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This is the 21 May 2020 issue of our weekly scan for political and geopolitical risks (open access)

Editorial: This week our main signals highlight notably and among many indications:

  • a possible mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 (China new cases);
  • domestic and international political and security impacts of the COVID-19 which are increasingly apparent;
  • and an interesting absent signal…

Indeed, despite the disaster the super-cyclone Amphan wrought, notably on Kolkata, it was not picked up as signal by the algorithm.

Is this absence the result of a technical failure? Or should we revise our sources? Or does this absence reflect of a real lack of interest (at least for rather Western-based twitter users)? People, even those interested in and used to security issues could also be unable to address different disasters in the same time, including because it is psychologically too difficult to handle.

Absence of something is a too often neglected, yet very important, indication. Not noticing absence is a cognitive bias (see our online course – Geopolitical Risks and Crisis Anticipation: Analytical Model – Module on biases). Here we have a perfect example of this phenomenon at work.

Using horizon scanning, each week, we collect weak – and less weak – signals. These point to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising problems. As a result, they indicate how trends or dynamics evolve.

Below the scan itself, we briefly explain what is horizon scanning and what are weak signals.

The Scan

The 21 May 2020 scan→

Horizon scanning, weak signals and biases

We call signals weak, because it is still difficult to discern them among a vast array of events. However, our biases often alter our capacity to measure the strength of the signal. As a result, the perception of strength will vary according to the awareness of the actor. At worst, biases may be so strong that they completely block the very identification of the signal.

In the field of strategic foresight and warning, risk management and future studies, it is the job of good analysts to scan the horizon. As a result, they can perceive signals. Analysts then evaluate the strength of these signals according to specific risks and dynamics. Finally, they deliver their findings to users. These users can be other analysts, officers or decision-makers.

You can read a more detailed explanation in one of our cornerstone articles: Horizon Scanning and Monitoring for Warning: Definition and Practice.

The sections of the scan

Each section of the scan focuses on signals related to a specific theme:

  • world (international politics and geopolitics);
  • economy;
  • science including AI, QIS, technology and weapons, ;
  • analysis, strategy and futures;
  • the Covid-19 pandemic;
  • energy and environment.

However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement.

Featured image: Milky Way above SPECULOOS / The Search for habitable Planets – EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars (SPECULOOS) is searching for Earth-like planets around tiny, dim stars in front of a panorama of the Milky Way. Credit: ESO/P. Horálek.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Science, and Security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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