Panel on emerging risks, "X-Factors: Preparing for the Unknown." Left to right, Phillip Campbell, editor of Nature; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Ireland; Tan Chorh-Chuan, president, National University of Singapore; Tim Palmer, co-director, Programme on Modelling and Predicting Climate, Oxford University; and Edward Boyden, associate professor, Media Lab and McGovern Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

Earlier this month, the World Economic Forum published its annual report on global risks, “Global Risks 2013: Eighth Edition.” At the 2013 WEF meeting at Davos, a session focused on emerging threats, called “X Factors: Preparing for the Unknown.” My colleague Philip Campbell, the editor in chief of Nature, and his colleague editors, identified these new risks, which are named in a chapter in the report. (Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.)

Among the topics we discussed were: dealing with the costs of the great demographic shift, as the world ages; the possibility of runaway climate change (as well as rogue geoengineering experiments that might be conducted address it); a human race where some of us have significant cognitive enhancement; and how our species will be affected if we ever do encounter extraterrestrial life.

I was the rapporteur, or official summary writer, you can find my blog about the discussion that I wrote for the WEF here.

In the February 2013 issue of Scientific American, you can see a terrific informational graphic about the report’s findings in the monthly Graphic Science, “The Global Risks That Most Worry World Economic Forum Experts”; you can also see an interactive version here.

As a last note, we have another WEF-related essay in the February issue. “Imagine an Internet where unseen hands curate your entire experience,” writes Michael Fertik, founder and CEO of Reputation.com, which is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of the Internet, to open his essay on a “A Tale of Two Internets.”

Map of discussion themes about X Factors. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

Added on 4 February 2013: The World Economic Forum posted a video of the Insight discussion that I had with Phil Campbell after this interesting session. You can find it at this link.