Global experts gather to chart digital future

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About 300 high-level industry, academic and government officials from more than 25 countries are in Winnipeg this week at the 26th Global Forum whose theme is Digitization: Intelligent Pathways.

It is the first time the international think tank, which is focused on the digital future, has met in Canada. It comes at a time when there is growing public discussion about the opportunities — and challenges — new innovation will present for society.

At the opening session of the two-day event the discussion was about how market experts widely recognize that the digital economy can be one of the most powerful ways to address the challenges of innovation, low growth and durable high unemployment all over the world.

Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the 2,000-member Consumer Technology Association, a Washington-based non-profit organization that stages the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, said his organization’s main focus is on innovation.

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About 300 high-level industry, academic and government officials from more than 25 countries are in Winnipeg this week at the 26th Global Forum whose theme is Digitization: Intelligent Pathways.

It is the first time the international think tank, which is focused on the digital future, has met in Canada. It comes at a time when there is growing public discussion about the opportunities — and challenges — new innovation will present for society.

At the opening session of the two-day event the discussion was about how market experts widely recognize that the digital economy can be one of the most powerful ways to address the challenges of innovation, low growth and durable high unemployment all over the world.

Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the 2,000-member Consumer Technology Association, a Washington-based non-profit organization that stages the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, said his organization’s main focus is on innovation.

He acknowledged the challenges robotics and artificial intelligence are having on workplaces around the world. He said that there is no denying that technology will displace old structures, but that has been part of human evolution for a long time and will not stop.

“We have to deal with it head on and talk about technology and innovation in a way that conveys the fact that innovation is a tool… that can be used for good and for bad,” he said. “And the biggest bad thing we see today is the concern, that is growing, that technology’s negatives are starting to outweigh the positives.”

He said technology and innovation advocates are up against a rising tide of opposition or anti-innovation. But he said the benefits to society far outweigh the negatives.

For instance, the rapid development of self-driving cars will cause massive disruptions over time, but it will also help eliminate a great number of the one million traffic fatalities that occur annually around the world.

That type of technology can also empower the elderly and disabled in a significant way.

“I believe that in 40 or 50 years from now we will not be talking about the same issues (we are talking about today),” Shapiro said. “Technology can address many of the biggest problems we face today in society.”

Sylvie Albert, the dean of the faculty of business and economics at the University of Winnipeg, was one of the leaders of the steering committee that brought the conference to Winnipeg.

She said technology is moving faster than the public can keep up with — there was fear and concern, for instance, about using automated teller machines or online banking but they are now pervasive and we use them comfortably.

“Technology does bring an element of quality of life for lots of people,” she said. “It also brings some element of crime at the other end and we have to find ways to counter that.”

Cybercrime and cybersecurity have now become among the most pressing issues for the technology community and the international community at large.

“There are pros and cons about anything that we do in terms of innovation,” Albert said. “There are people looking to game the system. We have to continually try to innovate to make those changes.”

She said you need activists, like the people who attend the Global Forum events, to come up with policies and technologies to ensure society can deliver these new services.

Paul Mahon, the CEO of Great-West Lifeco, spoke at the opening session of the conference on Monday about the challenges of keeping up with technology running a global company that is both old and complex.

“You probably can’t be ahead of the curve but we do try to keep up,” he said.

Among other things, he said Great-West Lifeco now invests in financial technology companies to be able to participate in new technologies that may or may not succeed in being commercialized.

He said Great-West Lifeco is very aware of the need to develop the right people with the leadership skills to bridge the different technologies and continue to deliver the kind of products and services its customers need.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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