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Direct from Davos: The Buzz on Tech and Globalization

General Views Of Davos Ahead Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2017General Views Of Davos Ahead Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2017
National flags hang above the Congress Center, the venue for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 14. 2017.Michele Limina—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Greetings again from snowy Davos, Switzerland, where I am attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting.

I moderated a panel Tuesday morning about what impact buzzy technologies like 3D printing, the Internet of things, and artificial intelligence will have far in the future. I asked top executives of UPS, SAP, Siemens, HP Inc., and Accenture to imagine the world in 2050. With timeframe as air cover, their predictions were both interesting and discomfiting. A world where consumers could stamp out all manner of products rather than buying them from a manufacturer could wreak havoc on global supply chains, for example. More troubling still, employment as we know it would change completely in such a scenario.

Later I sat in on a panel about innovation and heard Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, talk about the recent past: the tech-titan meeting he attended late last year with President-elect Trump. He said, apparently without irony, that the meeting was “lots of laughs” and also a constructive conversation around issues like trade, immigration, and taxes.

Then there is China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s opening speech was the talk of Davos Tuesday. Political analyst Ian Bremmer told me he’s paying attention to “how much the world’s pro-globalization elites, most of whom are Western, believe China is becoming the driver of globalization,” a theme Xi dwelt on at length in his speech. “WEF and Davos are still dominated by Western values,” notes Bremmer. “But the west is no longer driving globalization.”

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Bremmer is bullish on the technology industry, which he says “is becoming more relevant to the global environment, not less.” He thinks Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has “more influence over individual eyeballs” than governments do. “The citizen model is broken,” he says. “The consumption model is not.”

I typically ask Bremmer, whose job it is to monitor a troubled world, to offer some pockets of hope. “Latin America, generally,” he said, which interested me because I am moderating a panel on Thursday about technology in that region. He also thinks the “U.S.-Mexico relationship will not go off the rails” because Mexico “realizes it has no alternative” but to negotiate on trade issues with the new administration.

I’ll have more views from the mountain(s) tomorrow.