• In the last 50 years we have seen enormous technological progress.
  • Technologies like quantum computing, autonomous vehicles and biotechnologies will soon hit the mainstream.
  • Public dialogue and governance are crucial to ensure future technologies are used responsibly and fairly.

When the first participants gathered in Davos in 1971, personal computers and mobile phones hadn’t been invented, ATMs were yet to hit the mainstream, and the medical devices and genetic tests routinely used in today’s clinical practice were inconceivable.

Technological progress over the last half century has been staggering. And as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Annual Meeting in Davos, we’re entering a new era of innovation. Disruptive technologies like blockchain, autonomous vehicles and gene editing, which have been on the cusp for several years, are about to impact our lives, for real.

These technologies have the potential to benefit humankind in numerous ways, but only if they are used responsibly and ethically. Take artificial intelligence for instance: the algorithms behind deepfake technology, capable of misleading entire populations and disrupting democracy, can also be used to diagnose diseases like cancer at an early stage, leading to better health outcomes.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

The expansion of the internet of things (IoT) could put jobs and personal data at risk, but if rolled out responsibly, could revolutionise peoples’ health, safety, finances, and daily planning.

Powerful gene editing tools could - in the wrong hands - be used to engineer viruses capable of wiping out entire populations, but could equally be harnessed to save endangered species and eliminate debilitating hereditary diseases.

While there are concerns about the impact disruptive technologies will have on the the lives of individuals and societies, there is little doubt that the decade ahead will be dominated by innovation. World leaders are focussed on how to develop and apply technologies that benefit both people and the planet, and will look to society to shape their development.

What the experts say

Ahead of Davos 2020, here are some insights from participants who have written for Agenda.

Robo-taxis will increase congestion without changes in regulation according to a group of management consultants at Arthur D Little. The only way to minimise congestion will be for everyone to switch to autonomous vehicles and for manufacturers to reduce safety distances between cars.

Microsoft calls for increased governance of how technologies are designed and who they are sold to, and plans to implement a robust Responsible AI governance process.

“It is up to all of us to use technological advancements to tackle the world’s greatest challenges and turn them into our biggest opportunities,” writes Christian Klein, Co-CEO, SAP.

5G technology will underpin the green industrial revolution that's needed to avert catastrophic warming, writes the CEO of Nokia.

What's coming up at Davos

From quantum computing to robotics, many of the key trends in technology will be on the Davos agenda. You can follow all the sessions from Davos here, and follow the meeting across social media using the hashtag #WEF20. Highlights about tech will appear here. You can submit your own ideas on how to make sure game changing technologies are a force for good, and six other ways to make the world a fairer place, here.

Sessions to look out for: