Privacy and anonymity may effectively disappear by “choice or government mandate”, according to a US National Intelligence Council report on likely global trends for the next 20 years.

The Global Trends report warns the impending boom in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), will lead to all aspects of personal and professional lives being tracked by global networks.

“Privacy and anonymity may effectively disappear by choice or government mandate, ” said the report.

“Real-time, manufactured or synthetic media could further distort truth and reality, destabilizing societies at a scale and speed that dwarfs current information challenges”

The report said current notions of privacy will continue to evolve, with individuals needing to share more personal information for access to applications and tracking becoming ubiquitous.

“Authoritarian governments are likely to exploit increased data to monitor and even control their populations,” the council’s strategic futures group writes in the report.

“The technology-saturated and hyperconnected future will offer leaders and governments new tools to monitor their populations, enabling better service provision and security but also offering greater means of control.”

It warns: “The same technologies that empower citizens to communicate, organise and monitor their health are providing increasing amounts of data to governments and the private sector.”

Declaring data will be king, the report states: “AI-dependent industries and organisations of the future will require massive quantities of data to operate efficiently and competitively.

Institutions, companies, and countries already investing in ways to acquire, classify, store, and monetise data will have advantages.

“The unprecedented amounts of data available in 2040 will provide valuable insights and capabilities but also open up access, privacy, ownership and control of data as areas of increasing competition and conflict.”

Concerns about privacy and control of data streams, as well as trade in other technologies and industrial goods, are likely to lead to more activist trade policies for broader national security interests, the report predicts.

However, the next stage of the digital revolution will have important positives, it also points out.

“By 2040, AI applications, in combination with other technologies, will benefit almost every aspect of life, including improved healthcare, safer and more efficient transportation, personalised education, improved software for everyday tasks, and increased agricultural crop yields,” it says.

“Enabled by concurrent increases in high-quality data, computing capability, and high-speed communication links, AI will challenge leaders to keep pace and reap the benefits while mitigating harmful effects, such as threats to privacy and liberty.”

The report notes political and business leaders worldwide are seeking global talent and are pouring resources into developing AI, “hoping to be among the first to use it to reshape societies, economies, and even war.”

The report lists privacy as a norm most likely to have regional variations in the years ahead.

The National Intelligence Council publishes the Global Trends report early in the term of each new US administration to provide an analytic framework for policymakers as they define national security strategy and to assess the key trends and uncertainties which face the country.

“The goal is not to offer a specific prediction of the world in 2040; instead, our intent is to help policymakers and citizens see what may lie beyond the horizon and prepare for an array of possible futures,” the report states.

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