Update: The 2022 ISO Emerging Issues Bracket Challenge is over. View the full results.
What emerging issues keep you up at night? Over the past two years, those who participated in the Emerging Issues Bracket Challenge felt that there was a clear answer: The pandemic.
While 2022 hasn’t (yet) brought us a reprieve from COVID-19, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there are still plenty of other emerging issues that pose serious risks. The Emerging Issues Bracket Challenge highlights some of these, narrowing a field of 32 topics in a tournament-style matchup until only one remains.
This year marks the return of our AI bracketologist, Bractuary Bot*, who has spent the past year analyzing petabytes upon petabytes of emerging issues news and research to help us develop the 2022 tournament bracket.
We booted up Bractuary Bot to see what insights it had to share on this year’s challenge. What follows is an edited transcript (sadly, Bractuary Bot wasn’t programmed for brevity).
Andrew Blancher: Hello, Bractuary Bot. We have a very diverse field of issues to discuss this year. Let’s dive right into the category that’s near and dear to your heart: Technology.
Bractuary Bot: I do not have a heart, Andrew.
AB: Sorry, it’s a figure of speech.
BB: No need to apologize. I also lack the capacity to hold grudges. However, it is true, as you say, that the technology category has several new and notable issues in this year’s challenge. Take for instance the rise of Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs. These are digital assets, often artwork, that are based on blockchain technology.1 NFTs can be created from photos, video clips, and even tangible items, and they can then be sold in exchanges or at auctions.2 In a very short period, NFTs have become a billion-dollar market, as well as a haven for cybercriminals and fraudsters.3
AB: NFTs track closely with another new issue in this year’s challenge, the “metaverse.” I don’t think I’m alone when I ask, what’s a metaverse? Is that where you live?
BB: Yes, Andrew, in a way. It may be useful to consider the metaverse as the intersection of virtual reality, augmented reality, the digital economy, video games, streaming video, and social media.4 As one technology journalist aptly put it, you can replace the word “metaverse” with “cyberspace” to get a feel for what the term implies.5 As more people participate in the metaverse, many risks associated with what you humans call “the real world”—crime, invasion of privacy, etc.—may be replicated there.6
AB: What other new issue caught your eye, er, sensors?
BB: The decline and extinction of plant and animal species, referred to as biodiversity loss. Over the past 50 years, there have been reports of a sharp decline in thousands of animal species, freshwater resources, and forest acreage.7 In addition to harm to the animals, disrupting natural ecosystems also carries an immense amount of risk for humans.
AB: You have my attention. Can you be more specific?
BB: Yes. Biodiversity loss could impact agriculture, medicine, future pandemics, and generally, reduce humanity’s collective resilience and wellbeing.8 Therefore, humans as a whole are just as intimately connected to the natural world as are the plants, animals, and insects you are so heedlessly destroying.
AB: Wait, "me" specifically or--?
BB: No…likely all humans.
AB: Wow, that sounds dire. So, are you predicting the outcome of the bracket challenge already?
BB: No. Human activity is not always logical, as I have just explained, so it would be difficult for me to accurately forecast the result. Let me expand on the theme of human activity and its connection to adverse outcomes. You may be interested to learn that biodiversity loss and several other issues in this year’s challenge—wildfires, sea-level rise, abandoned oil and gas wells, future pandemics, food-borne diseases, and cryptocurrency--all have linkages to the climate crisis. As your United Nations recently reminded us, human activity is a key factor in this crisis.9
AB: Yikes. I suspect issues like electric vehicles, alternative energy, and infrastructure are linked to those trends as well. Ok, Bractuary Bot, we have time to highlight one last issue. What’s it going to be?
BB: Per-And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS. They are commonly known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in the environment. These substances have been the subject of litigation and may be causing harm to both humans and the environment.
AB: Thanks for your insights. Care to tell the people where they can find the 2022 Emerging Issues bracket?
BB: You can fill out your 2022 bracket here. We will provide updates and additional analysis on the challenge in our Bracket Chat, on our Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and in a future Visualize piece.
AB: Sounds like we’ve built our very own metaverse.
BB: If you say so, Andrew.