Davos Agenda

Davos Agenda: What you need to know about technology

Lydia Hassebroek looks at a screen of her graduating class during a digital graduation ceremony at home during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs - RC29BH9KIFP0

Technology has a critical role in COVID-19 recovery – here's how we ensure it's responsible and fair. Image: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • COVID-19 has accelerated the deployment of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
  • The past year also increased the risk of cyberattacks and exposed gaps in digital access.
  • The Davos Agenda will highlight how we can continue to drive innovation while ensuring technologies are used responsibly and fairly.

COVID-19 has accelerated the deployment of new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – reshaping how we work, shop, learn, socialize, even visit the doctor in ways likely to remain permanent long after the pandemic is under control.

The continued acceleration of technology will be critical to recovery. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics can help us better prepare for and respond to pandemics – and better screen for, diagnose and treat disease. At the same time, AI has the potential to boost global growth by as much as 14% by 2030.

Meanwhile, technology – and digital skills – will be core to many of the most in-demand jobs of the near future.

Have you read?
  • How to follow The Davos Agenda

But we must be careful to manage the risks, too – and responsibly govern tech to ensure its deployment does not exacerbate inequalities or expose people to risks.

From 25-29 January 2021, The Davos Agenda will bring global leaders together to discuss the next steps in the response to COVID-19, including the role - and regulation - of technology in formulating new policies and actions.

Where do we go from here?

Building back better must include working towards tech for good – here's how.

1. Close gaps in digital access

COVID-19 has sped up digitization – and “exposed even more clearly the gaps that still exist in digital access,” said the Forum’s report, "Accelerating Digital Inclusion in the New Normal". “When essential services such as health, education or simply being able to continue one’s professional activity depend on connectivity, the inequalities became exacerbated.”

Mobile technology use cases arising from COVID-19
Here's why we needed mobile technology during the COVID-19 pandemic Image: World Economic Forum

For example,“10% of households in low-income countries are fixed broadband subscribers, compared to 70% and close to 90% in middle- and high-income countries, respectively,” said the report. Furthermore, even among households with internet access, many do not have internet that is fast enough for remote work or school.

The report outlined targets for broadband access for 75% of the world by 2025, while ensuring it costs no more than 2% of earnings.

“If we are to emerge strongly from COVID-19 and tackle greater challenges, such as climate change, then not only do we need to continue the digital evolution, but we need to accelerate it with 5G at the forefront,” explained Börje Ekholm, President and CEO of Ericsson.

Key functional drivers of 5G
This is what's driving 5G. Image: World Economic Forum

Governments also need to invest in digital skills training. Only 32% of people in lower-income economies and 62% in higher-income economies have basic digital skills – but basic digital skills, as well as more advanced ones, will be essential to surviving in this “new normal” and obtaining the jobs of tomorrow.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

2. Stop cybercrime and ensure data privacy and security

While technology has allowed people to continue some elements of normal life even during lockdowns, it’s also exposed us to greater risk of cybercrime.

Before COVID-19, cyberattacks were on the rise, “costing an estimated $600 billion globally in 2017,” wrote executives from Oliver Wyman for Agenda.

Now, companies rank “cyberattacks and data fraud due to a sustained shift in working patterns” the #3 most-worrisome COVID-19 risk.

Most worrisome risks for your company after COVID-19
Companies rank cyberattacks and data fraud among their top COVID-19 risks. Image: World Economic Forum

To take on these risks, governments must update or develop national cybersecurity frameworks, increase international cooperation and unify awareness campaigns, Contreras added.

3. Good tech governance

Technology governance is needed not only to stop cybercrime, but also to drive growth and innovation.

Cross-cutting technology governance gaps
Cross-cutting technology governance gaps Image: World Economic Forum

Take a look at AI. There are more than 80 international standards and frameworks governing the use and ethics of AI, but this can impose "burdensome and sometimes conflicting obligations on organizations operating across national boundaries,” said the Forum’s Global Risk Report 2020.

“The proliferation of standards also makes it more difficult for countries and companies to converge on a single one as more AI-enabled systems are adopted. Even more critical, international and national policies are not keeping up with technological advances,” the report explained.

Innovative governance frameworks
Innovative frameworks for governance of technology Image: World Economic Forum

The bottom line: “An essential consideration for governments, businesses and civil society is how these technologies are harnessed and regulated to accelerate growth, encourage innovation and build resiliency,” said the Forum’s new Global Technology Governance Report 2021. “How governments and other stakeholders approach the governance of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will play an important role in how we reset society, the economy and the business environment.”

What to watch during Davos Agenda

From 25-29 January 2021, join us for special addresses, leadership panels and impact sessions that will address many of the challenges discussed above, including:

  • Harnessing Technology for Environmental Sustainability, Wednesday 27 January 18:00-19:00
  • Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Thursday 28 January 08:00-08:45 and 17:15-18:00
  • Averting a Cyber Pandemic, Thursday 28 January 10:00-11:00 and Friday 29 January 18:00-19:00

Speakers include:

  • Colombian President Iván Duque
  • Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel
  • Ken Hu, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Huawei
  • Brad Smith, President of Microsoft
  • Jürgen Stock, Secretary General of INTERPOL
  • Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture
  • Xiao Yaqing, Minister of Industry and Information Technology of the People's Republic of China
  • Michelle Zatlyn, President & COO of Cloudflare

You can watch the livestreamed sessions here.

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

Related topics:
Davos AgendaFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging TechnologiesCybersecurityCybercrimeEducation
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