Opinions - 21.01.2017 - 00:00 

WEF 2017: democracies will have to fight for social inclusion

The World Economic Forum took place in Davos from 17-20 January 2017. What insights can be derived from it? An op-ed by HSG President Thomas Bieger.

22 January 2017. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing in great changes. I was made clearly aware of this at this year’s WEF in debates and personal discussions. The age of Industry 4.0 will not just be characterised by automatic production. Thanks to the internet of things, more and more appliances and parts will autonomously communicate with each other, and thanks to artificial intelligence, machines will also take on demanding functions such as market research, legal advice and auditing.

Fighting for social inclusion

Whilst the owners of such systems and platforms, as well as rare experts, earn large incomes and accumulate wealth, structural change is resulting in the loss of jobs. For the first time, this is also affecting the middle classes, who in many regions of the world have the feeling that they are not being taken sufficiently seriously by politicians. Not only are incomes and wealth distributed increasingly unequally: the same also holds for people’s outlook on life. For this reason, democratic societies must fight to ensure that all citizens are involved and thus do justice to their social inclusion.

Data play an ever greater part with all products: from the car which continuously transmits information about its utilisation to its producer, to complex medical services where X-ray pictures can increasingly be evaluated by expert systems. This generates a conflict of objectives between the exploitation of data for the development of better products and therapies, and the protection of the private sphere. Privacy is becoming a luxury; people who refuse to surrender their data will have to pay more. And it is not only human behaviour which leaves digital traces: expert systems are even able to guess at thinking. This is why it may not only be freedom of speech that will have to be protected in the future but also freedom of thought.

Switzerland is well prepared for the challenges

Fortunately, Switzerland strikes me as being well prepared for these challenges. An excellent education system is open to everyone, no matter whether this is in vocational training or in public universities. International innovative companies are based here and cooperate with academia. Direct democracy and the still lively culture of discussion enable us to solve problems in connection with digitalisation on a broad basis.

The University of St.Gallen has not only set itself the target of preparing its students for the new world of work and of developing new learning methods and environments for this purpose, but also of conducting intensive research into the social consequences of digitalisation in the future, too. It hopes that in doing so, it will be able to make a contribution towards digitalisation becoming more of an opportunity than a risk for everyone.

Thomas Bieger is Professor of Management with special focus on the Tourist Industry and President of the University of St.Gallen.

Photo: gmcphotopress -

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