Nigel Vaz: Lessons from Davos

Nigel Vaz speaks at Davos 2019

‘Globalization 4.0’, the theme of last week’s 49th World Economic Forum in Davos, had particular resonance for me – grounded as it is in the understanding that we live and work in an age of transformative change, shaped by technologies that are rapidly and fundamentally altering the way we experience and interact with the world.

Among the 3,000 official participants at WEF 2019, we were all champions of globalization. But ‘Globalization 4.0’ elicited a very different kind of conversation: one that has moved away from prioritizing the merits of the globalization of production and trade, to one that additionally embraces the interconnectedness of issues ranging from inequality, access to AI, responsible governments and corporate governance, environmentalism and protecting our oceans.

For me, the ability to hold outwardly contradictory notions and to host competing narratives represents all that is good about WEF. And so it was that under the umbrella of ‘Globalisation 4.0’ we were able to wrestle both with the threats of protectionism – or “the fragmentation of the international architecture” as Angela Merkel put it – and the call for greater oversight of technology giants.

The hyperlocalizm of national interest and cultural self-identity that we see in political spheres is at odds with the hyperglobalizm of technology and the way in which people use it, increasingly, as the interface to their world. Speakers and delegates to WEF were, at least, in step with the idea that they need to navigate this paradox.

While Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged Facebook’s “need to earn back trust”, Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella was receptive to the idea of pre-emptive regulation to avoid a “race to the bottom” in the use of facial recognition technology. We seem to have turned a corner with regard to technology: championing its material benefits to people’s lives while acknowledging that the right level of regulation can help rather than hinder its advance. Nadella’s comment on privacy and the rights of the individual to control their own data struck a chord: “Like electricity, which was democratized, available, and fuelled economic growth and productivity and growth in the previous industrial revolution, the same thing needs to happen with data.”

These reflections were to be found in sessions I attended across Davos. ‘Making AI More Human’ explored the idea of enterprises integrating AI capabilities that are aligned with human values and which would optimize trust and performance among employees, while MIT’s Joy Buolamwini explored ‘compassion through computation’ in her session ‘Fighting Algorithmic Bias.

The idea of partnering with companies, governments, and institutions to create transformative products and services that improve lives has always been core to what Publicis Sapient is about. To see that coming through at WEF: Globalization 4.0 – where advancing technologies are inseparable from their impact on society, citizens and human relations – has been inspiring and affirming.

Nigel Vaz is the chief executive officer of Publicis.Sapient International and global business transformation lead at Publicis Groupe

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