The World Economic Forum has always been enthusiastic about tech. Their concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been driven by digitalisation. This year at the traditional pre-Davos press conference, digitalisation and tech were nowhere to be found in any of the WEF leadership speeches.
Was that a hint about a ‘tech-shy’ edition of WEF?
Perhaps we could answer this question by comparing the the number of digital issues in the programmes of WEF 2023 and WEF 2020 which was the last pre-pandemic gathering.
Digital is still on the WEF 2023 agenda, but there’s definitely less tech buzz and hype. The blue-sky future narrative has also left its place to ‘darker skies’. In the WEF 2023 programme, the future is mentioned 29 times, compared to 58 times in 2020. The Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t mentioned in this year’s WEF rhetoric, compared to 13 references in 2020.
‘The next big thing’ didn’t make it to WEF 2023 either. Emerging technologies seem to enjoy less popularity with only 15 sessions covering separate digital technologies. To be exact: 3 metaverse, 5 AI, 5 data, 1 quantum, and 1 crypto sessions over the course of the 4-day global gathering.
What about policy? Two sessions will focus on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure in addition to the launch the annual Global Cybersecurity Outlook. The Digital Global Compact and digital governance in general are absent from this year’s agenda. Governance issues might be covered during the discussions on data, AI, and disinformation.
The WEF 2023 programme and announcements seem to miss a stronger focus on one of the major tech successes of 2022. The fact that despite all geopolitical pressures and risks of fragmentation, the internet is still up and running!
Despite countless attempts to create digital corporate and state borders, the internet infrastructure built around the TCP-IP protocol stands strong. Internet packets still travel worldwide, bridging war, conflict, and geopolitics. This is one of the best examples of cooperation in a fractured world.
However, the internet as we know it is not a given. There is a fragility at all levels, from the submarine cables that transport digital traffic to internet standards. WEF and other global gatherings are right to be ‘shy’ about tech hype, but they should bold when it comes to preserving the core internet infrastructure as a global public good.