Hans Brechbühl, the executive director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, is helping the World Economic Forum understand the technology trends impacting business and society.
The World Economic Forum’s Davos meeting is the foremost annual gathering of business and government leaders. They get together to network, discuss pressing challenges, and shape regional, global, and industrial agendas. To aid in that endeavor, the forum appoints 80 Global Agenda Councils to study and report on different areas of the economy and life in general. If the World Economic Forum impacts leaders and how they view the world, then these councils can be understood as a foundation of that impact.
Hans Brechbühl, the executive director of the Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies at Tuck, is one of 15 members of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society. In September, that council put out a report titled “Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact.” The report details and analyzes the results of a survey conducted in March of more than 800 executives and experts from the information and communications technology sector. It identifies 21 technology “tipping points”—moments when technological shifts will materially intersect with mainstream society—and groups them into six “megatrends,” where software and services are having large impacts on businesses and individuals.
In a way, the report is a notice—and a warning—of technological innovations that are already upon us and will have a big impact in the next 10 years. For example, 82 percent of respondents expected implantable mobile phones will be commercially available by 2025. On the positive side, such an innovation, the authors of the report state, could lead to fewer missing children and increased self-sufficiency. On the other hand, having a mobile phone literally sewn into your body could create privacy concerns, and amplify the amount mobile phones intrude into our daily lives.
Another tipping point mentioned in the report is driverless cars. Almost 80 percent of respondents said autonomous vehicles would comprise one-tenth of the cars on U.S. roads by 2025. That could lead to improved safety and less environmental impacts, but it will also likely lead to job losses for taxi and truck drivers and less car ownership.
“All of these trends will have huge impacts on jobs, health, privacy, security and organizations, especially governments,” Brechbühl said. “And it’s going to have to be actively managed. We want to alert people to it so they form some views and can decide how to participate.”
As the executive director of Tuck’s Center for Digital Strategies (CDS), Brechbühl is immersed in the cutting edge academic and practical knowledge of digital information technology and its effect on businesses and individuals. But one aspect of his job makes him particularly well-suited to serve on the Global Agenda Council. For the past 13 years, as the creator and steward of his center’s Roundtable on Digital Strategies, Brechbühl has been meeting quarterly with chief information officers and other top executives from some of the world’s biggest and most influential companies. They gather for a whole day to discuss a business topic—such as “customer excellence,” “enabling innovation,” or “social media and the enterprise”—and the impact technology is having on it.
“The roundtables have given me the reference point and understanding of their experiences and the types of things that are important to them,” Brechbühl said of the executives. “I’ve learned the impact of technology on their organizations and people, and how they get things done. Knowing what these companies are wrestling with has been the fundamental basis for my ability to contribute to the Global Agenda Council.”
The 46th World Economic Forum will happen in January, and the theme is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The topic is dear to Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman, who is writing a book on how the speed, ubiquity, and system-wide innovation of this coming technological revolution are unprecedented and must be properly understood.
The work of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society is playing a key role in defining what’s on the horizon, and Brechbühl is proud he and Tuck could be a part of the process. At the last meeting of the Global Agenda Councils, in Abu Dhabi, Schwab quoted Brechbühl’s council five times in his opening address, and it was the first council he visited, asking permission to include their report in his upcoming book.
“The real-time co-creation of this report has been a hugely enjoyable experience,” Brechbühl said, “and will no doubt inform my continued discussions with executives at the roundtables.”