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The Magic Mountain, or … the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018

This will be a very important meeting – no doubt about it! Why? Well, the list of reasons is long, that’s why. Let me share just a few – those that I think are most important.

The origins of the World Economic Forum (WEF) go back nearly fifty years. The issues discussed during those annual get-togethers have always reflected the geopolitical and economic changes which stamped a mark on the decades that followed. At the dawn of the new millennium, much attention was focused on globalization; a decade later, top of the agenda were the reverberations of the 2008 global recession.

From time to time, much more is made of who attends the conference than what has been put on the agenda. Of course, the WEF was conceived of with representatives of business and political elites in mind, so during the conference Davos is swarming with people who make headlines in the world’s leading newspapers. Be that as it may, the arrival of certain individuals still has the pundits holding their breath.

The latest and most notable case is that of the president of China, Xi Jinping, who put in an appearance at last year’s Forum. He was hailed by “The Economist” as “the most influential person in the world” of 2017. Thus, Xi Jinping filled the place which had previously been reserved for the presidents of the United States. This year, on the other hand, the hype that surrounded Xi Jinping’s appearance last year centers on the announcement that Donald Trump will pay a call. Why? There are a number of reasons, not least that Davos has rarely excited successive US administrations. After all, Trump’s visit will be the first of its kind since 2000, the year Bill Clinton was in office, and probably a second appearance in history of a serving US president at the Swiss WEF.

Participants of the World Economic Forum have always tried to think ahead of their times, and predict how the developments they have witnessed might impact the global economic and political reality in the next few years. This year’s agenda will include a few very important issues connected with new technologies, so I am convinced of the extreme relevance of the conference. I have no doubt I will return from Davos richer for a few new ideas, which are likely to leave a mark on the future of ABC Data.

What will I be looking for at the conference? First of all, I am interested in the vision of the nearest future in the context of a complex set of processes roughly referred to as “the fourth industrial revolution”, the so-called Industry 4.0. Why “roughly”? Roughly because we are talking here about a process which in the next few years will shape or reshape more and more areas of our lives. It is a situation similar to that which a few dozen years ago saw computers taking over many traditional activities. As recently as the 70’s of the twentieth century, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to hear that there were no reasons why anyone would like to have a computer at home! Interestingly, the same sentiment was echoed by the engineer and inventor of computers! Putting aside any speculation whether the words were taken out of context, as the speaker vehemently protested, or not, it is hard to deny that in the last few decades computers have changed people’s lives, both at work and at home. What’s more, it would be hard today to find a home in the developed countries where there isn’t so much a computer as only one item of this kind.

Coming back to “the fourth industrial revolution”, the mutual impact of ostensibly unrelated events can be seen in the findings of research carried out by Imperial College London. A 10 per cent increase in mobile broadband penetration translates into a 2.8 per cent increase in GDP. This means that “the fourth industrial revolution” will change not only the world economy but, as the computers did before, practically everything. Perhaps, at first, the most palpable changes will happen in the production process, but sooner or later the changes will affect all of us.

The next industrial revolution is intrinsically linked not only to artificial intelligence and cloud computing but also the 5G network, which promises connection speeds at least 10 times and possibly 100 times faster than 4G. Most notably, 5G will be free of delays, which is ideal for machines and consequently for Industry 4.0. This is just the beginning, and although no one can reliably say today how “the fourth industrial revolution” will shape the world and the social relations, it is worthwhile and even necessary to try to predict the course of events. It is precisely such visions that I have set out to find in Davos.

It will be a really important conference. Have I said so before?

The title of this post is borrowed of course from Thomas Mann’s novel, whose plot is set in Davos.

For more information on some of the issues I have referred to, go to the official website of World Economic Forum.

Recommended reading on the same website:

– a few good posts on “the fourth revolution” and mobile computing.

– an interesting article about the 5G network.

It’s worth having a look at the research findings cited by the author of this article.

For anyone who is interested – a somewhat surprising announcement that Donald Trump will attend Davos. It is a fantastic example of a situation where someone’s presence sends the desired message if only it is presented in the right context.

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