The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos took place this year against a complicated and fragile global backdrop. Financial markets are nervous. Geopolitics is fraught. Global business is caught in the eye of a hurricane of digital change. The planet’s environment is under strain.
How do you take global leaders out of their immediate crisis zone and make them look to the horizon? The forum’s theme was mastering the fourth industrial revolution, a phrase that describes the changes in technology, biology and neuro-science sweeping across industries and economies, with profound implications for what it means to be human.
Like all industrial revolutions, its creative destruction will take a human toll. Our own study estimates that in the top 15 global economies five million jobs will be lost by 2020, if we carry on with business as usual. Government, business, and civil society – working together – can prevent that. It does not mean throwing workers on the scrap heap in developed and developing economies, or sticking our heads in the sand and hoping new technologies will go away. It does not mean giving up on the world’s younger generations. It does not mean clutching at flags to play one country off against another.
But it does mean asking leaders to look ahead. The World Economic Forum does not make decisions. We are not a funded-raising body. And although we are funded by businesses, and work closely with them, they sign up because the forum is a platform. That ‘platform’ collaboration played a vital role in the Paris climate agreement last December. It sounds easy, but bringing so many people together, keeping them together and getting them to sign up to something beyond platitudes is no easy task.
Sometimes it seems the world moves at the speed of the slowest. Breakthroughs in back rooms do not always make the headlines. For example, this week the forum helped bring together leaders who want to reunify Cyprus. Adding the business case means understanding that everyone on the island can potentially benefit.
How will we regulate the world that is appearing in front of us? In the second industrial revolution, train companies made sure that anything not on rails could go no faster than walking pace. Today, some of our digital regulation is from the pre-internet era. How will one government fare regulating laboratories engineering DNA, when another lets it’s scientists loose creating new forms of life?
These are not trivial questions. And neither are there easy answers. But the world’s problems are not divided up ministry by ministry, market share by market share. In Davos this week we started the conversations between some of the people who can help ensure that the coming revolution is one that benefits humanity, rather than threatens it. The forum will be a platform to keep those discussions going digitally, globally and most importantly individually. So that all of us have an opportunity to shape the change before us.
Adrian Monck is head of communications at the World Economic Forum
This piece forms part of today’s guest-edit of the Progress site by Stephen Kinnock MP, covering the discussions at Davos on the economy, business and the World Economic Forum’s central theme this year of ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Follow the guest-edit today here
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