The world's most powerful leaders in business and government gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss one thing: How technology is rapidly infiltrating every facet of our lives -- and what this means for the future of humanity. The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, “a fusion of technologies, blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” writes WEF founder Klaus Schwab.
Confused? So were we. So we simplified it for you.
From household drones to robot co-workers, new technologies are being adopted into daily life faster than ever before, dramatically changing the way we work, play and interact with others. The question now is, what separates humans from the technologies that surround them?
Here are five innovations that have infiltrated our world, changed our lives and left us wondering where the line is between 'bot and human.
You know your smartphone is your life. You sleep with it at night (even though that habit might be killing you). It’s the first thing you check in the morning. And when you forget it at home you experience severe separation anxiety.
“We've never had a technology like a smartphone before -- a technology that you carry around with you all day long and are pretty much constantly interacting with,” journalist Nicholas Carr told The Huffington Post in October. “[It] interfere[s] with our thoughts ... shapes the way our mind works.”
Artificial intelligence is entering the workplace -- and it’s freaking a lot of people out. WEF predicts that more than 5 million jobs could be lost to robots by 2020.
As machines are increasingly able to take over administrative tasks, academics have predicted a gradual phasing out of certain roles in retail (so long, cashiers and telemarketers) and in jobs with repetitive actions (goodbye, bank tellers and loan officers). Nearly half of the 816 executives surveyed by WEF in September expect there will be a robot on a corporate board in the next 10 years.
And surprise, surprise -- women will feel the brunt of these changes. They will lose five jobs for every one gained, compared to men’s three jobs lost for one gained.
3. Driverless Cars
Self-driving cars were “never supposed to happen,” reports the Atlantic. Just over a decade ago, engineers said it was impossible. And yet here we are, with Google partnering with Ford to develop a whole fleet of them by 2020.
Self-driving cars have been shown to crash less than humans. But once they hit the road, it could cause a dramatic shift in employment, as human drivers see their jobs disappear.
“Taxi and Uber driving will probably be the first professions to be made obsolete,” Sam Tracy, a technology policy expert, in a blog on HuffPost in June.
President Obama clearly knows what he thinks about driverless cars: Last week his administration proposed to invest $4 billion over a decade, to facilitate the adoption of self-driving tech in the U.S.
Over the last three years, the price of drones has dropped dramatically, and they’ve gone from being a high-tech, military gadget to a household item.
Along the way, people have gotten nervous about spying and surveillance.
"Drones will be used to invade privacy but they'll [also] be used to report the news and hold polluters accountable," Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington, told HuffPost in October. "We have to confront that the balance is not all in one direction."
5. Gene Editing
Technology has now infiltrated the most fundamental part of the human body: our DNA. Thanks to a new technology called CRISPR, scientists can alter a human being's genetic makeup by changing, deleting or replacing genes.
This could change the face of medicine as we know it, allowing scientists to potentially cure genetic diseases, from HIV to schizophrenia to autism.
But what about the ethics of it?
"Some scientists will be tempted to use it to engineer embryos during in vitro fertilization," writes Susan Young in the MIT Technology Review. "With such techniques, a person’s genome might be edited before birth."
But don't freak about designer babies -- we're not there yet, and may never be.
More from the World Economic Forum 2016: