Imagine all the supervillains of the world meeting once a year to plot and scheme for global domination. Now imagine the good guys doing it. The “good guy” version is essentially the World Economic Forum in a nutshell, which is held annually in Davos, Switzerland. This year’s gathering of the planet’s leaders and influencers recently wrapped up, and the Davos Economic Forum of 2019 tackled a number of issues of great importance. The underlying theme: The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the inherent opportunities and problems it may be creating.
What is the impact of the world economic forum on the issues they discuss? Who attends the Davos Economic Forum? Who usually gets an invitation? What was the discussion around the Fourth Industrial Revolution? It’s time for a bold look…
The Origins of the Davos Economic Forum
In 1971, University of Geneva Business Policy professor Klaus Schwab put forth an intriguing idea. He wanted to gather together some of the most important minds in Europe to share their philosophies, concerns, and hopes for a global marketplace. Originally called the European Management Symposium, Schwab was able to entice 450 influential leaders in Europe to convene in Switzerland to do just that. This was the historic moment that launched the Davos economic forum.
For Schwab, the choice of Davos for the economic forum was intentional. In Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain”, Davos provided isolation amidst the majestic Swiss Alps and offered a humbling perspective. Thus, the setting for the Davos Economic Forum would help erase petty agendas for a greater global good. After an increasing number of global leaders and influential individuals began to attend, the gathering was later changed to the Davos World Economic Forum.
The impact of the world economic forum is nothing to scoff at. In 1988, the Davos Economic Forum fostered a treaty between Turkey and Greece that prevented war. It also served as the forum for talks between South Africa’s Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela in 1992. But perhaps the most enduring utility of the Davos Economic Forum is as an opportunity for the most innovative thinkers in the world to converge and share ideas.
Who Attends the World Economic Forum?
The guests who attend the Davos Economic Forum come from all walks of life. Major corporate CEOs are often invited. Also, invitees often include directors or founders of socially minded organizations and nonprofits. But one may also attend by simply paying the fee – $60,000 for individuals and $600,000 for company partners.
Celebrities who’ve made the trip include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and rapper Will.i.am. DiCaprio spoke on the dire need for environmental protection. Will.I.Am serves on numerous committees at the Davos Economic Forum due to his expertise and personal interests. These include insights into the responsible integration of technology, artificial intelligence, and intelligent consumer electronics devices.
Interestingly enough, many state leaders do not always attend. Neither President Donald Trump nor U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May attended this year. Likewise, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were also absent. And prior to last year, when President Trump did attend, the last U.S. president at the Davos Economic Forum was Bill Clinton.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – A Dominant Theme at the 2019 Davos Economic Forum
The First Industrial Revolution came about with the invention of the steam engine. The Second stemmed from the introduction of mass production in factories. The Third was born from the invention of the semiconductor, the computer chip, and the Internet. But here we are in the age of AI, the Internet of Things, and even greater integration of technology and humanity, and suddenly new issues have arisen. According to Schwab, this is the Fourth Industrial Revolution – “Globalization 4.0” – and it offers the greatest potential and the greatest peril.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution relates to how we evolve as human beings as cybertechnology and biological systems progressively integrate. These changes are not only occurring quickly, but they have the potential to redefine humanity and its relationship to nature. This demands ethical and social considerations that affect the entire planet and species. At the Davos Economic Forum, this drove a discussion on how the marriage of AI/machine learning and big data could affect business (and especially employment).
That discussion has been carried on beyond the forum, with some arguing that some in the workforce need skills for this new Revolution.
A Call for a New Economic Paradigm
Though certainly not a consensus, some attendees highlighted a need for a new economic model moving forward. Increasing inequality among global populations and advancing climate change require a major value shift. Several attendees at the Davos Economic Forum stressed the importance of a major value shift in economic models. Instead of seeking perpetual economic growth, values need to reflect the social and environmental well-being for the entire planet.
While such resolutions have yet to evolve, the forum offered insights about the types of changes needed. If enough are willing to listen to some of the brightest minds of our time, then the impact of his world economic forum could be considered a positive one.