Fourth Industrial Revolution

5 issues that will shape the future, according to the experts

700 leaders of science and academia met in Dubai to workshop the future. Here are the highlights Image: Benedikt von Loebell

Mark Jones
Head of Digital Content, The World Economic Forum
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Our future’s bright: new technology promises solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But the future’s also frightening: accelerating change is disrupting every aspect of life

Seven hundred experts from the World Economic Forum’s "Future Councils" just met in Dubai to plot a path through these competing forces. Here are some of the key talking points and a small selection of the ideas proposed ...

1. The quantity of information is growing at a dizzying speed.

Now’s the time to focus on quality. With more data available than ever before you’d think that the specialists behind these disciplines would be riding high. But many say that those involved in news, information, science - almost anything involving expertise - are having to re-justify themselves.

Proposal: What if we rose to the challenge of "fake news" with a universal standard in media and digital literacy with education on the rights and responsibilities of citizens?

2. Data isn’t enough. It needs to be relatable and actionable.

Big data is enabling the designers of products and services to discover things about human behaviour never spotted before. But might "small data" be an even more powerful agent of change?

Proposal: What if personal health monitors on mobiles lead to behavioural changes in diet and activity that all our research and education have so far failed to achieve?

3. Blockchain could manage everything

Confused about blockchain? Just think of it as a smart kind of database that can track anything. That makes it super-useful for previously intractable global problems.

Proposal: What if blockchain can help us feed a more populous world by conquering the fear of genetically modified crops and lab-grown food?

4. Look at the big picture before you decide what problems need solving

The Forum has just made public its "Transformation Maps" to underline the close links between our biggest global challenges. Zooming out to look at the world in terms of "systems" - how things are linked rather than how they are separated - frees specialists of all kinds to look at challenges afresh.

Here's Robert Muggah talking about how cities are the vital link in the chain when it comes to finding global solutions.


Proposal: What if instead of building more and better types of roads with new technology, we invested in collaborative platforms such as Uber to use current roads much more intensively?

5. It all comes back to trust

Experts tend to be optimists. Yet there’s a clear understanding that the wider public has deep anxieties about the pace of change.

If you are worried about losing your job, having to re-skill, or not being able to keep up with the pace of change, it’s easy to start to feel the general system is not acting in your favour and that breeds mistrust.

Society is struggling to adapt as fast as technology is moving, leading to suggestions we need to slow the pace of change through regulation, or spread its benefits via things like taxes on robots.

Proposal: What if we can’t adapt as fast as technology and we have to find ways of slowing the pace of change like taxes on robots or other forms of regulation?

For more highlights, take a look at our liveblog.

Or visit our #GFC17 blog series for more news and views

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