In the chill of Davos, Switzerland this year, World Economic Forum participants are concerned about innovating responsibly. Research related to the conference theme ‘Mastering the 4th Industrial Revolution’ warns that increasingly high-tech changes threaten to eliminate millions of people’s jobs.
International entrepreneurial leadership guru CP Gurnani admits: “I am frightened because we are going too fast. Are the changes too exponential? [Have the] architects of this revolution—if there are any architects—planned for societal changes? Have we planned for human capital enablement? Have we planned for security?”
Nineteenth century steam revolutionised first transportation then factories (Industrial Revolutions I and II), then last century digital technology overtook analog (the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’).
Our correspondent Sarah Chappell presented the core questions: “The World Economic Forum has described the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a tsunami of technological advances that will transform our economy. But what of the impact on the labour market? Where will the work come from for all those people now doing jobs that will disappear as they are replaced by machines?”
Policy makers are looking at worst-case scenarios of technology making people’s skills obsolete, economically devaluing them.
Major developed and emerging economies are at risk, with the greatest pressure on the lowest wage-earners, warns UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings.
“Let’s look at the scale of the problem that is in front of us: we already have 200 million people unemployed; half the world’s workforce is surviving on just a couple of dollars a day, and they are classified as in the informal sector. If you put on top of that this digital revolution that is taking place and the impact on jobs and all the statistics we see are alarmous [sic].”
The challenge is to ensure that new technologies benefit the greatest number of people, so that the ‘revolution’ is peaceful.