WEF Global Future Councils; putting humans first

Technology is advancing and at an unimaginable pace, causing massive disruption all around us. Big data, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, smart cities, etc., are now central to policies and the future plans of businesses and governments alike. While rapid advancements in the digital age have thrown up immense opportunities, these have presented great challenges as well, one of them being ensuring human-centric policies amid the threat to jobs and livelihood due to increased automation.

Therefore, to develop strategies and help the world prepare for a technology-driven future, the World Economic Forum (WEF) held its second Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils in Dubai on November 11 and 12.

The global mega event witnessed 700 leading experts and stakeholders from diverse disciplines converging on the Gulf city to focus on building a vision for a sustainable and human-centric world as it stands on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution will have a disruptive impact on business models, economy, society and each individual… To harness the transformative power of new technologies to build a sustainable future, leaders of global institutions need to step out of silos and look at the world as a holistic ecosystem of global interdependence,” stressed Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, WEF, at the event.

Living up to the meeting’s theme of “responsive and responsible leadership”, 35 Global Future Councils pondered over redesigning labor markets that support inclusive societies in an age where intelligent machines are increasingly present in the workplace; they also discussed protecting and empowering societies in a world where ubiquitous information is the norm.

Council members also came up with numerous ideas and solutions that will influence the future global, regional and industrial agendas, and laid a roadmap for the Forum’s next meeting, which will be held in 2018 in Switzerland under the theme of “creating a shared future in a fractured world”.

Human-centric vision

The UAE drove home the point of developing a common international agenda to ensure that the best facets of the digital age work to improve the lives of ordinary people around the world instead of creating fear.

The UAE’s Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, declared his country an “open global laboratory” to transform the concepts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and develop a national strategy in this regard.

Gergawi revealed plans to create a Center for Future Readiness, a physical base for a global framework to assess the world’s readiness for the future. He said the government will appoint “future ambassadors” and, in partnership with the WEF, develop global protocols for AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The announcement follows the UAE government’s appointment in October of the world’s first Minister of Artificial Intelligence Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, another theme covered by the councils. More than 100 leaders from the UAE’s public and private sectors joined the 35 councils in building their vision for 2030.

The key considerations involved ways of applying technology to solve today’s critical challenges, while avoiding potential pitfalls as the world looks to a future vastly different from today.

The Network of Global Future Councils articulated its Ten Visions for 2030, ranging from a decarbonized energy future to a world of ubiquitous information and a workplace where humans will increasingly be working alongside robots. Recommendations relating to these visions will be developed within the ongoing work-streams of the Forum’s 14 System Initiatives.

The Council on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics is developing a curriculum for ethics in the Fourth Industrial Revolution to ensure human values are at the center of development of all emerging technologies. The council also agreed to act in an informal capacity as an advisory group for the UAE’s Ministry for Artificial Intelligence.

The Council on Neurotechnologies and Brain Sciences agreed to support the development of a network of affordable brain labs in emerging economies and support a major public-private collaboration to address depressive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our group talked about the need to level the information playing field. Information is fragmented, the way people connect is fragmented… We want to focus less on the tools and devices and think more on how to make information ubiquitous. Organizations building services around people as active participants in society – whether in the public or private sector – will be key to harnessing technology for good,” said Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who sits on the council for the future of information and entertainment.

Engaging the public

Working in this direction, the WEF made available to the public for the first time its Transformation Maps, a proprietary digital knowledge tool used by leaders for framing knowledge around 125 issues, industries and economies, as well as their interconnections.

Future iterations of the platform will be shaped with the engagement of the public as well as some of the world’s leading universities, think tanks and international organizations.

In making the Transformation Maps public, the Forum seeks to foster wider understanding of the complex forces shaping the world in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It also aims to encourage more people to contribute ideas and solutions to the critical challenges the world faces. Once the digital knowledge tool was launched, more than 1,500 people registered on the platform in its first 72 hours.

“We hope such ‘system thinking’, aided by the expertise of some of the world’s leading establishments and technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will help our collective effort to build a future that is inclusive and human-centered,” said Jeremy Jurgens, Head of Knowledge and Digital Engagement, Member of the Managing Board, WEF.

“By making available the collective intelligence of the Forum’s expert networks – captured in our Transformation Maps – to the public, we can inspire creativity and fresh thinking,” said Stephan Mergenthaler, Head of Knowledge Networks and Analysis, Member of the Executive Committee, WEF.

Smarter, greener cities

By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized and cities will generate more than 75 percent of global carbon emissions, thus calling for smarter and greener solutions to meet the climate change targets.

“Cities are where the future happens first… If we get our cities right, we just might achieve the 2030 development goals and we may limp through the 21st century. But if we get our cities wrong, we’re doomed,” said Robert Muggah, Research Director of the Igarapé Institute, Brazil, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils.

The Council on the Future of Climate Change and Natural Resource Scarcity advanced a new 4IR for the Earth Initiative, a collaboration between the WEF, Stanford University and PwC, with support from the Mava Foundation. The purpose of the alliance is to identify, fund and scale up new ventures, partnerships and business models that harness Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to solve the Earth’s challenges.

Cities, too, are stepping up to the challenges. Today, more than 200 intercity networks are working together to tackle everything from migration to climate change. More than 8,000 cities have introduced solar power, while 300 cities are completely energy autonomous, some even exporting power back into national grids. Underscoring the role big data is playing in future cities to improve efficiency and enhance quality of life, the Council on the Future of Cities and Urbanization published a report, Data Driven Cities: 20 Stories of Innovation. Innovative approaches of data-driven cities in the report included Dubai’s aim to become the world’s first city to use blockchain for government services by 2020; the Japanese city of Fukuoka’s efforts to use algorithms to migrate freight and public transport vehicles to hydrogen fuel cells powered by human sewage; Rio de Janeiro’s use of ‘CrimeRadar’, the first service in the world to make data on crime accessible to the public; and deployment of facial recognition technology to automate the payment process in Yinchuan, China.

“It is now more important than ever to understand the consequences of data – how it can affect people’s lives. Big data is more than just a matter of quantity: it is big promise for our cities as they face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Carlo Ratti, Director, SENSEable City Lab, MIT, and Co-Chair of the Global Future Council on the Future of Cities and Urbanization.

Roadmap ahead

As the world embraces the emerging technological forces of transformation to build a new future, the Council on the Future of Human Rights designed four guiding principles governing human rights concerns in machine learning – active inclusion, fairness, the right to understanding and access to remedy or redressal.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper Survey 2017, more than 50 percent of the young population across the MENA region expect technological change to have a significant impact on their career in the next ten years.

As attitudes towards technological change continue to shift, so too are attitudes towards living in a future alongside robots and augmented humans.

Delegates at the Global Future Councils meeting were unanimous about global protocols and adaptive regulations that establish minimum safeguards to address risks posed by rapidly accelerating technology.

Al Gergawi’s emphasis on the importance of putting human-centered strategies in place, saying “our aim is to create a better future for humanity – that’s our calling as a nation” – aptly summed up the purpose of the meeting.

In accordance, the two-day event came to a close with delegates pledging to put people at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.