“Our future’s bright: new technology promises solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But the future’s also frightening: accelerating change is disrupting every aspect of life”.
This statement drives the analysis made by the 700 experts gathered by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Dubai in mid-November to predict the impact of new technologies. All of them are part of the councils created by the WEF to reveal trends and forecast how they will be projected in the immediate future.
The councilors have synthesized their analysis into five statements, of which three have a direct relationship with communication and a fourth depends largely on it for its crystallization.
The quantitative relevance (four out of five) of communication is evident to address the main political, economic and social challenges of the Planet, but even more so if we consider it in a qualitative double dimension: as a space to articulate useful conversations for social progress and as a method for individuals and groups to reach agreements after listening and understanding.
In fact, the future needs a new narrative, «a story that inspires us to build a new vision of the world that we want in the context of rapid technological change«, quoting Oxford University professor Ngaire Woods.
The five statements are:
1. The quantity of information is growing at a dizzying speed.
Experts suggest that «it is time to put the focus on quality«. It is not information that is missing, but criteria to select, contrast, verify and distribute it. When we talk about information, more is synonymous with better, but the higher volume also requires a finer filter.
Therefore they make a proposal: «What if we rose to the challenge of «fake news» with a universal standard in media and digital literacy priositising education on the rights and responsibilities of citizens?»
2. Data isn’t enough. It needs to be relatable and actionable.
«Big data allows product and service designers to discover things about human behavior that have never been revealed before. But could small data be an even more powerful agent of change? » they wonder.
The Internet of Things has triggered the connectivity indexes. Data traffic can become a leviathan impossible to utilise if the objective of the generated information is not clear-cut. It is useless for the refrigerator to be
Thus their proposal is: «What if personal health monitors on mobiles lead to behavioural changes in diet and activity that all of our research and education has so far failed to achieve?
3. Blockchain could manage anything.
A chain of blocks (block chain), also known as a distributed accounting book, is a distributed database that registers blocks of information and interlaces them to facilitate the recovery of information and verifies that it has not been changed. The blocks of information are linked by means of pointers that connect the current block with the previous one and so on until it reaches the genesis block. The chain of blocks is stored by all of the nodes in the network that stay in sync with it.
This technology allows to eliminated intermediaries, for example, in banking transactions. With blockchain users have the control, not the banks; each person becomes a participant and manager of the account books of the financial institution.
And their proposal for this point is: «What if blockchain can help us feed a more populous world by conquering the fear of genetically modified crops and lab-grown food?»
4. Look at the big picture before you decide what problems need solving.
Participants in the forum recommend looking up, seeing «the big picture» and choosing the challenge that is truly worth tackling. For this they use the transformation maps. These graphs help users explore and make sense of the complex and interconnected forces that are transforming economies, industries and global problems. The maps present ideas written by experts along with content. This allows users to visualize and understand more than 120 topics and the connections and interdependencies between them, helping in turn to support more informed decision-making by leaders.
The global challenges can not be tackled with local views. Climate change, for example, requires a generalized consensus (which the Paris agreements almost were until the withdrawal of the United States by Donald Trump) to promote a global strategy, although the execution is national or local. However, the challenge is so huge that it demands more practical approaches: if we think about how to feed 9 billion people by 2050, perhaps the vision of the climate acquires another dimension.
At this point, their proposal is included in the following question: «What if instead of building more and better types of roads with new technology, we invested in collaborative platforms such as Uber to use current roads much more intensively?»
5. It all comes back to trust
The experts are optimistic because they believe that, after the logical anxieties caused by the processes of adaptation to new technologies, people will regain confidence. They are really optimistic because the distrust wins triggered by fears that the consequences of globalization raise, above all for employment.
In their opinion, society is struggling to adapt quickly to new technology, so they suggest a slowdown in the processes of change to facilitate such integration and a positive account of its impacts.
Their fifth proposal is: «What if we can’t adapt as fast as technology and we have to find ways of slowing the pace of change like taxes on robots or other forms of regulation?”
Answers from communication
Except for the one that refers to the blockchain technology, all affirmations have an impact on communication. The proposals put forward by the WEF councilors can be answered with some questions regarding the responsibility that should be exercised by our function:
What would happen if the communicators became the new watchmen of the truth of our organizations?
What would happen if the communicators learned to cook and serve big data?
What would happen if the communicators used our power to facilitate adaptation to new technologies, as is the case of blockchain, whose first requirement is to be understood, that is, to be communicated?
What would happen if PR professionals managed the arbitrage between the urgencies of the short term and the vision of the long term providing the organizations with a truly sustainable narrative?
What would happen if the communicators assumed that our social responsibility is to create safe spaces for dialogue that stimulate the recovery of trust?