Global leaders to rub shoulders with robots at World Economic Forum
Leaders from across the globe will once again descend on the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum starting tomorrow (Jan 20) – and the theme this year will be how technology is changing the way we work and live in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’
With the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry; Prince Albert of Monaco; actor Leonardo DiCaprio; United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce firm Alibaba, all attending this year, the annual event in the highest town in Europe is the ultimate gathering of top figures in realms including politics, business and showbiz.
This year’s meeting has a distinct focus on technology, as highlighted by theme, Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution and there will be almost as many robots on show as world leaders. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, said the meeting would take on three dimensions — the current geopolitical situation in the world; economic, social and environmental issues such as how to implement the Paris climate agreement; and the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on governments, business and society.
“We feel we are not prepared sufficiently for this fourth industrial revolution which will come over us like a tsunami, which will change whole systems,” Schwab said.
Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist at the IHS consultancy and a regular Davos attendee, supports this year’s theme. “We’ve had an explosion of technological innovation and we can debate whether it’s the fourth industrial revolution. It seems a little early, but OK — it’s true we have a huge increase in innovation of various kinds,” he said.
But he said the thing with meetings like the World Economic Forum is that other events tend to hijack the agenda. Behravesh thinks that volatility in financial markets in China so far this year is “going to be on everybody’s mind,” while problems in the Middle East could be another issue, such as recent tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia following the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric by the Saudis.
What can be done about sluggish global growth and productivity growth are other matters that could be on the table for delegates, he said.
“More needs to be done to encourage more investment in new technology,” Behravesh continued, adding that companies have been cautious on investing and he hopes for a discussion regarding why that is and what will be done about it.
Ahead of the annual meeting, the World Economic Forum released its annual Global Risks Report. It found that “large-scale involuntary migration” was the most likely danger faced by the world in 2016. Around 60 million people were forcibly displaced in 2014, according to the United Nations. That’s 50% more than in 1940.
The report said that forced migration, whether due to violence, environmental or economic reasons, was strongly correlated with “interstate conflict and state collapse but also climate change and water crises.”
The report, which examines 29 separate global risks assessed by almost 750 experts, found that the risk with the greatest potential impact in 2016 was a “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaption” despite the landmark climate change agreement in Paris late last year agreed by nearly 200 countries.
It said that Earth’s average surface temperature would, for the first time, likely rise 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That’s halfway to the level scientists say would be dangerously high.
“Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks,” said Cecilia Reyes, chief risk officer of Zurich Insurance Group.