Refugees, Robotics and Revolutions: A Look Ahead at Davos 2016

January 13, 2016

wef-logo-for-new-barri-blogAs you would expect at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, a major economic gathering of world leaders, the topics of discussion include Asia in the digital age, understanding Islam, Europe at tipping point, the future of Russia, and Sub-Saharan Africa in transformation. But to me, what is even more telling about where the world is going are the new vertical topics and how these emerging trends will affect our day-to-day lives (click to tweet).

The overarching theme of this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or how technology is changing our lives. The first thing that hit me in the program is the number of sessions focused on robotics. I then noted nine sessions with the word “transformation” in the title. It seems everything is transforming, from energy to healthcare, from production to supply chains, from finance to data management, and from food safety to how countries go to war.

So what does the agenda reveal? The age of robotics and artificial intelligence changing how we work, live and even provide national security may be closer than we think. Sessions will explore how humans and robots will coexist — will robots help make our lives easier, or will they put us out of work? Moving from the sci-fi screen to real life, the concept of robots going to war instead of human soldiers will be discussed, and one session will focus solely on how robots will transform disaster relief.

A second trend that emerged in past meetings but continues to evolve this year is healthcare. What I have noticed this year is that the quantifiable returns on wellness seem to be proven rather than hotly debated. The debate has instead shifted to: Should your company have a Chief Health Officer? How do we balance technology and ethics in genome editing or three-parent babies? What will the world be like if we all live to age 150? This shift is clear and begins to explore the economic implications in a world where people will live longer and big data, robotics and 3D printing will provide precision medicine. We also then want to better understand neuroscience and the brain, with several sessions focused on neurology as well as Alzheimer’s.

Personal well-being also entered the forum a few years ago, and early-morning meditation sessions have become commonplace. New this year is a base camp area where interactive experiences like a session focused on Reaching Peak Performance is led by a world-renowned orthopedic and trauma surgeon and Formula 1 world champions. This expanded curriculum focuses on how personal well-being assists in reaching performance goals, building endurance and staying resilient in times of crisis. Clearly, maintaining personal well-being has never been more challenging — nor more critical — than today as we manage our lives and our work in this 24/7 industrial revolution.

Reviewing the agenda, I am now firmly looking forward to contributing to the conversation during the Davos marathon, as I refer to it, and to bringing back more insights on these trends and others in my Insider Insights from Davos webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 11 am ET. Feel free to click here to register.

Barri Rafferty is CEO of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communication firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries. Barri leads Ketchum’s Global Leadership Council to guide the strategy, client service and performance of the agency.

Outside of Ketchum, she participates in a number of groups including the sustainability task-force for the World Economic Forum and is a member of Arthur W. Page Society Page Up program. Rafferty sits on the board of StepUp, an organization with the mission of empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused and she is also a member of the governing body of OmniWomen, Omnicom’s Leading Women’s Network, for which she holds quarterly panel discussions featuring prominent women. She is the recipient of the Plank Center Milestones in Mentoring Award.

Barri is a graduate of Boston University (M.A) and Tulane University and enjoys watching soccer, volleyball, and dance – especially when her son and daughter are involved! Connect with her on Twitter: @barrirafferty