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IBM at Davos: Business Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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IBM Chairman, President and CEO, Ginni Rometty, during the CEO panel discussion at the 49th annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Business and government leaders, academics, and heads of international organizations from around the world are gathered in Davos, Switzerland, this week at the 49th annual World Economic Forum.

IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty participated in a CEO panel discussion on Tuesday, January 22, on “Business Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which explored how economic opportunities today coincide with concerns over data privacy, the environment, market concentration and corruption.

The session, which was moderated by Roula Khalaf, Deputy Editor of the Financial Times, included David Taylor, Chairman, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble, Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP and Hiroaki Nakanishi, Executive Chairman of Hitachi Ltd. The discussion explored how business leaders can serve the interests of their stakeholders and create value while navigating a rapidly changing technological and political landscape. (View the replay below.)

2019 marks the third consecutive year IBM has had a major presence in Davos, and since 2016 a consistent theme has defined our participation: trust. In years past, Ginni Rometty and other IBM leaders in attendance addressed trust in AI and trust in data. Now, against the backdrop of the fourth industrial revolution, the company is tackling trust in the companies whose work is reshaping the global economy.

IBM always has been dedicated to the belief that businesses developing powerful new technologies have an obligation to guide those innovations in ways people can trust and that foster broad economic prosperity. In an era of profound change, powered by breakthrough technologies, that dedication has never been more important.

Ginni’s panel discussion in Davos this year addressed, in part, how companies can act as responsible stewards of new technology while pursuing the economic opportunities that technology is opening up. For IBM, the answer has three pillars:

Trust and transparency

Companies everywhere face strong headwinds when it comes to trust — trust in how personal data is being collected and used, and in the systems and algorithms that turn that data into insights and actions that affect individuals and entire populations.

IBM’s point of view is that data is the opportunity of our time. It offers the potential to make the world smarter, healthier and more prosperous, but data also poses the toughest challenges when it comes to data privacy, ownership and use.

Businesses whose technology is transforming the economy must be more open and transparent. That means handling personal data responsibly, making AI-driven decisions explainable, and even requiring that AI systems be accompanied by fact sheets with information on the data, decision-making and ethics that shape them.

Appropriate government regulation

Not all regulation of the technology industry is bad, but governments must ensure any regulations are laser-focused on fixing the real problem —the irresponsible handling of personal data.

It’s harmful behaviors, not the digital economy as a whole, that needs to be the focus of any efforts to regulate tech.

A new generation of skills

The future of work is one of the most urgent questions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Some jobs will go away, new ones will be created, and all jobs will be forever changed by AI.

To address this massive shift, we need to build a global workforce that’s equipped with a new generation of skills. This is vital to ensuring the benefits of AI, and other advanced technology, can be experienced by the many, not just an elite few.

What matters most is having the right skills — not always a bachelor’s degree. Business and government must work together to expand access to those skills through new education efforts, new partnerships and new ways for professionals to learn.

Putting it all together: Introducing the Cognitive Enterprise

When companies apply breakthrough technologies responsibly, they can foster new ways of doing business. Another conversation at Davos will feature Mark Foster, IBM SVP for Global Business Services (GBS), and Fortune President and CEO Alan Murray talking about the “Cognitive Enterprise” and practical steps business leaders can take to truly reinvent their companies with artificial intelligence.

This will tee up the launch of the IBM Institute for Business Value’s latest thought leadership paper, “The Cognitive Enterprise: Reinventing your company with AI.” (See infographic, right.)

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