Emerging Technologies

An interview with Professor Klaus Schwab on the theme of our meeting in China

Kevin Lee, a project engineer with XYZ Printing, displays 3D-printed drones during the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 8, 2016.

Image: REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Klaus Schwab
Founder, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

The theme of 2016 Annual Meeting of the New Champions is 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Its Transformational Impact'. Could you please explain the meaning of this theme and share why the World Economic Forum chose this particular theme? And how will this affect the industries and also our everyday lives?

I believe we are entering a period of human history which will be marked by technological shifts more rapid, wide-ranging and fundamental in the way they will affect the way we work, live and interact with one another than ever before. We do not know exactly the way and the extent to which breakthroughs in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and neuro-technologies, to name just a few, will affect the world we live in, however we do know that every country and industry will be disrupted. At the Annual Meeting of the New Champions we will seek to bring together all those who are at the forefront of technological progress so that we can be better understand and prepare for this change and all the opportunities and challenges it presents.

What is the key element of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

I believe there are three key ingredients that set the Fourth Industrial Revolution apart from other shifts in human history. These are velocity, scope and impact. Velocity because we have never seen change at such a pace before, scope because it will affect everybody’s life and impact because it has the potential to fundamentally change what it means to be human in ways we have never experienced before.

AI is emerging on the worldwide agenda. What do you think of the future of AI?

Artificial Intelligence is already a mainstream technology but I believe we are only now beginning to see the impact it will have on economic and social life. The recent Go match between Lee Sedol and Google’s Alphago illustrates this perfectly. But, as with the first industrial revolution, we must not view the future in a binary light, where it is ‘man versus machine’; rather machines must complement, helping us to build a world that is more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable, and aiding researchers and pioneers make further breakthroughs that benefit all humankind.

What are some of the new technologies or trends which will be highlighted at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the New Champions?

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions is about bringing together leaders from all areas of science and technology: often the magic of the meeting comes when scientists and technologists from completely different fields meet for the first time. In a similar way, as we are the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we do not yet know all of the technologies that will most come to define the shifts we are about to undergo. However, some of the ones that are integral to the process of change and disruption include artificial intelligence, neurotechnologies, distributed manufacturing (through 3D printing), materials science, genome editing, quantum computing and the block chain.

What are the biggest risks for the global economy?

As recent editions Forum’s Global Risks report has shown, income inequality is one of the most concerning global risks. As I write in the book, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, could make inequality worse. The major beneficiaries of innovation tend to be those that own intellectual or physical capital, and people with more creative and technical skills will be in higher demand, putting pressure on wage growth and employment for medium- and low-skilled workers. Of course unemployment is a connected and highly concerning risk – we need to find ways to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution is one where workers are empowered, rather than replaced.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates many other risks which could have an economic impact – for example, I worry about the misuse of technologies in warfare and how these influence geopolitics and harm economies. I’m also conscious of a number of social and political impacts from new technologies that could reduce our ability to empathise and collaborate to increase everyone’s wellbeing.

What is the growth engine with the power to restore the global economy, which has been demonstrating low growth for the past eight years since the global financial crisis?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be that growth engine. Whether it is, and how this growth is distributed across economies and different social groups, depends on how we lead, design and disseminate the technologies and systems that are just starting to emerge. Growth comes from greater numbers of people being ever-more productive in how they create value for others. This means that, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we should work hard to ensure as many people as possible can participate in engaging, rewarding, valuable work. Unfortunately, we still see a troubling digital divide in both emerging and developed economies. Given that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is built on digital infrastructure, we must make sure that all citizens can access and use digital systems so that they are also able to participate in new systems of production and exchange.

Another aspect of this is ensuring that our organisations, economic and political structures and all of us as leaders are prepared to take advantage of new growth opportunities. All of us need to take a broader view on technologies, society and stakeholders, looking ‘outside in’ at the wider world to ensure we are building the right skills and culture to transform industries. We must avoid the urge to take a short term view – instead we should take this opportunity to invest for the long term. And to ensure this growth is truly sustainable, leaders must not lose sight their own values or that of their employees and other stakeholders: in an age where technology could be used in ways that undermines what it means to be human, we need to put ethics, values and the human being at the centre of our decision-making.

Interview with Maekyung, reporting by Lim Sunghyun.

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