Take-aways from Davos 2018 - Day 1


This week I am attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos as a Young Global Leader. On Twitter I promised to share my observations, here is a short blog.  

One day into the program, I attended mostly sessions dealing with technology, trust, security and human rights. There are hundreds of sessions, many happening at the same time, and some are live-streamed. Technology is a core topic and the WEF has focussed on The Fourth Industrial Revolution for some time now, so it is hard to avoid.  

Here are my take-aways and a policy question:    

The Return of the Human

In an age of Artificial Intelligence, the questions of what are unique human qualities, irreplaceable by machines and necessary for human well-being, are being asked. No longer is technology merely seen as offering promising solutions to problems and exciting opportunities for business. Increasingly, questions of trust, ethics, empathy, the future of human rights and inequality emerge. If people are not needed to perform a growing amount of tasks and thinking, the question is which essential human traits and needs cannot be replaced by technology or AI.  

Navies without sailors, there is a lot of change coming. - Marc Benioff, Salesforce    

All about trust

After a year of President Trump (who will also speak at Davos if he does not get stuck in a government shutdown or a Swiss snowstorm), the erosion of trust emerges as a core theme too. Trust in media is low according to Edelman's survey, closely followed by the lack of trust in politicians. The realization that the erosion of trust in institutions or in democracy can have dangerous implications is sinking in. Disruptive technologies disrupt more than only business models. Democracy can be disrupted, which offers space for innovation and needed reforms, but it can also lead to less democracy. The question is whether the private sector is willing to program and engineer not only for profit, but also for public interest and fundamental values. Many civil society representatives and some academics are making a strong case for the rule of law online, but are technology companies like Google and Facebook convinced to act beyond reputation damage? To be continued.   

Tech companies continue to be among the most trusted. - Ruth Porat, Alphabet/Google  

The end of Facebook?

It is remarkable how fast Facebook's reputation is going down. Many see the company as a pariah. High-level representatives apparently have a tough time setting up meetings with the people Facebook has requested to meet with. I have heard several people here saying they have left the platform. In an ad hoc survey on trust, not a single person raised their hands saying they trust Facebook (compared to Apple and Amazon). The company is apparently not putting representatives in core public discussions, and keeping a low profile. Meanwhile, the use of Instagram is growing, and who owns Instagram? You have guessed correctly.  

Do we want Facebook to be the arbiters of truth? - Rachel Botsman, Oxford University  

The revival of the role of government and regulation

As a number of EU regulations affecting the digital economy and ecosystem are coming into force this year, EU policies are part of a number of discussions here in Davos. Net neutrality -- which the EU still has in place while the US' Federal Communications Commission has just scrapped in the US -- but also the entry into force of the Network Information Security and the Data Protection Regulation. Regulations ensuring cleaner data sets and better resilience of critical sectors are seen as major improvements that will also aid security and law enforcement.    

In the tech industry we have been remarkably clear of regulation. That is going to change this year. There needs to be a more aggressive (regulating) effort. - Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce  

The end of the intermediary liability exception

At the moment technology platforms, under EU and US law, enjoy the intermediary liability exception. This means that the platform, for example eBay, is not liable for someone selling me a car that turns out to be stolen. For tech giants and the digital economy, the intermediary liability exception is crucial. This exception suggests platforms are neutral vis-à-vis the content that goes over their platforms. However, as the pressure to address 'fake news' rises, they kindly offer to solve the challenges themselves to avoid regulation. Will these two contrasting claims be sustainable? I doubt it.  

On day 1, Justin Trudeau gave a speech in which he also talked a lot about technology. You can replay it here.