Fourth Industrial Revolution

What will the future really look like?

AeroMobil, a flying car prototype, is pictured during a ceremony marking the taking over of the rotating presidency of the European Council by Slovakia, in Brussels, Belgium, July 7, 2016.

Flying cars aside, how will we work, live and grow in the future? Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Rebecca Ivey
Head of Global Collaboration Village, World Economic Forum
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

When we imagine the societies of the future, we often conjure visions of ingenious technologies supplied by science fiction. We picture flying cars, lunar colonies and cures for all diseases. Rarely do we spend time imagining what the structures of society, economy and government will look like in those future scenarios; nor do we imagine the pathways that lead to revolutionary technologies being incrementally and then universally adopted.

Here are some startling facts about what this future society may look like - indeed, what it may already look like for those in the vanguard:

How we will work

Artificial intelligence-derived businesses are forecast to reach a market value of as much as $3.9 trillion in 2022, with massive potential to impact industries, societies and individuals. Automation based on this technology is poised to take over 45% of workers’ current tasks and 5% of full-time jobs. Companies are responding by filling more than half of talent gaps through internal retraining and employee development, up from 20% just two years ago. And yet, old patterns of gender discrimination may be exacerbated by these shifts; the Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will take another 217 years to achieve gender parity at the current rate of change.


How we will live

Social network penetration is expected to reach more than 3 billion users globally by 2021, opening new avenues to track and rate social behavior and preferences. Algorithms that power everyday digital consumption, from product recommendations to search results, are also being used for insurance benefit assessments, credit decisions and talent recruitment. However, crucial societal conversations and safeguards are lagging behind unanticipated public uses of new technologies, from the live-streaming of crimes on social media to the uptake of amateur drones and cognitive-enhancing drugs.

How we will grow

Since the early 1980s, China has managed to achieve in one generation what took five or more in the West. It is now the second-largest economy in the world and a leading force in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Globally, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are expected to create up to $3.7 trillion in value for companies and countries across global supply chains by 2025. Yet many people fear missing out on the benefits of this new technological age. This is particularly evident in developed countries. Due to escalating trade tensions, meanwhile, global foreign direct investment fell last year. Geopolitical tensions are emerging alongside geo-economic tensions, and technologies are increasingly ‘dual use’, meaning that they are developed with commercial objectives but can be turned to military advantage.

How we will solve challenges

Advances in cloud computing, satellite imagery and machine learning have the potential to improve risk-preparedness, food production and resource management. China has launched the world's largest carbon market and has set itself a target of installing 680GW of renewable power capacity by 2020. Yet despite all the growth in low-carbon energy sources, 81% of our global energy supply still comes from fossil fuels – exactly the same as 30 years ago.

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In our capacity as leaders of our organizations and governments, as citizens, and as stewards of this planet for future generations, all of us must contribute to the process of shaping innovative societies that are capable of harnessing and benefiting equally from technological innovation that is creating value in entirely new ways.

This is why the 12th Annual Meeting of the New Champions is bringing together 2,000 business leaders, policymakers and experts in Tianjin under the theme “Shaping Innovative Societies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, with the aim of:

Unlocking an experimental mindset: How do we make piloting and prototyping a more common practice in pursuing new ventures, policies and partnerships?

Expanding innovation ecosystems: How do we scale-up innovation more effectively in universities, incubators, cities and regions?

Designing human-centred technology: How do we develop a new global ‘operating system’ to ensure that advanced technologies benefit all stakeholders and not just a privileged few?

Accelerating innovation for inclusive growth: How do we systematically integrate innovation and inclusion into value chains and growth models?

Societies must innovate to prosper, and must be resilient in the face of rapid technological and economic change. This requires leaders from all walks of life to hone their innovative capabilities and apply them equally to exciting economic opportunities as well as complex societal challenges.

Follow the debates and discussions live and contribute to the shaping of innovative societies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionEconomic ProgressEnergy Transition
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