Rapid advances underway across a range of technologies are changing how people live, work and interact with each other, with both positive and negative impact.
In a panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016 on the transformations driven by this Fourth Industrial Revolution, government, business and technology leaders stressed the importance of ensuring that dividends are enhanced and divides are bridged.
“Think about the changes in the world happening in terms of hope or fear,” advises Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer and member of the board of Facebook. “The question that Davos is trying to answer this year is how hopeful or how fearful the world should be. The challenge needs to be to have the triumph of hope over fear.”
Technology can be a great equalizer, notes Paul Kagame, president of the Republic of Rwanda. Even though much of Africa is only starting to reap the benefits of the computer revolution, it is important for the continent to put one foot ahead in this new technological age, he says.
“Technology has a huge multiplier effect on finding solutions to many problems by having even the poorest people have access to the technologies that can improve their lives,” says Kagame. But there will be winners and losers in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, he acknowledges. “Our job is to make sure that we narrow the gap and that there are fewer losers and more winners.”
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution gains pace, inclusion is a major concern, argued Meeting Co-Chair Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Is there a digital dividend or a digital divide? That is the right debate to have. The emphasis should be on skills. Rather than worry about jobs being lost, we as a society will have to spend the money to educate people so they can find new jobs.”
The key, he says, is to improve productivity to drive growth and achieve a surplus. “The question is how the dividend is going to get spread,” Nadella asks. “Is it going to spread out geographically, to all sectors of the economy, to help people of different economic strata?”
Sandberg agrees: “Connectivity and data access are too important to keep to the world’s rich.”
Taking technology to rural areas will have enormous benefits, according to Ananda Mahindra, chairman and MD of Mahindra & Mahindra in India. “If we can make our villages smart, there will be huge productivity gains.”
But technology such as mobile phones and artificial intelligence can make people feel disengaged and remote, he says. “There has to be empathy. But how do we programme artificial empathy?”
Technology will drive improvements in governance, says Zachary Bookman, CEO of OpenGov. “One of the things that strikes me about the state of governance in the world is how many broken governments there are,” he observes.
With technological advances, “governments will connect much more closely with citizens. They should reflect the citizenry. People should know where tax revenues go, what they are getting for their tax dollars. As digitization of government takes place and new tools reach government, there will be a new governing landscape – much more public, collaborative, integrative and productive.”