AI could displace jobs and undermine social cohesion, report warns

Artificial intelligence (AI) could reshape jobs or be used to create conspiracy theories that could cause political instability, according to a document outlining the possible threats facing Ireland.

The National Risk Assessment report, which began in 2014, aims to outline economic, security or political risks to Ireland in the coming years, with the aim of informing decisions and to prepare for those possibilities.

It also aims to guard against “group think”, and states that it highlighted the risk of Brexit in its 2014 report, and the housing challenge in its 2015 report.

In the introduction to the report, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the list of 25 risks range from climate change to newer risks such as the security of Ireland’s energy supply and the proliferation of disruptive technology like AI.

The report stated that as disruptive technology trends develop, “these advances create a range of opportunities” but also pose a possibility for malign use.

It said that disruptive technologies such as AI could cause automation that could “displace or reshape” jobs and sectors, or be used for “malign” purposes.

“Generative AI systems, which make the rapid production of content based on a variety of source material (text, moving or still images, computer code) easily available to the public, will bring extraordinary change, but will also pose a challenge for societal resilience, in particular how we counter the harms that could flow from their malicious use.

“This could include the use of AI to generate disinformation and misinformation, deepfakes, or conspiracy theories, with the potential to distort markets, undermine cohesion or cause political instability.”

It added: “The spread of mis/disinformation, including via social media and other digital platforms, has the potential to undermine the State, the integrity of elections, social cohesion, and the functioning of the economy.”

In relation to Northern Ireland, the report said that certain groups with “very limited levels of support” are “intent on disrupting the significant progress” to bring about peace on the island of Ireland.

“The risks to Ireland posed by armed conflict, terrorism and hybrid security threats are potentially compounded by our having one of the lowest levels of investment in military and defence capabilities within Europe,” it said.

The assessment also stated that Ireland’s housing shortage and pricing issues “are unlikely to rectify themselves over the short term”, with inflation and skilled labour shortages impacting supply.

It said that high rent costs create a risk of a “locked-out generation”, and is impacting on homelessness, which is at record high monthly rates.

“The housing challenge risks increasing social exclusion and impairing labour mobility,” it said, adding that the growing number of asylum seekers highlighted the “undersupply of appropriate housing and the inflexibility of the sector”.

It highlights that climate change is happening at “an accelerating and alarming rate”, and that Ireland needs to urgently “step up” efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy.

“…Failure to meet obligations and targets on emissions, energy usage, and renewable energy, set both by the EU and in national legislation, is a risk.

“Inertia and resistance to change risks Ireland’s efforts at adaptation and mitigation.”

It also highlighted extreme weather events in Ireland such as flooding and extreme temperatures, which have “major” impacts on the environment, people and economy.

“Coastal erosion, which can impact upon infrastructure and human settlement, will accelerate in the coming years,” it said.

“In this regard, it is notable that much critical infrastructure, such as power stations, wastewater treatment plants, and rail infrastructure can be found along our coastline.

“Very significant investment, with associated delivery risks, will be necessary to build climate resilience into flood defences and water management systems, in order to secure communities and the infrastructure they depend on.”

The assessment added: “Trade-offs and public expenditure choices will be required.”

It also warned that vulnerabilities in global financial markets “have grown more pressing” and highlighted “a wide range of financial vulnerabilities and elevated uncertainty”.

It said that Ireland’s post-Brexit relationship with Great Britain “will continue to present challenges”, particularly on trade as the UK moves to introduce checks and controls on imports.

It warned that while Ireland is “a strong supporter” of EU enlargement it also poses a risk to cohesion across the bloc and may lead to changes in how the EU operates.

The report said that the most extreme risks to Ireland “are outside exclusive national control”, and as a result, international relations, such as Ireland’s EU membership, are important.

The development of the National Risk Assessment is overseen by a group of departmental officials and members of relevant agencies, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach.

A proposed list of strategic risks is drafted which is then published for public consultation, which took place from December 7 2022 to February 17 2023.

The proposed risks are then reviewed and further considered by Government departments and agencies, and the final draft was considered by government on July 25.

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