By John Kell and Alan Murray
January 21, 2016

I’ve been attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos on and off for more than two decades. As a journalist, it is irresistible, with hundreds of the world’s most interesting subjects squeezed into a small Alpine village, trudging about in snow boots.


But the forum has always struggled with purpose. Yes, everyone is here, but why? The organizers of the event declare a theme each year, but it is usually so vague and inclusive as to be meaningless: “The New Global Context” (2015), “The Reshaping of the World” (2014), “Resilient Dynamism” (2013).


This year is different. The topic is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” And in case there is any doubt about what that means, Klaus Schwab, the enterprising Swiss professor who created this über-gabfest, has written a useful primer on the subject. Historians can argue over professor Schwab’s numbering scheme, but there is no longer any question that the early 21st century is witnessing a set of economic and business changes of historic importance—characterized, as Schwab says, “by a much more ubiquitous and mobile Internet, by smaller and more powerful sensors that have become cheaper, and by artificial intelligence and machine learning.” Conversations in Davos this year revolve around this topic: How will this new industrial revolution transform business and the economy? How will it change the nature of work? What does it mean for jobs, inequality, and the environment?


Davos’s obsession is also FORTUNE’s. One fascinating aspect of the revolution is businesses that scale with unprecedented speed, because of low or zero costs at the margin. It’s that dynamic that has enabled the more than 170 startups on FORTUNE’s unicorn list to achieve valuations exceeding $1 billion in record time. With the market meltdown, however, many of those valuations are now being called into question, and Unicorn investors are wondering both whether and when they will get their money out.


William Cohan takes a deep look at the troubled IPO market in the February issue of our magazine. You can read his story online here.


More news below.


Alan Murray


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