Predictions 2022: Data can help address the world's biggest challenges - 5 experts explain how

Data center with server racks in a corridor room. 3D render of digital data and cloud technology
We need a trusted, global data ecosystem.
Image: DCStudio/Freepik.com
  • Data can help us tackle our largest societal challenges, including climate change, inequality, global health and economic resilience.
  • But how do we ensure that our global data systems are structured to capture the true value of data, not just the financial?
  • Business leaders share their perspectives on the real power of data and how it can be unlocked to address the biggest challenges of 2022.

With every advancement in the digital world, we unlock a limitless resource: data. It is both a by-product and a driver of global development that has transformed how we make decisions. Not only do we have increased granularity and accuracy to inform evidence-based decision making, but through AI and machine learning, we enable technology to make decisions on our behalf.

The value of this data is well established in the private sector. Successful businesses have captured this value through increasingly efficient and targeted advertisements and product design – with the global marketing data market worth an estimated at $52 billion in 2021. This is significant financially but fails to capture the true productive power of data.

Data can help us tackle our largest societal challenges, including climate change, inequality, global health and economic resilience.

We can better understand how changing temperatures are impacting our environment and predict global weather disasters. We can measure inequalities to inform the policies that can best “close the gap”. We can limit the spread of global disease. And we can hold businesses and governments accountable to the environment and their citizens’ human rights.

We need to use data to empower the masses, not the few. But how do we ensure that our global data systems are structured to capture the true value of data, not just the financial?

Ahead of this year’s Davos Agenda virtual meeting, we invited leaders to share their perspectives on the real power of data and how it can be unlocked to help address the biggest challenges of 2022.

‘Leverage predictive analytics’

Vijay Guntur, Corporate Vice President and Head, Engineering and R&D Services, HCL Technologies

It is anticipated that 2022 will see a proliferation of COVID-19 mutations and that the power of data will be the key to minimizing their impact on the world. Big data and IoT technologies are evolving at an unprecedented pace to enable us to collect, prepare, analyze, anonymize, and share pandemic related data at volumes, and at a velocity, that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Access to a trusted, global data ecosystem enables healthcare professionals, governments, and big business to leverage predictive analytics, model different scenarios, and refine and redeploy those models as more data becomes available.

We expect that the disruption we have seen in the global supply chain will continue throughout 2022 and that once again the power of data will be the key to relieving much of the stress this has caused. The use of low latency data transmission via 5G networks, streaming IoT data, and real-time insights will provide demand planning, forecasters, and logistics managers with better visibility into the various parts of their supply chain and enable them to react instantly when problems occur.

Data can help us prepare for further COVID-19 variants.
Data can help us prepare for further COVID-19 variants.
Image: Unsplash.

'Developing a global talent pool'

Igor Tulchinsky, Founder, Chairman and CEO, WorldQuant

If nothing else, 2021 reinforced the inevitability of uncertainty. Thanks to the growth in data and the increasing power of AI and machine learning, we are now in the age of prediction. We have already seen the promise of prediction in sectors like healthcare, where Weill Cornell Medicine enhanced its machine learning capabilities to predict COVID-19 infections within two hours – much faster than is possible with RT-PCR tests.

In the year ahead, I expect the role of predictive analytics to continue growing across public and private sectors, embedding itself in many aspects of work and life. But, grappling with the growing surge of information requires an increased focus on developing a global talent pool with the right technical skills, unified by advanced, shared goals, to interpret it and realize prediction’s full potential.

The needs of the future present a massive opportunity and maintaining a global mindset will enable new sources of talent to contribute significantly. Organizations are already embracing new ways of work, talent sourcing and development, which will be critical to succeed in the age of prediction. There is tremendous potential for business and society to harness this opportunity and have an exponentially positive impact, globally.

Enable data to flow across borders'

Dr. Norihiro Suzuki, Vice President and Executive Officer, Chief Technology Officer, General Manager of the Research & Development Group and General Manager of the Corporate Venturing Office, Hitachi, Ltd.

The answer to many of our unsolved problems lies hidden in the almost unfathomable trove of data in existence. This wealth of knowledge can accelerate solutions from climate change to urbanization and education. For example, through work with The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Japan and the G20 Smart Cities Alliance, we are harnessing data to create safer, viable, and sustainable cities.

However, a lack of coordination in data governance and regulation is restricting international data flows – each country has only a fraction of the information they need to effectively tackle global challenges. We need to enable data to flow across borders, by building trust between business and consumers, aligning regulations across jurisdictions and by governments and large organizations forming partnerships to support small and medium enterprises.

There is the view that technology is the accelerator and governance is the brake in innovation, but the truth is that they are 2 wheels on either side supporting the same innovation vehicle. Taking “trust” and “governance” into consideration from the design phase will accelerate the implementation of technology and innovation in society.

'Inclusive and responsible solutions'

Crystal Rugege, Managing Director, The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Rwanda

The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified the critical role of data and technology in solving the profoundly complex and highly dynamic challenges of our time. As we look forward, we must prioritize building a comprehensive global data ecosystem that balances privacy rights, socio-economic development, and technological advancement. This calls for agile and interoperable data governance frameworks that provide a spectrum of instruments from policies to regulations that can adapt over time as new thinking evolves.

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.

Furthermore, we need open, high-quality data sets to create inclusive and responsible solutions that leverage machine learning, and other emerging technologies, to enhance our ability to deliver at scale. Finally, a global multi-stakeholder approach will be imperative in building the hard and soft infrastructure required to facilitate cross-border data flows and the circulation of knowledge to build more resilient economies and more equitable societies.

‘Change the fate of the ocean'

Kimberly Mathisen, CEO, The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Ocean

The old slogan “if you can't measure it, you can't manage it” has never been more relevant. Industry 4.0 technology will allow us to manage and measure in ways we are only just beginning to grasp.

By sharing ocean data, we can change the fate of the ocean by unleashing the power of data, technology and collaboration. We see strong indications the world is getting ready to share more ocean data. That is the starting point for data to become powerful, accelerating good solutions for more sustainable blue foods, more renewal energy sources, and greener transportation – a few areas where the power of data will benefit the ocean.

Achieving ocean sustainability requires transformative solutions that are based on data and science. One concrete example of benefits is our Ship Emissions Tracker, developed with NOA Ignite and Microsoft. Through open-source data combined with the renowned ICCT emission algorithm, the Tracker makes it possible to estimate the greenhouse gas footprint of each or all of 250,000 vessels in the global merchant fleet.

This provides compelling insights for progressive leaders in the shipping industry with targets to reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2050, and the end customers who want to purchase greener transport.

The power of ocean data to improve ocean health and wealth is immense. But for data to become powerful, sharing ocean data is the first step.

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