Imagine a DNA-programmed nanoparticle capable of hacking cancer cells, a plankton-sized carbon tube that can remove pollutants from water, or food packaging that changes color in the presence of dangerous bacteria. Nanotechnology, with a market predicted to reach almost $13 billion by 2021, has the potential to change the world, and every industry — from healthcare to the military — has a stake in its advances.
With that potential, of course, comes risk. Nanotech may be applied in controversial ways — such as surveillance, or weapons capable of attacking people, plants or livestock at the molecular level. The technology is not visible to the naked eye, raising concern among some, who worry that self-replicating nanobots could destroy the planet if not properly controlled.
Nanotech is only one of the macro-level trends we’re watching as part of Protiviti’s ongoing PreView global risk series. We evaluate emerging risks according to the five global risk categories established by the World Economic Forum. In the January edition, in addition to nanotechnology, we consider the risk of a global water crisis and the “morality” of thinking machines, and we look ahead at the risk of marching populism and what cybersecurity means on a national and global scale.
The flip side of risk is opportunity. While governments and industries grapple with the shortage of fresh, clean water, particularly in developing countries, opportunities for water applications of nanotechnologies abound. As artificial intelligence increasingly replaces humans in making key decisions, opportunities to improve the underlying algorithms can translate into market share and increased profits for the early movers. And finally, with cyber the new warfare, governments and companies have an opportunity to stake a claim in the cybersecurity space by designing products, as well as policies, that protect both digital assets and societal freedoms.
Several of the topics in our current issue are a continuation from previous issues. This trend will continue, as the risks we are keeping an eye on evolve over time and their implications change, sometimes quickly. Whether continuing or newly emerging, such as populism, all of these risks are fascinating to follow, and imperative to take into consideration in mapping long-term business strategies. That’s probably one reason why our PreView series is among our most popular publications.
I encourage you to both read and share our latest issue with your board and executives, to spark discussion and help ensure these emerging risks are part of risk discussions. And, we encourage a discussion here as well. Tell us what you think in the comments.