World Economic Forum 2018: Highlights for the Tech Community

Sylvana Lewin, Monday February 5th 2018

On January 23-26 in Davos, the World Economic Forum’s 48th Annual Meeting brought together a record number of heads of state, government, and international organizations alongside leaders from business, civil society, academia, the arts, and media to discuss some of the world’s most pressing issues. This year’s meeting was themed Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World and focused on finding ways to reaffirm international cooperation on crucial shared interests.

Technology was a big topic during the forum, with speakers discussing everything from how smart data could help end malaria to why everyone is excited about blockchain technologies and how technology might just make us better humans. One of the recurring issues was the current and potential effects of recent technological advances.

We’ve put together a list of some of the top moments from Davos for the African tech community.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Confirmed the Gravity of Artificial Intelligence

During an interview, Sundar Pichai reaffirmed Google’s commitment to using artificial intelligence as the solution to most problems in the world. A clear proponent of AI, Pichai stated, “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has Arrived

Perhaps one of the biggest topics at this year’s forum was the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s wide-reaching effects could be felt on nearly every panel and talk, with many heads of state bringing up these ongoing changes. Siemens AG CEO Joe Kaeser perhaps said it best, stating, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the greatest transformation human civilization has ever known. As far-reaching as the previous industrial revolutions were, they never set free such enormous transformative power.”

[caption id="attachment_6339" align="aligncenter" width="600"] BBC World/E.T. Studhalter[/caption]

Tackling the Issue of Trust and Technology

The “In Technology We Trust?” panel took a deep dive into the role of trust and technology. Speakers included CEO of Marc R. Benioff, CEO of WPP Plc Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of Alphabet Ruth Porat, CEO of Uber Technologies Inc. Dara Khosrowshahi, and Rachel Botsman of the University of Oxford.

Botsman brought up the issue of convenience and trust when it comes to technology, delving into the ways technology is changing this relationship: “In many instances, technology is accelerating trust.” As technology works to automate processes and make things more efficient, we are facing risks that must also be addressed. Botsman pointed to the 2016 Kalamazoo Shootings, in which Uber driver Jason Dalton committed a massive atrocity during the course of an Uber ride. People were so trusting of the app that they unwittingly got in a car with a serial killer.

Panelists, including new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, agreed that steps must be taken to ensure that the opportunities brought with technology are well understood and that trust remains an important industry value. Benoiff proclaimed, “Trust has to be the highest value in your company.”

Taking a Look at Impact

The “Future Shocks: Rogue Technology” panel focused on ways technology can be used to minimize human impact on the environment, shedding a positive light on the possible uses of technology for good. Panel member Peter Thomson, of the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, stated, “I think innovation and innovative technology is going to be a huge part of the global solution to the reversion of the cycle of decline that the ocean is currently caught in.”

Big Tech, Big Impact” looked at job displacement caused by technological advances. PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Chairman of Veon’s Supervisory Board Ursula Burns, President of Baidu Inc. Ya-Qin Zhang, ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, and Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao all joined the discussion.

“We are at a point where we need to use the progress of technology to change some of the basics of our societies, in terms of what we define a public good that citizens are entitled to. Technology through big data and a much better understand of how things go can deliver this,” said Colao. Along with several of his fellow panelists, Colao emphasized a need to focus on how we can use technology to improve things like classic public goods, environment, and health.

Enabling a Future Focused on eCommerce

eCommerce was another hot topic at the forum. The panel, “Enabling eCommerce: Small Enterprises, Global Players”, featured Prime Minister of Peru Mercedes Araoz, President of Rags2Riches Therese Fernandez Ruiz, Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma, and WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo.

The panel made it clear that they believe eCommerce is not a passing trend, but here to stay. Ma stated, “It’s going to be the future. eCommerce is not for the big companies, the developed countries. It’s for the developing countries, young people, and small businesses.”

As eCommerce appears to be here to stay, discussions followed on next steps and how it can be expanded. Azevedo said “I think that the potential of cross-border eCommerce needs the feedback of the international community.” Rather than simply getting government feedback, companies were encouraged to focus on the feedback of people and groups working on the ground.

Technology is certainly at the forefront of the world’s leaders’ minds. It is an exciting time of innovation. If you’re interesting in exploring the ways you can use technology for good, apply to join the next cohort at the MEST training program today!