World Economic Forum 2016

Written by Emma Dawson • Online since 3.03.2016 • Filed under Press Release • From Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016 page(s) 28-29
World Economic Forum 2016

For four days in January, the world’s political and business leaders, plus the usual smattering of celebrities, headed to the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual conference. EMMA  DAWSON reviews some of the key topics discussed at the conference.

WE live in a fast-paced and interconnected world, where breakthrough technologies, demographic shifts and political transformations have far-reaching societal and economic consequences. More than ever, leaders need to share insights and innovations on how best to navigate the future. The official theme of the 2016 meeting was ‘Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. That, in World Economic Forum (WEF)-speak, means the ‘fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres’. We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and  complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now, a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the third – the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Are we on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution? Most participants at Davos think so. However, less clear is the impact this revolution will have on entire industries, regions and societies around the world. Will it be a force for good or evil? Will it provide new opportunities for all, or will it exacerbate inequalities? Included in discussions were the topics considered to be the top global threats:

The relentless rise of automation and ever more intelligent machines For some Davos attendees, this meant business opportunities. But Davos also highlighted the threat to white collar jobs, and posed the question about whether the changes are ‘failing the middle classes’. Another question considered was whether we are heading towards ‘a world without work’ – a serious issue given that some experts reckon that one in two jobs could eventually be taken by intelligent automation. And what about the implications of smart machines/robots going to war?

Terrorism and the migration crisis

World leaders and the heads of humanitarian agencies debated how to address the growing migration crisis and better integrate refugees into the communities that shelter them. In addition to this, the EU foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, and the French minister Emmanuel Macron, talked about whether Europe has been pushed to a tipping point by the crisis and discussed recent terrorist attacks.

Market turmoil

The stock market rout of 2016 has already made a small dent in the large fortunes of the Davos elite. Plenty of nervous chatter ensued about whether we are heading into a new crash – and whether it can be fended off. Of course, the big worry is China, with its slowing economy and swelling credit levels. One of the Chinese government’s top market regulators, Fang Xinghai, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, updated the global elite on where the economy is heading. Is 2016 the year when the world tumbles back into economic crisis? With crude prices falling below $30 per barrel, the energy ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait talked publicly about how Arab economies can reform to  handle cheap oil. At WEF there were no fewer than 10 central bank governors discussing whether they will need to do more to help the global economy this year.

Climate change

The forum also set out to build on the Paris climate deal, agreed in December 2015, by examining how governments and businesses can work together to cut carbon emissions. It’s widely agreed that failing to deal with and prepare for climate change is the biggest single threat facing the world economy. This is the first time in more than a decade that environmental issues have topped the world’s list of  worries. A string of top scientists provided technical expertise on how to tackle global warming and create cleaner energy.


While turmoil in the Middle East and in the markets has pushed the eurozone debt problems down the agenda it was still up for debate, particularly with memories still fresh of Alexis Tsipras being forced into a painful third bailout deal.


Following a warning from Oxfam that wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small group of billionaires, Save the Children highlighted how the Fourth Industrial Revolution risks deepening the gap between rich and poor. Their reason: Automation destroys job opportunities for those with few educational qualifications and hollows out labour markets in the developing world.


At Davos, the US vice-president, Joe Biden, pushed his ‘moonshot’ initiative to find a cure for cancer. Biden, leading a heavyweight US delegation, met with top scientists, doctors and data researchers in an attempt to speed up the fight against the disease. He believes that ‘cancer politics’ is holding back progress, and called for more data sharing about patient information and treatment outcomes. Ebola, and how to prepare for the next outbreak, was also on the agenda. Test results from Merck’s experimental ebola vaccine proved to be 100% effective in providing immunity to a disease that killed more than 11 000 people in 2014.

Cybercrime and civil liberties

Davos also saw a clash between the authorities that want closer control of our digital communications, and campaigners, who fear privacy is being eroded. The US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and Jürgen Stock, the head of Interpol, attended WEF to push for closer partnerships with companies and new laws to catch cybercriminals across the globe. Also on the agenda was how privacy and secrecy has changed in a world of digital communication and new terrorist threats.

Summing up

About the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, said: ‘The challenges are as daunting as the opportunities are compelling. We must have a  comprehensive and globally shared understanding of how technology is changing our lives and that of future generations, transforming the economic, social, ecological and cultural contexts in which we live. This is critical to shaping our collective future to reflect our common objectives and values.

Source: World Economic Forum,

Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016

Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016

This article was featured on page 28-29 of SABI Magazine Issue 3 - March 2016 - August 2016 .

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