unilever collaborate with employees, customers, suppliers and governments to solve tough problems and create value for the company and stakeholders. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), even directed the companies he owns to help address climate costs in their operations; within days, many firms announced climate abatement plans. 
Corporations are the most powerful institutions in the world. This impending shift to a cooperative form of business could set an example for societies at large, spreading tendrils of collaborative problem-solving throughout the social order.
Following these ideas for institutional change, I discuss methods being used to manage our consciousness in order to cope with the demands of high-tech life. We focus on applying what I have labeled “technologies of consciousness” (ToCs). ToCs are techniques, tools and methods we use to guide our awareness, mood, understanding and other facets of consciousness, or “human spirit.” As we will see, this includes hard technologies (drugs, brain prostheses, virtual reality, etc.); ordinary parts of everyday life (coffee, alcohol, media, etc.); leadership (purpose, cooperation, etc.) and many other tools for guiding consciousness.
A striking example serves as a case in point. A few years ago, the chairman of Aetna defused an audience of angry shareholders by wading into the crowd and asking forgiveness for his mistakes and shaking hands with the critics. Here’s how a board director described the result: “In 15 minutes he changed the mood of that entire room. It was one of the most skillful demonstrations I have ever seen.”  The chairman’s actions illustrate why higher-order forms of consciousness are likely to take off – they are simply more effective.
We briefly look at the use of meditation, prayer and other forms of inner guidance, the healing balm of Nature, and psychotropic drugs that relieve stress and provide insight. For instance, I cite a poignant story of a housewife who uses small doses of marijuana to relieve insomnia and anxiety, allowing her to become a “better mother to her children.” We then summarize evidence showing that managing the mind can instill higher-order values of cooperation, empathy, gratitude and compassion that are essential to a unified globe.
The superior power of higher consciousness provides the key to resolving the MegaCrisis. As shown in the LCE, each stage of evolution has been propelled by revolutions – the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Post-Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Information Revolution. Now, the world is awaiting a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution” to kick start the Age of Consciousness.
This transition can be explained using the Hegelian dialectic.  In Hegel’s terms, the Information Revolution forms the “thesis” that has been driving the world into a Knowledge Age, while the Global MegaCrisis represents the “antithesis” challenging this status quo. The coming Mental/Spiritual Revolution provides the catalyst to resolve this crisis and create a “synthesis” that becomes the new status quo – a unified global order.
This may seem outrageous, especially at a time when hostilities seem hopeless, and I could be proved wrong as the world descends into disaster. But the evidence outlined throughout this book supports this possibility pretty well. I suspect this transition is a normal but difficult process, and that it probably occurs on countless civilizations throughout the universe.
The main reason this seems optimistic, and even foolhardy, is because we have no experience in global consciousness. Huddled in our small section of a limitless universe, humans have little conception of planetary evolution, much less the transition to a unified world. Our understanding is roughly similar to a naïve person who first witnesses the agony of a human birth or a teen struggling to adulthood. Without previous knowledge, these painful transitions would seem awful, too hard to bear. Yet they are entirely normal and usually successful.
So too will our passage to global maturity appear in years to come. The current global order is not sustainable, and I think we should see a rising mental/spiritual revolution, global ethics, universal moral code or something similar about 2025 or so. A functioning global order is then likely to appear about 2050 +/- 10 years. In fact, I am as confident in this forecast as I was in 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000.
A unified global order will still bear the normal human failings, but it will make our current strife look as primitive as the brutal battles between kings’ armies in the feudal ages. This may sound too good to be true, yet I think most people today will live to see the coming of a unified planet and the triumph of human spirit, once again. Then it’s on to the Space Age.
Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. William E . Halal
 Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018) Anne Applebaum, “A world without facts,” Washington Post (May 20, 2018) Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford, 2018) Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay, (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018) Adrian Chen, “The fake news fallacy,“ The New Yorker (Sep 4, 2017)
I am a futurist and professional speaker on topics related to emerging and disruptive technologies that include robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printing, bionics (artificial limbs and organs) and human enhancement, the Internet of Things, drones, electric and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, cybersecurity, climate change, future trends, technology-related employment issues, and medically-related topics such as health, aging, nutrition and gene editing. I have written articles on subjects ranging from identity theft to biometric authentication to tracking technology and have been widely quoted in many national publications.
I was employed at the National Institutes of Health for 31 years as a researcher, administrator, Senior Executive and ethics officer.
Sami Makelainen has been involved in building the online and mobile worlds since 1990s. From building the early online commerce and banking platforms in North America and Europe, Sami then spent several years with various aspects of the mobile business, from applications development to network systems research for Nokia in Finland.
Since 2009, Sami has been with Telstra Corporation in Australia, in roles spanning from a mobile platforms subject matter expert to CEO Communications and Innovation Program Management. Currently in charge of Technology Foresight, focusing on long-term technology and other trends and how they impact the business, industry and society.
