How will digital technology change the way we work and live? The far-reaching impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution framed the first day of Davos 2016, while arguably the meeting’s most popular participant to date rolled into the conference centre: a robot named HUBO.
When it comes to the impact of new technology, “hope should triumph over fear,” said Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, in the Transformation of Tomorrow. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed to the potential of cloud technologies to work for the public good, while in a separate session on Digital Transformation of Industries, Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, pointed to today’s dizzying rate of change:
While digital throws up some new challenges, others are sadly familiar. “Men still run the world – and I’m not sure it’s going that well,” Sandberg told participants:
When he was elected Prime Minister of Canada last year, Justin Trudeau appointed a gender balanced cabinet. He shared his thoughts on leadership in a special address, arguing that “positive leadership creates a virtuous circle,” and that “diversity is the engine of invention: it generates creativity that enriches the world.”
Creativity is part of the programme at Davos, as cultural leaders give their slant on the global conversation. Chinese actress and Crystal Award winner Yao Chen spoke about how social media can raise awareness of the refugee crisis, while the novelist and vlogger John Green was grilled on everything from technology and global warming to what inspired him to start writing in a live Facebook video chat.
Also talking about the refugee crisis was German President Joachim Gauck: “It is our humanitarian responsibility to take in victims of persecution,” he told participants in a special address.
But in a reversal of Germany’s policy to date, he suggested it might be time to start talking about quotas: “If democrats do not want to talk about limitations then populists and xenophobes will.” Quotas, he added, could be “morally and politically necessary to preserve the state’s ability to function”.
In another special address, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, spoke of his country’s new role following April’s historic nuclear agreement – a deal he admitted was “not a perfect one, but no deal is”. It did, however, prove one important point: “Diplomacy works. That is a message all of us should consider when it comes to other issues.”
For those concerned that the agreement could open the door for a nuclear-powered Iran in an already unstable Middle East, he had words of reassurance: “We are prepared to show greater transparency for the international community to know what we know: that our nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.”
With stock markets off to a rocky start this year, many have speculated that we might be heading for another recession. “I think the next year will see a lot of risk in emerging markets and China,” Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard professor told participants in a Fox Business session on the health of financial markets.
Nouriel Roubini, the economist known for his role in predicting the last financial crisis, had a slightly more positive take on events: “It is not going to be like 2008,” he noted in a session on the Chinese economy. Market predictions have a tendency to veer from one extreme to the other, he said, pointing out that the economic situation will no doubt end somewhere in the middle: “China will have neither a soft or a hard landing – growth this year is going to be somewhere around 6%. It’s a bumpy landing, but the good news is that eventually the markets will calm down.”
More tomorrow, including a special address with Benjamin Netanyahu, robots at war, and the future of the digital economy.
The Annual Meeting is taking place in Davos from 20-23 January, under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.