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Invest in people now or miss the chance to create an inclusive technological future, warns head of World Economic Forum

It took 10 years to get collaboration to tackle climate change. If we take 10 years to shift mindsets about new technologies, it will be too late. Leaders must act immediately

people and innovation

Businesses need to put greater investment into people and skills and experiment more with new technologies if they are to maximise their ability to develop and bring winning innovations to market, says World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab.

Schwab, who coined the term Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2016, says that, while the potential of new technologies such as artificial intelligence is far from understood, it is likely disruption will emanate more and more from the periphery of organisations and industries.

“Only by directly experimenting with technologies can organisations see for themselves what they can do. Given that experimentation is best done by those closest to a business, this also means making concerted efforts to upskill employees and embracing an entrepreneurial mindset,” he says.

It took the world more than a decade to develop a collective response to climate change. If we take the same amount of time to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will have lost the opportunity to influence the development of the technologies that shape the way we work, live and act

Schwab adds the speed at which technology is disrupting economic, political and social life means that leaders must act immediately to avoid negative impacts and harness its positive potential. He urges businesses to shift to ‘systems leadership’ to ensure governance and values are developed alongside technology and to ensure voices are heard.

“Systems leadership in this context doesn’t just mean leading on the design of the technologies themselves but also acting as a leader on how they are governed and the values they exhibit in how they affect people from all backgrounds.

“New ways of thinking and acting are required from all stakeholders, including individuals, business executives, social influencers and policymakers,” he says.

Comparing the shift in mindset required to that seen in the response to climate change, he warns of a need to act on the challenges quicker.

“It took the world more than a decade to develop a collective response to climate change. If we take the same amount of time to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will have lost the opportunity to influence the development of the technologies that shape the way we work, live and act. If we act now, we have the opportunity to ensure that technologies – such as artificial intelligence – sustainably and meaningfully improve the lives and prospects of as many people as possible.

“In 10 years it will be too late. The structure of new technologies will be more or less set, and the perspectives and values of those who created them will be firmly embedded within the many technologies that surround us and which have become part of us,” he says.

His thoughts come in a new book launched on 18 January 2018, Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The book, a sequel to his influential Fourth Industrial Revolution, draws upon more than 200 leading global thinkers to explore 12 different technology areas crucial to the future of humanity.

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