The accelerating pace of change driven by emerging technologies threatens to create wider income and opportunity gaps, warned business and technology leaders in a session on preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the opening day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.
“We are at a point where it is possible that technological development can accelerate and increase digital refugees,” warns Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce in the US.
Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys in the US, adds: “We have to put in an extra effort so that we don’t create a bigger society of have-nots. That means a deep commitment to education and to addressing the displacements.”
The key to preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution lies in the technologies themselves, argues Mukesh Ambani, chairman and MD of Reliance Industries in India. “These technologies really are all-inclusive and will benefit all,” he says. “In a sense they are great equalisers.”
The rapid growth of e-commerce and digital cash in India is an example, he observes. “And the fastest way to transmit education in a big country like India is through technology.”
Making these technologies inclusive will require designing them so that they benefit everybody and not just a few, Sikka says. “That requires empathy. I’ve always wondered why every company isn’t a technology company.”
Focusing on education and promoting innovation are not new solutions to the challenges of inequality and marginalization. “Education and entrepreneurship are the answers,” Sikka stresses. “We just haven’t been doing enough of it.”
And what is required are fresh approaches or new models shaped through debate and collaboration among all stakeholders, Benioff says. He proposed that CEOs each adopt a public school.
For initiatives to be effective will require building trust and articulating a vision, explains Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of the General Motors Company in the US. “You need to be incredibly transparent for people to have trust.”
To prepare for the disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, leaders will require radar to pick up on displacement and discontent and a compass to set the values and vision needed to succeed, says Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the UK.
To weather the challenges will require more collaboration among countries, according to Shu Yinbiao, chairman of the State Grid Corporation of China. “Globalisation is inevitable and is good for the development of the global economy. We will need more international cooperation.”