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World Economic Forum dissects an impending fourth industrial revolution

January 20, 2016 - SWITZERLAND

The theme of the 46th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution," but China's industrial output setbacks and economic turmoil are certain to invade the agenda of the market-minded gathering.

The Forum organizers describe the revolution as "distinct in the speed, scale and force at which it transforms entire systems of production, distribution and consumption." The main speakers are likely to be its trailblazers.

The question that could be asked at the gathering is whether the impending industrial revolution will protect countries from problems like China's present array. They made headlines in January, along with news of disappointing manufacturing figures from both Britain and the United States. In China, shares were suspended after a drop of 7 per cent on their first day, then suspended again days later. Reuters reports that the Chinese sell-off came as a closely watched survey of the country's vast manufacturing sector showed it shrank for a tenth month running.

Wired Magazine reports that Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States are setting the pace in the impending revolution, known in Germany as Industry 4.0. A focus is the global standards and systems that will make factories smarter.

Central questions that will be asked of the Fourth Industrial Revolution include: how will it transform industry sectors, including health, mobility, financial services and education? How can technology be deployed in ways that contribute to inclusive growth rather than exacerbate unemployment and income inequality? How can breakthroughs in science and technology help in solving global problems from climate change to public health? How will emerging technologies transform the global security landscape? How can governments build institutions capable of making decisions when the challenges they face are more complex, fast-moving and interconnected than ever before?

The conference is likely to make time for discussion of the organization's 2015 Global Risks Report, a document that delves into the potential causes of global risks as well as solutions.

The forum brings together some 2,500 delegates, among them heads of state, influential figures from government, international organizations, civil society, academia, media and the arts.

China slowdown spooks global markets, while UK and US manufacturing disappoint (Guardian 4 Jan 2016)

2015 Global Risks Report download (WEF)

A fourth industrial revolution is about to begin in Germany (Wired 21 May 2015)

What is the theme of Davos 2016? (WEF)

Chinese Stock Plunge Forces a Trading Halt, and Global Markets Shudder (NYT 7 Jan 2015)

Date written/update: 2016-01-08