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Friday, October 09, 2020

Views of Future Risks

We rarely look at risks well.   Thoughts and directions.  

A Holistic View of Future Risks  By Peter G. Neumann

Communications of the ACM, October 2020, Vol. 63 No. 10, Pages 23-27   10.1145/3417095

This column considers some challenges for the future, reflecting on what we might have learned by now—and what we systemically might need to do differently. Previous Inside Risks columns have suggested that some fundamental changes are urgently needed relating to computer system trustworthiness.a Similar conclusions would also seem to apply to natural and human issues (for example, biological pandemics, climate change, decaying infrastructures, social inequality), and—more generally—being respectful of science and evident realities. To a first approximation here, I suggest almost everything is potentially interconnected with almost everything else. Thus, we need moral, ethical, and science-based approaches that respect the interrelations.

Some commonalities across different disciplines, consequent risks, and what might need improvement are considered here. In particular, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has given us an opportunity to reconsider many issues relating to human health, economic well-being (of individuals, academia, and businesses), domestic and international travel, all group activities (cultural, athletic, and so forth), and long-term survival of our planet in the face of natural and technological crises. However, there are also some useful lessons that might be learned from computer viruses, malware, and inadequate system integrity, some of which are relevant to the other problems—such as computer modeling and retrospective analysis of disasters, supply-chain integrity, and protecting whistle-blowers.

A quote from Jane Goodall in an interview in April 2016 seems more broadly relevant here than in its original context: "If we carry on with business as usual, we're going to destroy ourselves." The same is true of my quote from the early crypto wars regarding export controls: "Pandora's Cat Is Out of the Barn, and the Genie Won't Go Back in the Closet." We are apparently reaching a crossroads at which we must reconsider potentially everything, and especially how it affects the future.  ..." 

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