From Davos to Dubai: What does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for the public sector?

Only a few weeks after the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, many of the world’s experts will once again convene- this time in Dubai, for the World Government Summit. With speakers such as Barack Obama, Mary Robinson and Jim Yong Kim, leaders from all sectors will gather to discuss the key role that the public sector can play in a time of turmoil.

Many of the discussions at Davos this year centred around the theme of responsive and responsible leadership during what many consider to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by the concurrent rise of exponential technologies, from artificial intelligence to 3D printing and nanotechnology, which will change the way we live, work and interact with others.

These technologies have the potential to make humankind more equitable, sustainable and interdependent. They also have the potential to aggravate income inequality and deepen the digital divide. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, what are some of the challenges

(and opportunities) that governments face?


In an “always connected” society, governments will need to be more responsive than ever before. We are already seeing the gap between the public and private sectors and governments will struggle (but attempt) to keep up. Creative governments are leveraging our always-on habits to engage with constituents in new, more effective ways. The government of Louisville, Kentucky, for example, enables citizens to report potholes via text message, email or Twitter.

Increased transparency

Many exponential technologies provide opportunities to verify interactions in real time. Blockchain, the darling technology of this year’s Davos, provides a real-time digital footprint that is carried from transaction to transaction. It enables us to verify the authenticity of luxury goods, cut blood diamonds out of supply chains and verify people’s records, such as land ownership. The government of Dubai has boldly announced that all government documents will use blockchain by 2020.

The future of work

In a world where more tasks will be automated than ever, many are wondering about the implications on the workforce. A recent study suggests five million jobs will be replaced by robots by 2020. In addition to reskilling the workforce and training young people to prepare for jobs that may not exist yet, several are exploring the possibility of a world without work. Universal basic income, which provides a monthly stipend to all citizens in order to ensure they have a living wage, is being explored by Finland, Scotland and a number of other countries.

The societal impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will largely be determined by the public sector. Governments will need to simultaneously adopt and regulate these technologies, embrace and taper them, and develop policies to offset some of the potential harmful consequences. The conversation at the World Government Summit will be a welcome continuation of the important conversation on responsive and responsible leadership in today’s uncertain world.

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