Davos 2017: In a cloud world, the World Economic Forum warns of social unrest if gov’ts fail to employ technology with humans in mind
The world’s political, technology, academic and economics elite is this week descending to Davos in Switzerland for the 47th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Cloud, automation and job losses. These three topics have over the last few years gained more importance as the first mass-dismissal of workers start taking place all over the world.
Of the many hot of the press topics around geo-political and economic themes affecting the world, the event will focus on technology, mainly how the world can shape up to meet the demands of a digitalised society, especially around automation and the above-mentioned job losses including also the need for ever stronger cyber security methodologies in the cloud economy.
The kick-off is on January 17 and the hundreds of attendees, including Prime Ministers, Presidents, CEOs, technology moguls such as Bill Gates and many more, will be reaching the Swiss Alps with a warning from the WEF: nations should be aware of the rapid development of technologies which could lead to destabilising effects in economic growth which in its turn could spark social unrest.
In “The Inclusive Growth and Development Report”, the WEF asks: “As technological disruption accelerates in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how can societies organise themselves better to respond to the potential employment and other distributional effects?”
This will be the motto for 2017’s edition. The report highlights the decline of labour shares, which have been partially caused by the adoption of labour-saving technology in addition to globalisation of trade, pressure from financial markets to increase dividends, decline in workers’ bargaining power, and weakening of labour market institutions.
However, the report also says that “while digitisation in particular will continue to create enormous challenges for employment in many industries and countries, it also has the potential to create extensive opportunities for new entrepreneurs and small businesses by reducing barriers to entry and transaction costs as well as disintermediating and unbundling existing activities performed by larger organisations, including in international trade”.
Cloud hailed as breakthrough, but caution is needed
In the report, the WEF also pays attention to cloud computing and hails the technology as a significant breakthrough.
“The world has entered an era of rapid transformation with amazing potential to not only serve business but also help address the most pressing issues of the day.
“At the heart of this revolution is cloud computing, where innovations are enabling the collection, storage, and analysis of data at breath-taking speed and scale.
“Such breakthroughs will surely help serve humankind, though society must remain conscious of technology’s disruptive potential.”
Yet, just as technology poses new questions to governments and society in general, the WEF highlights that one crucial question remains: how can society ensure that the benefits of the cloud are universally accessible and equitably shared?
For the non-profit organisation, the situation calls for a broad-based approach by governments, coupled with shared responsibility and action by the private sector.
“To ensure technology benefits everyone, collaboration is needed to foster a cloud that is trusted, responsible, and inclusive. In other words, ‘a cloud for global good’,” it reads in the report.
The WEF mentions Microsoft’s approach to the development of the cloud economy and its partnership with governments, non-profits, and other organisations.
One example is in the area of affordable Internet access, where there is great disparity between developed and developing countries.
To help bridge this divide, Microsoft is utilising TV white spaces, the unused or underutilised spectrum frequencies, to support more than 20 affordable Internet-access projects in over 15 countries by the end of 2017.
Furthermore, the WEF says it is also important to ensure that people everywhere have access to educational opportunities that provide the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a digital economy.
Taking on Microsoft once more, the organisation mention’s Microsoft Philanthropies which is working with non-profits, schools, governments, and other businesses to improve the digital skills of people of all ages, and to make computer science education accessible to more young people around the world.
The WEF says: “Bringing the power of cloud computing to the non-profit organisations that are empowering others and addressing vital societal issues is a critical investment for the future.
“While these examples indicate significant steps forward in making the cloud more inclusive, the challenges and solutions are bigger than any one company can attempt.
“All stakeholders must work together to realise a technology revolution for all.”
Are human jobs really threatened by automation?
Despite the need for discussion around the topic of cloud automation used through the deployment of robots and artificial intelligent machines, recent reports show that automation and technology is in fact going to create more job opportunities, at least in the short term.
In a study named “The Skills Revolution” released ahead of Davos 2017, by workforce think tank Manpower Group, it has been found that most employees expect automation and the adjustment to digitisation to bring a net gain for employment.
Eighty-three percent of 18,000 employers survived in 43 countries said they intend to maintain or increase their headcount and upskill their people in the next two years.
Only 12% of employers plan to decrease headcount as a result of automation.
The study has found that headcounts are expected to decrease the most in countries like India (somewhere between a decrease of 20% to 30%).
Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Romania, Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Slovakia and Bulgaria are also posed to see a decrease of up to 9% in headcounts.
Italy, with an increase of 40%, is where digitalisation is expected to increase headcounts the most. Followed by Guatemala, Peru, Panama and Portugal with an average increase between 21% and 30%.
Other countries like the US, the US, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Poland and Japan are also tipped for an increase in jobs.
Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they are investing in internal training to keep skills up to date, 44% are recruiting additional skillsets rather than replacing and more than a third are easing the transformation by bringing in contractors or third parties to transfer expert skills to their own workforce.
Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup, said: “Those with the right skills will increasingly call the shots, create opportunities and choose how, where and when they work. Those without will look to the future and not be able to see how their circumstances will improve.
“This polarisation of the population that is playing out in front of our eyes is no good for society or for business. We need aggressive workforce development to address the widening gap between the Haves and the Have Nots.”
Prising called upon the “leaders” to be responsive and responsible as the industry cannot slow the rate of technological advance or globalisation, “but we can invest in employees’ skills to increase the resilience of our people and organisations”.
“Individuals also need to nurture their learnability: their desire and ability to learn new skills to stay relevant and remain employable.”