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Common Threads in Davos: AI, China, and Donald Trump

General Views Of Davos Ahead Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2017General Views Of Davos Ahead Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2017
Swiss police walk past the Congress Center, the venue for the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos from Jan. 17-20. Photographer: Michele Limina/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

Good morning from Davos, the beautiful town in the Swiss Alps that is home to the bizarre and exhilarating World Economic Forum annual meeting. The weather is frigid but clear, and my mind repeatedly wanders to how much I’d like to visit when all these people aren’t here.

By these people, I mean the extraordinary collection of talented, powerful, accomplished, wealthy, self-promotional, high-energy attendees of a meeting that is a unique blend of unadulterated commerce, high-minded do-gooderism, and free-wheeling bacchanal. Last night I had dinner with a princess, though it would be rude for me to tell you which one, and listened to a discussion about nutrition and sports. This morning I had breakfast with the actor Michael Douglas, and we both were fascinated by a conversation about satellite imagery.

And the week isn’t over.

Davos attendees are forever trying to discern themes for an impossibly broad conference. Donald Trump, artificial intelligence, China, and income inequality have been a few constants. For me, the week has been a series of swings between hope and something short of despair.

Gender inequality has been front of mind. The other night, for example, I learned that 69 million girls globally aren’t in school. To combat that, Procter & Gamble is one company focusing its considerable resources on trying to make things better. (The topic was also central to speeches by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.) Wednesday morning I moderated a panel that focused on Accenture research showing that the share of women in computing jobs is declining. The hopeful news: Organizations like Girls Who Code have concrete programs to encourage girls to study computer science.

Here’s how many women attended Davos:

This year will be remembered as the year the world freaked out about artificial intelligence. Corporations fear getting left behind by not being sufficiently savvy on AI; labor advocates fret about the jobs computers will destroy. This morning I attended a talk by three consultants from Cognizant who’ve written a new book, “What To Do When Machines Do Everything.” They explained why on the one hand, “there will be blood” (the title of one of their chapters) in the form of lost jobs. On the other hand, machines will enhance some jobs and create new ones.

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As for China, at lunchtime Jack Ma held a press conference with the International Olympic Committee to announce a 12-year sponsorship of the Olympics by his company, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. He dodged the question of how much money Alibaba is paying.

I’ll have some concluding thoughts about Davos tomorrow.