INSIGHT: “Davos Diary – A Technology Take on Davos” – by Phaedra Chrousos

Harnessing the positive power of technology can enable the impossible – but we must tread carefully, writes Phaedra S. Chrousos, Chief Innovation Officer at Libra Group.

That was a big lesson to come out of the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the almost limitless benefits of a technological future but still with the human touch. I was struck by how often technology came up in the conversation. 

Keynotes and panels covered everything from artificial intelligence, automation, and biotechnology to cryptocurrencies, cybersecurity, drones, and e-commerce. Corporate-branded chalets and banner advertisements touted each company’s role in in a “4.0” world and their ability to evolve in anticipation of a very different future.

The impact technology makes in our lives, culture and even on our democratic institutions was discussed by a wide range of leaders across a diverse spectrum of ideologies, including IBM’s Ginni Rometty, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

Best known as vocal evangelists for the positive impact technology has on our world, it was interesting to hear these leaders warn against the potential misuse of AI, the need for a human element when dealing with data, and the need for national and perhaps even global regulation of drones and other new discoveries.

A few standout moments include:

  1. Alibaba’s Jack Ma on the human role in AI – “Artificial intelligence, big data is a threat to human beings. I think AI should support human beings. Technology should always do something that enables people, not disable people.”
  2. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff on the need for regulation – “The point of regulators and government is to come in and point true north. In the tech industry, we’ve been remarkably clear of those regulatory concerns for the whole industry’s lifespan.”
  3. IBM’s Ginni Rometty on the impact on the world’s workforce – “You have to prepare the world for these technologies. There’s a whole string coming, whether it’s quantum or more. You must usher them in with purpose and transparency. This technology is to help you. This is to make you a better human. It’s man and machine.”
  4. Google’s Sundar Pichai on the need for global discussions to demilitarize AI – “The only way to solve some of these issues is global multilateral frameworks; discussions with G7 and G20 countries who need to agree to demilitarize AI. You need a global stand-down and a consensus not to use it for military purposes.”

As for me, I look forward to Davos 2025 and looking back to see whether these warnings were heeded, or indeed warranted. For our 30+ companies at the Libra Group, we know that technology is absolutely necessary but not sufficient to our success. To echo IBM’s Ginni Rometty, “it’s man and machine” – everything we do requires one and the other, ultimately enabling the impossible together.

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