Sami holds an MSc degree in Computer Science from the University of Helsinki and lives with his family in Melbourne, Australia. His current research interests include complex systems and architecting for resilience.
The threat of severe, debilitating cyberattacks is growing exponentially as the digital world envelops all facets of modern life.
China, Russia, and North Korea pose the biggest risks, with myriad attacks on Western governments and companies daily. The problem is expected to grow more menacing as terrorists become involved. NATO, the US, EU, South Korea, and Israel are bearing the brunt of the damage, but it could spread easily to encompass entire global systems. Iran has already been the target of at least two cyberattacks on its nuclear program to steal data and sabotage operations, and North Korea disrupted a Sony film that was critical of its leader.
Protective defenses are being developed, and authorities think the possibility of a “Cyber Armageddon” is less likely than a continuing wave of small assaults that wear away at infrastructure and morale.
Most Likely Forecast
As shown below, myriad cyber assaults on corporations and governments occur daily. Most are not very damaging, but the global costs run in the US$ trillions.
Cybercrime Will Cost US$8T Cybercrime is expected to cost global businesses over US$8 trillion over the five years to 2022. [ii]
Cost per Attack Rising The average cybercrime to US companies costs an average of US$21 million, with the global average being US$11.7 Billion. The costs continue to rise at a rate of over 20 percent year on year. [iii]
TechCast experts estimate a roughly 78-percent probability that a series of attacks launches a cyber war that severely damages the economy, defense, or other crucial sectors of major nations over the next few decades. Experts’ confidence is high (70%) and they think consequences of a major cyberattack could be devastating..
Constant Minor Assaults at Great Cost
The explosive growth of world-wide IT capabilities and antagonism from powerful nations is causing an ever-expanding growth in the scale, frequency, sophistication, and damage done by cyberattacks. A Ponemon Institute survey of 639 IT professionals in the US found that 35 percent had been the target of a nation-state cyberattack.
US Government Hacked Thousands of cyber breaches occur at all levels of the US government annually, including stealing top-secret tools and material from the NSA and breaching the Securities and Exchange Commission.[iv] Research from Security Scorecard give government systems one of the lowest security ratings across all industries. [v] The US Government Accountability Office has also identified “consistent shortcomings” in the federal government’s approach to cybersecurity. [vi]
Companies Not Ready According to an IBM study, 68 percent of companies do not believe their organizations can remain resilient in the wake of a cyberattack, and 66 percent aren’t confident in their ability to recover from an attack. [vii]
Infrastructure Can Be Brought Down Cyberattacks have been shown to be able to bring down critical infrastructure, such as the malware that caused widespread electricity blackouts in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. Lloyd’s estimates that a successful cyberattack on the Northeast US electricity grid could result in economic damage of more than a US$1 trillion. Transportation devices from connected vehicles to airplanes have been shown to be vulnerable to hacking, even remotely. [viii]
At least 15 countries have been shown to launch cyberattacks; the most active countries are Russia, United States, North Korea and China.
Russia Russian hackers have been very active on a number of fronts, ranging from penetrating Democratic National Committee servers to hacking into the World AntiDoping Agency medical records.
China The People’s Republic has been responsible for a number of attacks, such as stealing sensitive information about the F-35 Lightning II fighter plane from US Defense Department computers. In 2017, the US National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center warned of an “emerging sophisticated campaign” from a group with suspected ties to the Chinese government, affecting a growing number of companies globally. [ix]
North Korea North Korean hackers have quickly gained global “respect” as they have become increasingly sophisticated since the Sony hack in 2014. North Korea was, for example, responsible for the widespread Wannacry malware in 2017.[x]
Australia While little is known of Australia’s ability to launch cyberattacks, the Signals Directorate has been publicly recruiting “offensive cyber specialists.”
Protection is Coming
Fortunately, some measures are underway to preclude cyberattacks:
Funding for US Defenses on The Rise The cybersecurity spending of US Government is rising rapidly, having risen from US$7.5 billion in 2007 to US$28 billion in 2016. President Trump’s first budget blueprint also proposes an additional US$1.5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security specifically to protect federal networks and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.[xi]
US−China Cyberspace Agreement The United States and China agreed on the first arms control accord for cyberspace. The agreement says that each country will not be the first to use cyberweapons to cripple the other’s critical infrastructure during peacetime. There is, however, growing doubt whether the agreement will have any practical effect on China’s behavior.[xii]
A major cyberattack could target a developed country’s vital civilian or military infrastructure, terrorizing the populace and making it much more vulnerable to conventional attack. A successful attack on infrastructure such on the US power grid has the potential to cause as much as US$1 trillion of economic damage and significant loss of life. Hiscox Insurance estimates cybercrime is already costing the global economy over US$450 billion annually. [xiii]
Contrary to the common fear that cyber-attacks would be devastating, James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate, “Rather than a ‘Cyber Armageddon’ scenario that debilitates the entire US infrastructure, we … foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyberattacks from a variety of sources over time.”