Davos – the picturesque ski resort in Switzerland – has been home to the iconic economic and geographic conference since 1971. Politicians, business leaders, activists, journalists and representatives of civil society all congregate to discuss how countries, businesses and consumers should be tackling the world’s largest issues and advancing the most promising technologies.
Davos 2020 wrapped-up on Friday 24th January, but what did we actually learn from this year’s event? What are the key takeaways? In this blog, we break down the themes and issues that resonated with us at Resonance.
Davos on ways to tackle gender inequality in the 21st century – Alex Izza
Gender equality was high on the agenda at Davos. The run-up to the conference set the scene for the challenges that still lie ahead: a WEF report estimated it would take 99.5 years to achieve gender parity.
During the conference, the big message was that gender equality was an inescapable necessity of all countries’ sustainable development. Many speakers linked gender equality to the arrival of next-generation technology, calling for gender bias to be eradicated in artificial intelligence and for all countries to ensure the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are evenly spread.
Plenty of companies were keen to showcase their diversity policies. Goldman Sachs’s CEO David Solomon announced that they would not consider an IPO for a company which had a board that did not include women. The inspiring voice for change from Davos came from Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland – the world’s youngest prime minister. She won lots of praise for her calls for a global effort to fight ‘every day for equality’ and her dream of a world where female leaders were the ‘new normal.’
Davos on sustainability – Laura Brockbank & Nadia Nizar
According to Time Magazine, Davos 2020 wasn't the typical economic and geographical conference of yesteryear. This year, the summit's agenda was both influenced by and directly addressing the climate change crisis.
As Australia burned, leaders congregated to discuss the inevitable effect a warming planet is having on economies and businesses across the world. Far from being a far-off disaster, the International Monetary Fund announced that climate change “already endangers health and economic outcomes.”
At Davos, there was widespread commitment from companies, politicians and investors - now known as the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance - looking to mimic Microsoft's trail-blazing carbon negative strategy. Prince Charles, who also attended, threw his hat into the ring, challenging the business and finance elites at Davos to lead a: “…paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace" to avert the approaching catastrophe.
But with targets as far away as 2050, will these initiatives and challenges really help reduce global CO2 emissions? Or are we still over-estimating how much time we have left to save our planet?
Davos on AI as a transformative phenomenon – Jessica Beasley
At Davos 2020, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was once again the talk of the summit.
According to The ASEAN Post, it’s clear that AI remains the most transformative phenomenon of recent times. The technology’s possibilities are endless - from revolutionising medicine by offering the possibility of replacing invasive glucose testing, to workplace robots that can make deliveries direct to desks.
"AI is one of the most profound things we're working on as humanity. It’s more profound than fire or electricity," said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO during one Davos panel. As with most transformative possibilities, AI is also a cause for concern. Recent reports that AI voice assistant Alexa records private conversations as part of staff training has caused major concerns about citizens' privacy.
One thing’s for sure though: AI isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s making even more leaps and bounds.
Davos on security – Jonathan Burch
As with previous years, security was another important theme at Davos this year. News had recently broken that Russians had tried to infiltrate Davos last summer, but had been foiled – demonstrating that at least the security measures of the event are up to scratch.
Over the event there were various high-profile panel discussions around security. A broad spectrum of security topics were covered; from cyber security to privacy online. A theme that kept coming up was how we can use technology to improve security both online and offline. Experts discussed the socio-economic impacts of cybercrime and the cybersecurity of supply chains - a sector that is undergoing major transformation currently.
Trust was also a recurring topic, with many discussions on how trust can be built with technological solutions, but also on how we will need to trust technology to play its part in keeping us safe online. As we move towards a future where everything could be connected, this trust will be a crucial foundation for technology to further enhance our lives.
Resonance on whether Davos achieved anything – Alex Izza
Every year, Davos faces an avalanche of accusations of its looming irrelevance. Commentators attack it as an elite event for out-of-touch politicians and philanthropists. It, certainly, is far from perfect, with many rightly pointing to the hypocrisy of the large number of private jets (1,500 in 2019) that descend on Switzerland to discuss the climate crisis. Overall, however, it is a moment of brilliant publicity for the defining issues of our time and to inspire people to take action to solve them.
We get to see showcases of stunning technology ranging from deep fakes to 5G powered robotic machinery. Equally, local activists get a global platform to build interest in their cause, people like Melati Wijsen from Bali and her ground-breaking work to ban plastic bags. Throughout the year, the World Economic Forum organises further initiatives, building on the work of the main conference. Indeed, the week after Davos it was announced it was supporting the Hardwiring Gender Parity into the Future of Work Initiative, putting together tangible solutions for businesses to hit 50-50 gender parity in the workplace.
So, perhaps, Davos continues to be meaningful in 2020 after all.