Globalization 4.0 – The World Economic Forum between the discussion of our technological future and the increasingly unbearable vanity of a dull global financial elite
„Every year once again“ could be the motto of the event, which takes place at the end of every January in the tranquil Swiss alpine village of Davos. More than 3000 people, including many high power people from business, politics, culture, and academic research gather and discuss the state of the world. The mottos of these events could not sound more noble: „Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” (2018), “Responsive and Responsible Leadership” (2017), or “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” (2016), or (especially beautiful): „The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” (2014) and „Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild” (2010). One would think some real world improvers are at workhere.
This year’s motto is „Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. It is already clear from this title: The event is about the technological change and how it transforms society. The organizer can thus be credited with having found precisely the central theme that shakes up our world and societies: the effects of a technological development that occurs at an ever faster speed leaving us little time to breath. After all, 2018 was yet again a year of groundbreaking scientific and technological breakthroughs: In cell biology, for example, researchers are now in position to observe live how cells, including embryonic cells, come together to form tissues through the activity of individual genes, or the use of CRISPR for the purpose of gene editing including the genetic manipulation of unborn embryos; or take new 3D printing technologies, more sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms, Google’s construction of a 72-qubit quantum computer, and many other developments in which future super technologies manifest themselves.
The purpose of the event is described as followsin this year’s invitation: „In a world preoccupied by crisis management at a moment of transformative change we want to use the spirit of Davos to build the future in a constructive, collaborative way”.Yet another great declaration of intent. But at the latest here, we are reluctant to accept this at face value. If the “spirit of Davos”, as suggested, has the power to “build the future in a constructive, collaborative way”, why has it not already done so with all the past events (the WEF has been around for almost 50 years)? Why is the world then in a state, which the organizers themselves in their publication immediately before the beginning of the WEF described as “Crises everywhere!”?
Social crisis, political crisis, economic crisis, financial and debt crisis, educational crisis, energy crisis, demographic crisis, refugee crisis, credibility crisis, cultural crisis, faith crisis, ecological crisis, psychological crisis –according to the 14th edition of the Global WEF Risk Report fromJanuary 2019 the present time seems to be entirely shaped by crises. Specifically mentioned are extreme weather events, natural disasters, water shortages, the failure of our efforts to combat climate change, crises of international trade, technological crises (such as data theft, cyber-attacks, man-made pathogens), psychological predicaments (more psychiatric illnesses and broad dissatisfaction), and last but not least, so to says as permanent background noise,the general decline of morals and values along with the decline of democratic consensus through political extremism that divides society.
But what the report leaves large unmentioned: All of these issues are joined by the threats that originate in human ingenuity: An artificial super-intelligence takes the helm, gene engineers designinghumans, neuro-technologies controlling our minds, and Big Data capturing our personality better than we do ourselves. The sheer speed of technological change overwhelm us both cognitively and emotionally. Because unlike in the past, scientific and technological breakthroughs are no longer a matter of decades, today they take place on a monthly basis. Add to this that the different scientific fields are closely interlinkedtoday. The technology of the future is emerging in a space ranging from new quantum technologies to computer and optimization algorithms, from nano-chemistry to reproductive genetics, from artificial intelligence to robotics, from atomic physics to brain and consciousness research. Plus, something completely new is emerging now: Next to manipulating our environment, which has been characterizing our cultural and technical history for thousands of years, a second project has become part of human endeavor: the genetic, biological, medical, and neurological restructuring and redesign of ourselves and our physical and mental dispositions and abilities.
The suspicion that the entire event in Davos is one single show, a show of the powerful and rich with all their vanities and their narcissism, comparable to the Oskar ceremonies in Hollywood, is not entirely new. And if you take a close look at the spirit of Davos and the annual fuzz around the WEF, you cannot avoid the question: What have all these events actually brought us? Huge expense, no recompense? And yet another point forces us to think: the growing number of very dubious and criminal figures who make their annual pilgrimages to Davos to pay their respects to the world. Examples are the murder supporter Adel al-Ahmad al-Jubeir from Saudi Arabia, the notoriously corrupt Azerbaijani autocrat Ilham Aliyev, the African exploiter and President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, the swindler and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the CEO of Glencore Victor Glasenberg, who celebrates again and again his complete ethical indifference while his company and its business model explicitly focusses on corruption, environmental violations and exploitation of land and population in third world countries, and not least the new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has chosen a gesture displaying the fatal use of firearms as his symbol and trademark. Do the organizers really believe that one can have a constructive conversation with these people? Or is it anyways more about deals, business relationships, and the vile Mammon, that criminals are offered such a platform, completely free from ethical, social, or environmental concerns?
Much is being discussed about new technologiesin Davos, but only a few participants seem to really sense how much future technology will shake usall up (WEF founder Klaus Schwab appears to be among those). There is still mainly talk about the last dodgy twitter message of Donald Trump, about a new possible bank merger, or whether the central banks should raise interest rates or not. At the same time, the world is changing rapidly without the honorable gentlemen (and a few ladies) in their noble hotels and suits noticing. There is a lot of talk about climate change in Davos, but there is no echo of any insight from that in the personal behavior of the Davos elite: The number of flights from participants who felt it necessary to take a private jet and a helicopter to fly to this event has grown to an incredible 1,500! Shame to him who thinks evil of it. But it seems indeed that this annual rendezvous in the Swiss mountains only reflects what we experience outside of this glamorous world of Davos all year long: the unholy alliance of arrogance, ignorance and greed of adetached global financial elite that has long since forgotten about the real problems of this world and instead only wants to put itself on display in some unbearable hedonism. It is shameful to see what has become of this event of the former idealist Klaus Schwab.