Last week saw the conclusion of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, the annual event which sees the world elite descend upon a small Swiss mountain town in order to discuss the small topic of making the world a better place. The forum traditionally has a different theme each year and this year inspiration was taken from Xi Jinping’s 2017 talk on ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’ which covered topics such as the environment, artificial intelligence, and the changing roles of enterprise.
First up, there were calls for firms to have increased social responsibility. Billionaire financier and currency speculator, George Soros, slammed multinational firms such as Facebook and Google for their exploitation of their monopoly position with regards to advertising. Soros complained that firms such as these were taking advantage of the social environment and were a threat to democracy. Coming in the wake of the ongoing investigation into Russian influence over the US election through social media platforms, Soros’ speech struck a chord with many world leaders. British Prime Minister Theresa May echoed Soros, speaking of the need for more stringent regulation of the web as she continues her mission to reduce the amount of terrorist propaganda and child pornography on the web. There is no doubt that both Soros’ and May’s speeches hit the right tone among those with any sort of moral compass, but it remains to be seen whether Twitter, Facebook, and their band of offshoots will take any notice of their requests, or whether they will fall upon deaf ears.
With President Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord early in his tenure, questions have been raised about the future of the fight against global warming, another item high on the agenda. Emmanuel Macron struck an optimistic note when he announced that France would completely eliminate coal-fired power plants by the year 2021. Meanwhile, the conference also marked the beginning of a new global partnership, Friends of the Ocean Action, spearheaded by UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thompson. The initiative promises to fight over-fishing, acidification and rubbish dumping in an attempt to rejuvenate the worlds oceans, and received a boost from a donation of $4.5m from businessman Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne. The insurance giant AXA also dealt a blow to fossil fuel plant owners as it branded global warming as ‘uninsurable’ and that as a result it would no longer insure coal or sand-tar projects. Although more needs to be done to fully stop the change in our climate, such positive sounds coming out of conferences containing so many powerful people give us hope that environmental sustainability is becoming more and more prominent in the minds of everyone.
Artificial intelligence was also a hot topic for discussion, with business leaders and politicians alike looking into the growing market for robotics in the work place, and how to integrate such technology into the labour force with the minimum disruption to existing workers. Of course, business leaders would much rather use a robot who doesn’t tire and to whom no wage is paid, than a worker who is much less efficient. However, the politics of business and the aforementioned increased pressure on firms to be more socially responsible means that they must look into ways of using AI in tandem with manpower rather than as a replacement for it. Soros again waded in on the topic, praising Nordic countries for protecting workers rather than jobs, a solution that gives less room for manoeuvre for businesses trying to switch from human to humanoid labour. We will definitely see a seismic shift in the composition of the workforce over the next several years, so it is important that discussions such as these take place be forehand in order to protect the jobs of millions of people.
Critics of the Davos conference claim that the World Economic Forum is in fact little more than elitist networking rather than a world bettering discussion. Perhaps this is true, with many business leaders admitting that it’s the chance encounters in the foyer or the corridors rather than the meeting rooms that they value most. However, with such an eclectic mix of political and economic views in one place, there is reason to believe that it is in fact possible to create a shared future through positive discussion of current topics.
In the face of populism, growing inequality and environmental degradation, this meeting of the most powerful people in the world offers a chance for improvement. The men and women who were present at Davos 2018 are the ones who hold the key to making society a better place, though it remains to be seen if they act on this responsibility or continue to sit around talking, without making any truly major strides towards the end of improving the lives of people across the globe.