Davos 2020: Here’s what you need to know about tech for good

  • In the last 50 years we have seen enormous technological progress.
  • Technologies like quantum computing, autonomous vehicles and biotechnologies will soon hit the mainstream.
  • Public dialogue and governance are crucial to ensure future technologies are used responsibly and fairly.

When the first participants gathered in Davos in 1971, personal computers and mobile phones hadn’t been invented, ATMs were yet to hit the mainstream, and the medical devices and genetic tests routinely used in today’s clinical practice were inconceivable.

Technological progress over the last half century has been staggering. And as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Annual Meeting in Davos, we’re entering a new era of innovation. Disruptive technologies like blockchain, autonomous vehicles and gene editing, which have been on the cusp for several years, are about to impact our lives, for real.

These technologies have the potential to benefit humankind in numerous ways, but only if they are used responsibly and ethically. Take artificial intelligence for instance: the algorithms behind deepfake technology, capable of misleading entire populations and disrupting democracy, can also be used to diagnose diseases like cancer at an early stage, leading to better health outcomes.

The expansion of the internet of things (IoT) could put jobs and personal data at risk, but if rolled out responsibly, could revolutionise peoples’ health, safety, finances, and daily planning.

Powerful gene editing tools could – in the wrong hands – be used to engineer viruses capable of wiping out entire populations, but could equally be harnessed to save endangered species and eliminate debilitating hereditary diseases.

While there are concerns about the impact disruptive technologies will have on the the lives of individuals and societies, there is little doubt that the decade ahead will be dominated by innovation. World leaders are focussed on how to develop and apply technologies that benefit both people and the planet, and will look to society to shape their development.

What the experts say

Ahead of Davos 2020, here are some insights from participants who have written for Agenda.

Robo-taxis will increase congestion without changes in regulation according to a group of management consultants at Arthur D Little. The only way to minimise congestion will be for everyone to switch to autonomous vehicles and for manufacturers to reduce safety distances between cars.

Microsoft calls for increased governance of how technologies are designed and who they are sold to, and plans to implement a robust Responsible AI governance process.

5G technology will underpin the green industrial revolution that’s needed to avert catastrophic warming, writes the CEO of Nokia.