We cannot fix the fractures of our world without multi-stakeholder collaboration. The difference between cooperation and conflict, between progress and painful reversals of fortune, more often than not lies in dialogue. To build a peaceful world, we need to see the world through the eyes of other people – especially those we disagree with.
This has been true throughout human history, but it is particularly pertinent in 2018. We’re living at a time when the borderless internet has brought us closer together while the beating drum of nationalism pushes us further apart. Without calm, constructive and even uncomfortable conversations on the kind of future we want, the forces of intolerance and isolationism risk unravelling centuries of progress.
The stakes could not be higher. An overwhelming majority of experts in our most recent Global Risks Report believe that the risk of a catastrophic conflict between major powers will deteriorate in 2018. Within countries, inequality and stalling social mobility has stoked legitimate anger that the system is geared to favour an elite handful. According to the International Monetary Fund, 53% of countries have seen an increase in income inequality during the past thirty years, with this trend particularly evident in advanced economies.
The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Dialogue means listening to different perspectives with an open mind. In 2018, we need to listen to the grievances and the warning signs, and work on collective solutions. The complex risks we face can only be countered by joined-up responses.
Multi-stakeholder dialogue, the cornerstone of the World Economic Forum’s ethos, remains the only possible starting point for progress. Beyond the vital work of organisations like the UN, we have carved out a space on the world stage where business leaders can rub shoulders with labour activists, and world leaders can talk – as well as listen. Back in 1987, Davos played a key role in preventing a war between Greece and Turkey. The former Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal met his Greek counterpart, Andreas Papandreou, forming a bond of trust that helped to stave off military conflict.
In Davos this year, a Forum community of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders met to renew their commitment to the two-state solution and pledge their support to strengthening the Palestinian economy. The leaders of two European countries, Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, and Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, held the first meeting at prime-minister level for seven years, intensifying negotiations to end a lingering dispute. And we held diplomatic dialogues to bolster ongoing multilateral efforts in the Korean Peninsula, Venezuela, sub-Saharan Africa and Somalia.
Today, the old challenges of national tensions meet the fresh disruptions of the digital world. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a breaking wave of technological change that offers abundant opportunities, but pulls apart business models and takes warfare into frightening new arenas.
Should your driverless car value your life over a pedestrian’s? Is privacy over? Can you patent a human gene? Should AI make battlefield decisions? It’s impossible to answer questions like this without thoughtful, open dialogue between parts of society that all too often don’t talk to one another. Big technology companies, start-ups, policy makers, international organizations, regulators, academia and civil society all need to come together to come up with policy that limits risk without restricting innovation.
The Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2016 to achieve just that. Stakeholders have met to formulate policy and governance responses in such areas as artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Internet of Things, digital trade and cross-border data flows, the civilian use of drones and blockchain technology.
The world needs more dialogue and more cooperation. We might hanker for the supposedly simpler world of yesteryear. But withdrawing into our cultures, countries, industries and organizations is not the answer – it’s part of the problem. For the sake of all our futures, we have to talk to each other.