WEF 2023: Key insights from the Youth IGF

Youth IGF
Youth IGF Informs
Published in
5 min readMar 10, 2023

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, a big focus was made on digital technologies as an enabler of economic growth and social prosperity. Blockchain, the Metaverse, digital tokens, artificial intelligence and technological solutions for climate crisis mitigation were at the heart of discussions between heads of states, private sector leaders and civil society. The Youth IGF covered the event’s digital-related sessions. Here are our key conclusions from WEF 2023.

World Economic Forum. Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash.

The Metaverse was one of this year’s most-discussed topics. The WEF, together with Microsoft and Accenture, has launched a Global Collaboration Village, which is called “the first global, purpose-driven metaverse platform to enhance sustained multi-stakeholder cooperation”. It is seen as a platform that will bring together businesses, governments, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss solutions to the world’s pressing issues. But the future of Metaverse seems to be vague, as several questions have arisen during the development stage. It will depend largely on who develops it. Will it be decentralised and comprise a range of different platforms without intermediaries having control of users’ data, or will it be centralised — that is designed and controlled by one company?

According to Chris Cox, CPO at Meta, some level of “centrality” will be needed, on the part of one company, for example, to ensure data and privacy protection. It is also possible that a global Metaverse will consist of separate virtual worlds currently being developed by large companies. Neal Stephenson, a writer who first used the term “Metaverse” in 1992, says that interoperability between different metaverses will be crucial. He thinks that the issue of identity will be extremely important: how will identity be represented in VR? Will it be preserved when users will travel from one world to another?

Apart from entertainment, industries — for instance healthcare — are supposed to benefit from the Metaverse as well. However, as Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers, explained, the adoption of technologies powering the Metaverse in the health industry is proceeding slowly, because trust and safety take time to ensure. Asa Tamsons, a member of Ericsson’s executive team, said that she sees the implementation of mixed reality by industries as a gradual adoption of separate technologies like AI. It will take time to create common standards regarding the full adoption of the Metaverse in practice. In addition, how can we be sure that the Metaverse will bring more efficiency and value to industries than the technologies they already use?

Cryptocurrencies also received attention, but not as much as last year. This time the focus shifted to discussions about transparency regarding the use of cryptocurrencies, as well as their regulation. Timo Harakka, Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland, noted that as crypto is often linked to criminal activities, governments are still used to perceiving it as a scam — they need to be convinced that crypto has genuine utility. Before deciding how to regulate virtual assets, hard work needs to be done by governments and other actors to clearly define and classify them.

Blockchain. Photo by rawpixel.com on Freepik

The value of blockchain was emphasised. The speakers agreed that it allows users to decide who can access their data and what amount of data to share, as well as giving them control over their digital property. Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle, proclaimed it a fundamental human right. Users have to also be able to freely share personal data, for instance for research purposes. Topp Jirayu, CEO of Bitkub, pointed out that blockchain also provides the opportunity to create digital representation of real values, such as bonds, in the form of digital tokens. Jirayu is convinced that tokens and blockchain will become the foundation of the digital economy.

The role of artificial intelligence in addressing climate change was also highlighted. AI can assist significantly in the prevention of natural disasters. Satellites and submarine cables around the world can be used to mitigate risks at a very early stage thanks to special sensors installed on them and protect people from earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc. But AI technologies that can be beneficial for the climate shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum, said Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J McGovern Foundation.

Indigenous people, who best know the natural environments where they live and the problems that exist locally, should participate in the design and implementation of such technologies. According to Espen Barth Eide, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, there is still a lack of scientific data on artificial intelligence and the impact it may have on climate. This data, as well as the need to openly share it, is much needed. A significant challenge ahead is to ensure that data and technologies themselves are trusted and implemented by people.

AI-driven robots. Photo by rawpixel.com on Freepik

Finally, the future of work was among the topics in the spotlight. Needless to say, we have to recognise the influence that emerging technologies will have on the way people work and build their careers. As new jobs appear, new skills will be created, and certain positions could be occupied by digital workers like AI-driven robots — which are already performing a range of tasks. “Ninety-five percent of us will do our job together with digital coworkers, it is the future of work”, we heard in Davos this year . Restructuring and redesigning will be key. It will be important to ensure a division of labour, to allow machines to do a certain amount of human work. Erik Brynjolfsson, Director at Stanford Digital Economy Lab, believes that human intervention and supervision will be necessary. The question is not to make workers demoralised when they see machines potentially performing certain duties more productively than humans. Putting people at the forefront of decision-making will be necessary, say WEF participants. Machines will only be assistants.

Moreover, alternative job opportunities have to be created for workers whose jobs can be done by machines, in order to avoid exclusion. To prepare professionals, both governments and companies should focus on skills rather than jobs and roles. Upskilling and reskilling must be at the heart of companies’ strategies to make employees fit for new positions. According to Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman of S4 Capital Limited, we should also take into account geographical differences in the deployment of technologies like artificial intelligence and the training of professionals. Otherwise, we may exacerbate the existing digital gap and inequalities around the world.

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Youth IGF
Youth IGF Informs

Young leaders about policies & governance. Focus on online safety, cybersec skills, online fakes & all the hottest internet issues. Founder Yuliya Morenets