Leading the Middle East Into the Future

SAN FRANCISCO – New technologies are emerging so rapidly that societies in the Middle East are now having trouble coping with their impact. By affecting everything from the nature of work to what it means to be human, technological changes could prove overwhelming if we do not collaborate to understand and manage them.

Around the globe, entire industries are being redefined and created from scratch, owing to groundbreaking developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. We at the World Economic Forum have dubbed this wave of innovation the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” because it is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. And these changes will be felt as much in Cairo, Dubai, and Riyadh as in New York, Frankfurt, and Hong Kong.

New technologies such as the steam engine and the cotton mill launched the First Industrial Revolution, which was accompanied by historic sociopolitical developments such as urbanization, mass education, and mechanized agriculture. Thanks to electrification and mass production, the Second Industrial Revolution introduced entirely new social models and forms of work. And with the advent of digital technology and instant telecommunications, the Third Industrial Revolution, playing out over the past five decades, has connected the planet and shrunk time and space.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no less transformative: individual technologies will be influential, but changes in our social and economic systems will do far more to shape our future lives. At this stage, there is no consensus on such basic issues as personal-data ownership, infrastructure security, and new disruptive businesses’ rights and responsibilities. What is needed is a conceptual framework to help businesses, governments, and individuals anticipate the radical technology-driven shifts – in business models, ethics, and social issues – on the horizon.