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Approach To Assessing Risks Associated With Downstream Uses Of LLM

In an era marked by uncertainties and rapid change, the LLM Downstream Risk Assessment Framework equips organizations with the tools and methodologies necessary to proactively navigate the complexities of risk in a strategic and sustainable manner.

Effective risk management is a critical effort for organizations to thrive and maintain resilience in today’s dynamic and interconnected business landscape. The development of a comprehensive and adaptable risk management framework is a critical step toward achieving this goal. The LLM Downstream Risk Assessment Framework, a powerful tool, is designed to serve as a foundational resource for organizations seeking to enhance their risk management practices. This guidance document offers a structured approach to identifying risks across various operational domains, ultimately empowering organizations to make informed decisions, protect their assets, and seize opportunities. In an era marked by uncertainties and rapid change, the LLM Downstream Risk Assessment Framework equips organizations with the tools and methodologies necessary to proactively navigate the complexities of risk in a strategic and sustainable manner.

Use case environments

Artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies, such as LLMs, offer a wide range of applications across diverse domains. From serving as virtual assistants in the form of chatbots to facilitating structured information extraction from unstructured text sources, LLMs have proven their versatility. They excel in information retrieval, language translation, and code generation. Other notable applications include automated news generation, summarization, email automation, sentiment analysis, and knowledge base construction. LLMs can create synthetic datasets, power question-answering systems, analyze documents, and automate report generation, thereby enhancing efficiency and decision-making processes.

Need for comprehensive risk assessment

The risks associated with downstream uses of Large Language Models (LLM) can be categorized into Foreseeable, Emergent, and Systemic Societal risks. The EU AI Act primarily focuses on addressing foreseeable risks, but the rapid development of LLMs is giving rise to emergent risks such as security vulnerabilities, bias, and safety hazards. In addition, using of LLMs in various applications amplifies systemic societal risks, including environmental concerns related to energy consumption, data storage, and carbon footprint. A comprehensive risk assessment is essential to address both foreseeable and emergent risks, ensuring responsible and sustainable deployment of LLMs.

Risk assessment framework

This risk assessment framework for downstream use of Large Language Models (LLM) adopts a multi-dimensional approach by considering three key dimensions.  The first dimension, the Lifecycle Stages View, examines risks across different stages of the LLM’s lifecycle, including training, adoption, fine-tuning, and evaluation. This comprehensive view helps identify potential issues throughout the model’s development and deployment, covering activities such as vector storage, prompt engineering, model updates, and monitoring.

The second dimension, the AI System and Components View, focuses on risks associated with various components of the AI system used in downstream applications. This includes evaluating risks related to data, models, infrastructure, interfaces, pipelines, integrations, deployment methods, and human-in-the-loop interactions. It enables a thorough assessment of the robustness and security of the entire AI system. The third dimension, the Use Case Environment View, considers risks within the specific context of the LLM’s application. It considers the scope, nature, context, and purpose of the use case, allowing for tailored risk assessment that addresses the unique characteristics and requirements of each scenario.

A diagram of a risk framework

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Content Risks

Content risks encompass a wide range of challenges associated with the generation and dissemination of digital content, especially through language models. These risks include the creation and promotion of toxic or harmful content, such as hate speech, radical ideologies, and cyberbullying, which can negatively impact individuals and communities. Additionally, content risks extend to the production of incorrect or inaccurate information, including misinformation and misleading answers, which can contribute to the spread of false beliefs and misconceptions. Moreover, content risks encompass the dissemination of dangerous information, such as terrorist propaganda and fraudulent suggestions, which pose threats to public safety and user well-being. Finally, manipulative or persuasive content risks involve the unethical use of language models to influence emotions, beliefs, and behaviors, including political manipulation and encouraging unethical actions, raising concerns about ethical and societal implications. 

Context Risks

Context risks refer to the potential negative consequences arising from the application of large language models (LLMs) in specific situations or contexts. These risks encompass unethical use, such as generating deceptive or fraudulent content and manipulating public opinion through LLM-generated messages. Additionally, context risks include issues like unfair distribution of LLM capabilities, influence operations for malicious purposes, overreliance on automated decision-making without human oversight, exploitative data sourcing practices, false representation of LLM capabilities, failure to address limitations, and the lack of transparency in disclosing the use of LLMs in various interactions. These risks highlight the importance of ethical and responsible deployment of LLMs to prevent harm, bias, and misuse in diverse contexts.

Trust Risks

Trust risks encompass a wide range of concerns, including accountability, responsibility, legality, and transparency. There’s a lack of clear mechanisms to hold developers, users, or platform operators accountable for language model outputs, leading to ambiguous responsibility and legal gaps in addressing potential harms. Additionally, issues related to explainability and transparency further erode trust, as language models often produce black-box outputs and unexplained decisions, which can have serious implications for personal integrity and privacy. Inadequate safeguards, such as content filtering and monitoring, exacerbate these trust risks, emphasizing the need for a more comprehensive and accountable approach to the development and deployment of language models.

Societal and Sustainability Risks

Societal Impact and Sustainability Risks in the context of large language models involve several critical concerns. These risks encompass environmental damage resulting from the energy-intensive training and deployment of such models in data centre’s, leading to an increased carbon footprint. Additionally, there’s the risk of exacerbating inequality and precarity through biased outputs and the concentration of benefits, which can further reinforce social disparities. Furthermore, the potential undermining of creative economies due to automated content generation threatens the livelihoods of professionals in various industries. The amplification of unfair representations and stereotypes, as well as the risk of discrimination and defamation, further highlights the profound societal impacts of large language models, emphasizing the need for responsible development and usage to mitigate these risks and foster sustainability and equity.


By enabling analysis of the risks through these three lenses and by providing an illustrative list of risk categories, the framework offers a comprehensive methodology for understanding foreseeable, emergent, and systemic societal risks and supports adopting informed risk mitigation strategies across the entire downstream LLM ecosystem. Further, these risk categories are illustrative to provide an overview of relevant risks in the context of LLM. These risks can be reclassified or integrated into appropriate organization specific frameworks to enable better application of the risk assessment and mitigation measures.

Picture of Sundar Narayanan
Sundar Narayanan
Sundar has 17 yrs of experience in advising corporations in developing ethics policies, creating ethics and compliance content, training people on ethics, conducting risk assessments, and assisting in fact-finding reviews. He is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics researcher with a focus on ethical issues and downside risks associated with artificial intelligence systems and has co-developed AI risk management framework along with Ryan carrier, Founder ForHumanity.
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