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According to most predictions at the end of the 20th century, economic interdependence and liberal democratic institutions should have spurred long-lasting global peace. However, the opening of broad geopolitical fissures in the 21st century have disproved the synonymy between economic prosperity and social cohesion. National, regional, and global divides have driven the creation of confliction political strategic narratives.  Economic policies aim to capture the singular benefits of global integration and avoid its shared obligations. Social fissures are two-fold. First, a shared identity and collective purpose has not been established despite increased capacity to communicate. Second, the contract between society and the government continues to erode in many countries. Simultaneously, the global economy stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Built on the back of the digital advancements of the Third Industrial Revolution, this technological wave is characterized by exponential innovations that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to significantly raise global incomes, revolutionize business models, and increase the efficacy of governments; however, it also has the potential to greatly increase inequality. It is behind this backdrop that over 1,000 of the world’s top thought leaders gather at the annual World Economic Meeting in Davos this January, to deliberate on the following megatrends shaping our shared future. Consumerism The Fourth Industrial Revolution will place the consumer at the epicenter of the economy.  And by giving the consumer unprecedented access to processing power and knowledge will have a profound effect on her/his expectations. In order to fulfill new consumer expectations data-based services and consumer analytics will become increasingly important, requiring extensive collaboration among suppliers. Overall, the Future of Consumption System Initiative aims to find creative ways to navigate the changing consumer landscape in order to create a future in which its benefits are inclusive.  Specifically, it will confront four challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: managing demographics shifts in tandem with rising inequality, meeting consumer demand for convenience, instant gratification, personalization, and experience over product, managing the introduction of artificial intelligence in the market, and addressing societal challenges to create inclusive change and environmentally friendly solutions. Digital Economy and Society This system initiative will focus on how public-private collaboration can be used to fully harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s potential benefits. Because digitization and Internet connectivity are the driving force of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the initiative aims to create shared, safe global digital networks that encourage organizations to take action to create stable economies and societies. Specifically, the forum will focus on the issues of the impact of the digital economy in global growth—the increasing gaps in affordability and accessibility to digital tools; the growing impact of cyber threats; the rules around data usage; the digital transformation of industries; and internet governance. Economic Progress  According to WEF, rising income inequality is the cause of both low consumption and social and political unrest. Growth and equality go hand in hand. The future of economic progress system initiative aims to drive growth in way that promotes equality by enhancing understanding of competitiveness and inclusive growth, and informing multistakeholder action on these issues; facilitating public-private collaboration to improve the competitiveness and inclusive growth performance of particular economies and regions; supporting the broad diffusion and adoption of corporate social innovation practices in the private sector; and, raising awareness of how people experience and are affected by challenges pertaining to economic growth and social inclusion, and invoking stakeholder participation. Education, Gender, and Work Exponential technological change driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution may expand skills, education, and gender gaps in the economy. In order to ensure that benefits from the Fourth Industrial Revolution are inclusive, old education systems must be rethought and new forms of public-private collaboration must be created. To this end, the future of education, gender, and work system initiative focuses on three bodies of work: education and skills, work and employment, and gender parity. Within the education and skills portfolio collective dialogues explore the best methods to reshape education systems and define the core features of a future-ready education system. The work and employment project aims to contribute to the understanding of what skills will best fit the changing nature of work and determine new policy options. Finally, the gender parity workshop aims to devise mechanisms to close existing gender gaps. Energy Energy is the lifeblood of economic development; however, it also contributes two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, a blend of innovation and major changes in consumer demand and policy drives significant change in existing energy systems. The future of energy system initiative aims to accelerate this change using public-private collaboration.  The system initiative has four principle priorities: to identify energy transition outcomes, enable the means to reach these outcomes, contribute to the development of new policies, market systems, and technology that can deliver these means, and understand the human impact of the energy transition. Financial and Monetary Systems  To ensure steady economic growth a healthy and secure, interconnected global financial system must exist. However, as the Great Recession demonstrated, an interconnected global financial system can also bring economic growth to a screeching halt. In order to rebuild public trust and develop new policies and regulations that may harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution the future of financial and monetary systems system initiative aims to create a more efficient, resilient, and equitable international system. It will focus primarily on analyzing how financial stability can be ensured during the next industry transformation, promoting an inclusive financial system, and understand how the changing role of financial institutions and regulations creates uncertainty and risk in the economy. Food Security and Agriculture The Fourth Industrial Revolution will drive the global population to 9.8 billion by 2050, demanding 70% more food. The current global food system in not equipped to feed 9.8 billion people in a way that is both nutritious and sustainable. The future of food security and agriculture system initiative will pursue a leadership-drive, market-based action to reform the current global food system. Specifically, the system initiative aims to develop methods to strengthen global food systems by innovating current technology and policy and increase multistakeholder collaboration at the country and regional level. Health and Healthcare Just as the global food system must be reformed to support the expanding population, so must the global healthcare system. Technological advancements driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are transforming care; however, steps must be taken to ensure that their benefits are inclusive. The future of health and healthcare system initiative will create an advisory board to focus on six principle areas: regulatory, societal and business models’ innovations conditions to advance precision medicine; strategies to influence behaviors in health and healthcare; from micro-level initiatives to macro-level policy-making; dealing effectively with non-communicable diseases; the rising global burden of mental health; and, designing global response mechanisms to pandemics. Information and Entertainment In a technology-driven world a sustainable, reliable flow of information is a powerful tool that benefits both individual stakeholders and governmental organizations. Private-public collaboration in this sphere may spur new policies that allow new technology to drive business growth while protecting the interests of citizens. The future of information and entertainment system initiative will lead dialogues to enable an economically viable, accountable, and transparent flow of content that may both educate and empower stakeholders. These dialogues will focus on “day after tomorrow” thinking, namely ideas and policies that may revolutionize the system in the future. International Trade and Investment Growing inequality between the winners and losers of international commerce, rapidly changing geopolitics, and shifting societal expectations have created both risks and opportunities for citizens, businesses, and governments. Private-public collaboration must be used to transform new policies, practices, and norms, to ensure that international trade and commerce remain both stable and inclusive in the future. The future of international trade and commerce will provide thought leadership to policy-forums such as the G20 and Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC).  The system initiative aims to drive policy reform and take practical steps toward modernizing the international trade system, establishing inclusive norms, and securing multilateral agreement on best practices for digital trade.  Past iterations of this system initiative have helped form the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation and the E15Initiative. Mobility Current transportation systems cannot meet the growing demand without increasing both congestion and pollution. Without reliable and efficient transportation employment, education, healthcare, and trade are not inclusively available to all citizens, which dampens economic growth. Technological innovation spurred by the Fourth Industrial Revolution may offer opportunities to improve the system such as autonomous vehicles, biometrics, and ultralight materials. However, public-private collaboration is needed to take practical steps toward substantive solutions and ensure that innovations are safe, clean, and inclusive. The system initiative on the future of mobility aims to shape mobility to be safe and secure, clean and sustainable, and inclusive and efficient. Production The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be characterized by the converging breakthroughs in technology. New generations of mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing and more will fundamentally transform the speed and scope of manufacturing.  The future of production system initiative aims to guide these transformations to ensure that new manufacturing systems are innovative, sustainable, and are sourced in a way that benefits all parties involved. The system initiative will create dialogues to explore how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect value chains, the future of jobs in manufacturing, environmental sustainability, possible policy options, as well as how each of the other system initiatives may fit into the context of production. Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/swiss-image.ch/Photo Michele Limina.  

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.