The discussions at the World Economic Forum (WEF) are getting hotter in an otherwise chilly “Davos" rush. My conversations with the world leaders seem to have one emerging theme: exponential changes. Changes that will not only require reskilling of manpower to front the digital revolution but also involve the current generation robots and drones. Rules of the game have changed: jobs will be created. Period. But these will be jobs of a new kind—which bring human-machine collaboration to the fore.
World View 2030
As captains of the industry at Davos focus on how the economy will hold up in 2020 on the back of the current global recovery, they are more engaged in a world view of 2030. Among the top leaders there is a clear realization: everything we do today is in some sense integrated with the future canvas. A future world where the physical and digital lines don’t exist and all that remains is a connected experience—where Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take over decision-making. Even the role of leaders is in for a metamorphosis.
Democratization of AI
Last year belonged to all things AI, a technology that stands to offer hard-to-ignore benefits and the prospect to help us wrestle with some of the most challenging issues of our times, including accelerating economic growth, environmental sustainability and transforming healthcare.
However, the quickening pace of technology and innovation is not without pitfalls. AI is being leveraged brilliantly by the early movers. But a much larger majority is still intimidated by the avalanche of disruption.
Currently AI is limited to reducing tasks which are repetitive for global players to scale their technologies in response to the rising consumer demands. If you have followed Davos this year, one thing is clear—AI has percolated seamlessly into our lives, making it imperative for every country to on-board its workforce to the digital economy. What is needed at the moment is something we often refer to as “the democratization of AI" so that it contributes to building a positive shared future for all. But even a small chink—such as the inability to include everyone in the economic benefit of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—can label it as “forever far-fetched".
At first glance, one could assert that the hurried phase of technological revolution is dismantling not just the traditional institutions but also the apparatus for governance. But it is key to understand that AI is to be leveraged to help leaders accelerate the response time and, at the same time, ensure that the process remains inclusive and reliable for all.
The new gurus of digital
The more leaders I meet in Davos, the more convinced I am that the digital revolution will be fronted by a whole new rank—millennials who are naturally embedded in a digital life will be our “gurus". In this backdrop, “unlearning" by big organizations will be key to their future existence.
The larger organizations have to humbly give way to agile innovation. Leaders have an important role to play here. I believe that empowering start-ups and entrepreneurs globally through well-oiled and established organizations can be the force which will shape the future.
It is not the big beating the small anymore; it’s the smart beating the slow. One of the most interesting conversations I had was with a political leader of a very small country—his ambitions for the country were not defined by its size but its power to embrace the digital infrastructure and reach the global markets. This could define India’s role in the digital future, as such ambitions get unleashed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the context in his keynote speech with India as a global leader, which will not be confined by its ambitions of hard economic power but also soft power. I believe India in all its diversity is a true manifestation of the WEF theme this year, “Shared future in a fractured world"—a model country where fragments have only contributed to its collective vision and future. India can be the world’s laboratory for change.
Our task is cut out: there is not a moment to spare. Let us run harder and faster.
C.P. Gurnani is chief executive officer and managing director of Tech Mahindra Ltd.
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