Over 700 members of the World Economic Forum’s newly created Global Future Councils are gathering in Dubai this month. Here’s everything you need to know about our network of forward-looking thinkers from business, government, civil society and academia.

What are Global Future Councils?
We call them the world’s foremost interdisciplinary knowledge network dedicated to promoting innovative thinking on the future, specifically the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. You might call them groups of experts. Experts in lots of things, in fact: in total, there are 35 Global Future Councils and each is focused either on what we like to call systems, or on emerging technologies like Blockchain or robotics. Systems are challenges that are global in nature - climate change, migration or income inequality, for example – or they relate to industries, for example the Future of Health and Healthcare or the Future of Production.

What do they do?
Well, each council member is a recognized world-leading expert in their particular field, whether as academic, business leaders, politicians or from one of many other walks of life. First of all they advise on the various initiatives that the Forum is involved in, such as our work on closing the gender gap or tackling climate change, but they also develop ideas independently, the best of which could get taken up by governments or other organizations.

So who sits on a Global Future Council?
There are unlikely to be heads of state from around the world, or the leaders of international businesses, who you might expect to see at other World Economic Forum meetings.

You may never have heard of some of the interesting experts in our councils, for example Hiroshi Ishigaro, a Japanese robot inventor who has built a doppelganger of himself that is so life-like it has actually taught students in his place. Or Feng Zheng, the MIT biomedical engineer that owns the patent to CRISPR, a technique that is becoming synonymous with ‘editing’ the genes of plants, animals and even humans. Staying with technology, Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA, will be weighing in on our Future of Space Technologies council, while Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former President of Estonia and a veritable cyber expert in his own right, is Chair of the council on the Future of Blockchain.

Away from science, Ngaire Woods, Dean of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, is Chair of the council on Technology, Values and Policy which sounds dry but is likely to be the engine room for a large number of the ideas coming out of the meeting. We’ll be looking out also for the contribution of Marvin Amorri, General Counsel of Hyperloop One, the revolutionary transportation system that could well be connecting between Dubai and Abu Dhabi (in under 15 minutes, versus a flight of over an hour) in the future.

Why do they matter?
With all the crises in the world today, it feels like a real luxury for leaders to be able to focus on the future. But a lot of the trends council members are talking about in the context of the future are already being set in train – and in some cases are already happening – today. Take migration, which is exacerbated by climate change and a lack of opportunities for inclusive economic growth. Meetings like this are important for breaking down silos. Same goes with the emerging technologies: we know that jobs are being lost as a result of automation and robotisation, and that new ethical challenges will arise as we discover more and more about how to read people’s minds, or copy their genes. Shifting to a mindset where problems and opportunities are assessed before they happen rather than when or after they happen is surely a good thing if it helps us be able to look forward to the future with optimism; to be inspired by it rather than scared by it.