Artificial Intelligence

From Sam Altman to António Guterres: Here's what 10 leaders said about AI at Davos 2024

AI at Davos 2024: Here are some of the key quotes from the week. Image: Flickr/World Economic Forum/Marcel Giger

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Artificial Intelligence

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a Driving Force for the Economy and Society was a key theme at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting, which took place from 15 to 19 January 2024.
  • Advances in technology have the potential to help us solve global challenges, but innovation and guardrails are essential, leaders maintain.
  • Here are some of the key quotes on AI from leaders at Davos.

Barely an hour at Davos passed without mention of artificial intelligence (AI) – the term was discussed across sessions, with a focus on both its potential and risks.

From AI regulation to its impact on jobs and inequality, here are some key quotes from leaders at the Forum's 54th Annual Meeting.

Sam Altman

The CEO of OpenAI spoke at one of the key panels of the week, Technology in a Turbulent World. He welcomed the scrutiny AI technology was receiving.

"I think it's good that we and others are being held to a high standard. We can draw on lessons from the past about how technology has been made to be safe and how different stakeholders have handled negotiations about what safe means.

"We have our own nervousness, but we believe that we can manage through it, and the only way to do that is to put the technology in the hands of people.

"Let society and the technology co-evolve, and sort of step-by-step with a very tight feedback loop and course correction, build these systems that deliver tremendous value while meeting safety requirements."

Ursula von der Leyen

"AI is a very significant opportunity – if used in a responsible way," the President of the European Commission said in her special address.

"I am a tech optimist and, as a medical doctor by training, I know that AI is already revolutionizing healthcare. That's good. AI can boost productivity at unprecedented speed. First movers will be rewarded, and the global race is already on without any question.

"Our future competitiveness depends on AI adoption in our daily businesses, and Europe must up its game and show the way to responsible use of AI. That is AI that enhances human capabilities, improves productivity and serves society."

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António Guterres

The UN Secretary-General used his Davos address to warn of the "existential threat" posed by "the runaway development of AI without guard rails" and its potential to increase inequality in the world.

He called for the full engagement of the private sector in the UN's multi-stakeholder effort to "develop a governance model that is networked and adaptive" and that can "tap the benefits of this incredible new technology while mitigating its risks".

"We need governments urgently to work with tech companies on risk management frameworks for current AI development, and on monitoring and mitigating future harms.

"And we need a systematic effort to increase access to AI so that developing economies can benefit from its enormous potential. We need to bridge the digital divide instead of deepening it."

Gita Gopinath

During a session on Are Banks Ready for the Future?, the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) First Deputy Managing Director outlined the IMF's latest research on AI's impact on jobs.

"Everybody agrees that this is transformational, with a lot of promise, but also risks associated with it. We have a new study that shows that 40% of the global workforce is exposed to AI – that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

"Some fraction of that will benefit, it will raise their productivity, that fraction is about half of that 40%, and the other half will have a hard time, maybe lower wages, displacement and so on."

Employment shares by AI exposure and complementarity: country groups and selected individual countries
How AI exposure compares across countries. Image: IMF

The banking sector is at the forefront of adopting this technology, in terms of money being spent, she added, and listed some of the benefits – banking inclusion, productivity – but also risks, such as bias and data privacy that "need to be taken care of".

"If we enter into a world where all the banks are using this major technology, are we going to see supercharged herding behaviour? Are we going to see AI bots that are sentiment-driven and feed off each other, and you then end up with much bigger amplitudes in the financial cycle – so big credit booms and busts. I'm not saying it's imminent, but this is something we're paying attention to."

Li Qiang

"Generative AI, represented by ChatGPT, has caused a lot of discussion. People love it, but there are also surprises and fear in certain quarters," said the Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China in his special address.

"AI is everywhere, it seems omnipotent, but people are still taking time to get used to it. Like other technologies, AI is a double-edged sword.

"If it is applied well, it can do good and bring opportunities to the progress of human civilization and provide great impetus to the industrial and scientific revolution.

"But at the same time, it also poses risks to security and ethics. China believes technology must serve the common good of humanity, it must do good, and the same applies to AI."

Satya Nadella

“The biggest lesson learned is we have to take the unintended consequences of any new technology along with all the benefits, and think about them simultaneously – as opposed to waiting for the unintended consequences to show up and then address them,” the Microsoft CEO said in his annual fireside chat with the Forum's Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

"I don't think the world will put up anymore with any of us coming up with something where we haven't thought through safety, equity and trust – these are big issues for the world."

Paula Ingabire

In a session called AI: The Great Equalizer?, Rwanda's Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation said AI was more of an opportunity than a challenge for the Global South, but digital literacy and the cost of devices need to be addressed.

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo

"We do not believe that AI is going to [cause] an employment apocalypse," said the Director-General of the International Labour Organization in a session on What to Expect from the Labour Markets?

"Although it is true that millions of jobs are going to be lost and millions of jobs are going to be created, the augmentation side is the transformation side."

For this reason, reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning would be crucial, he added.

Hadi Partovi

During a session on Education Meets AI, the Founder and CEO of Code.org said when people think about job losses due to AI, the risk isn't people losing their job to AI.

"It's losing their job to somebody else who knows how to use AI. That is going to be a much greater displacement.

"It's not that the worker gets replaced by just a robot or a machine in most cases, especially for desk jobs, it's that some better educated or more modernly educated worker can do that job because they can be twice as productive or three times as productive."

“The imperative is to teach how AI tools work to every citizen, and especially to our young people."

Alexandre Fasel, State Secretary, Switzerland

The Swiss State Secretary launched the new International Computation and AI Network of Excellence initiative at Davos, which aims to develop and test AI models to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals and humanitarian aid.

He said: "AI is amongst the key technologies of our time and will have a lasting impact on society, economies and politics and an important role to play in tackling the global challenges we face.

"Not all countries have the same access to the resources needed to implement these. If we do not address this, AI could become a driver of inequality. We must avoid opening an AI gap. We must ensure all voices are heard and AI solutions are a global public good."

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