Davos Notebook

from Mohamed El-Erian:

Davos at a distance

I’ve never been to Davos, despite attempts by many over the years to persuade me to go. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that it is a special event for many people, and for many reasons. It is anchored by wide-ranging and engaging agendas, and participants get to mingle with a global cornucopia of important people. It is also the place to see and be seen for heads of state, politicians, academics, thought-leaders, media pundits, CEOs, and movie stars.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in that intimate setting remains one of the year’s hottest tickets, but its organizers want their event to be much more than what it currently is—a big, prestigious talk-shop. They want it to influence policy at the national, regional, and global levels.

Yet, over the years, and in the context of an increasingly unsettled and uncertain world, Davos has not had much impact.

I get a range of responses when I ask attendees why so few, if any, of the interesting discussions that have taken place in those beautiful Swiss Alps have led to change that improves the lives of most people.

Some say the strength of the typical Davos agenda is also a weakness. The topics are overly ambitious. In trying to cover too much for too many, breadth trumps depth.

What is the Davos optimism based on? – Strategy head

Mark Spelman, Global Head of Strategy at Accenture, stopped by the Davos town library (our WEF headquarters) to talk about what he believes have been the key developing themes at this year’s meeting.

In this first video, Spelman talks about key growth trends and the reasons behind the sense of ‘cautious optimism’ at Davos 2011.

“If 2010 was really about stability in the global economy, I think 2011 is all about the pace of global recovery,” he says.

China and the future of the Internet

CHINA- Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, an online privacy and reputation management company. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Internet Security and recipient of the WEF Technology Pioneer 2011 Award. The opinions expressed are his own. -

China’s Internet is, in fact, the world’s largest intranet. This is not news to anyone who follows technology in the Middle Kingdom. The Chinese government doesn’t make any real attempt to hide its complete control over what happens behind the Great Firewall. The regime is open about its intent to ensure what it calls “harmony,” which more or less means that it will squelch civil debate that moves beyond a certain pitch or further than a few degrees off the median line. As China’s power grows online and offline, these patterns, taken together with the Chinese government’s technical sophistication, will be of fundamental importance to the overlap between digital freedom and privacy.

The Chinese play hard. They mean to keep their intranet secure and the integrity of their “harmonious” public web discourse intact. They do not hesitate to use their considerable technical prowess to spy on machines that are operated on their network.  As a friend of mine in U.S. intelligence circles says without hesitation, “If you go to China, there is a 100 percent chance that your equipment will be compromised.” Earlier this week here at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, I met a successful civil activist who routinely visits China for her work, and she casually reported a recent office visit from Chinese state security services who evinced specific and sweeping knowledge of her emails, calendar, and other information she keeps exclusively on her computer.

Energy policy is key at Davos

– Laurens de Vries and Emile Chappin are researchers at Delft University of Technology. Much of their research is funded by the Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation. The opinions expressed are their own. –

One of the key issues being debated at this year’s World Economic forum is energy policy, particularly how we best make the transition to clean energies of the future to mitigate global warming.

Nuclear power, like energies of the future — wind, solar, carbon capture — must rely on government subsidies to be economically viable. This is true of virtually all alternatives to fossil fuels, which is a consequence of the fact that the social costs of the pollution that they cause is not included in the price people pay for them.

Davos and the never-ending Doha round

This year’s World Economic Forum offers not one but two meetings of trade ministers on the never-ending Doha round. Besides the traditional Saturday lunch hosted by Switzerland on Saturday, this year featuring 26 ministers plus WTO chief Pascal Lamy, the EU is holding a dinner on Friday for the G7 – that’s the trade G7: Australia, Brazil, China, EU, India, Japan and USA.

The meetings may attract some interest as this year is seeing a renewed push to conclude the Doha round, now in its 10th year, after leaders of the G20 (that’s the financial G20 not the trade G20) said 2011 was a window of opportunity.

For those who think this might join a long list of missed deadlines, I offer this story from Jean-Pierre Lehmanne, founder of

Talking with Davos youth… all five of them

Youth isn’t a group that is closely associated with the World Economic Forum in Davos. There was much discussion before the meeting of the gender quota imposed by the WEF to try to increase the number of female participants, but there are just five teenagers at Davos this year, all of them from the Global Changemakers network.

I caught up with one of them, 18-year-old Trevor Dougherty, who wrote this post for us prior to the start of this year’s Davos,  to hear how his first WEF annual meeting is going. We will hopefully hear from the other four ‘changemakers’ before the end of the conference.

Tablets take over the world, one Davos at a time

This time last year, the online team here in Davos broke off from its coverage of the WEF for an hour or so to follow another Reuters live event – the unveiling of Apple’s iPad.

Back then, there were many gaps in our knowledge of what the iPad could do. We didn’t even know what it would be called.

What a difference a year makes. Now the device, and other tablet computers, is on show everywhere, especially among the gathering of the global elite in Davos. Reuters technology correspondent Kenneth Li wrote yesterday in this article that: “Those discussing the “Shared Norms for the New Reality” in Davos this week need only look around them to see one such ‘reality’: low-cost smart devices are sweeping away clunky old computers throughout the political and business world.”

Table for Two at Davos

The meal you had last night at the Congress Hall of the World Economic Forum in Davos may have been “Table for Two” certified.

Table for Two (TFT) is a Japanese non-profit organisation which aims to “transfer calories” from the rich world to the poor. It teams up with corporate and university canteens, serving low calorie, nutritionally balanced meals. A 20 yen (around 25 U.S. cents) charge – roughly the cost of one school meal in least developed countries –  is added to the price of these meals to feed people in need.

“You can distribute wealth and calories in one meal,” Kumi Fujisawa, TFT executive and co-founder of think tank SophiaBank, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Davos forum.

Cybersecurity goes prime time at Davos

DAVOS/- Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, an online privacy and reputation management company. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Internet Security and recipient of the WEF Technology Pioneer 2011 Award. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has named cybersecurity one of the top five risks in the world. In its Global Risks 2011 report, the WEF’s Risk Response Network nominated cybersecurity alongside planetary risks posed by demography, resource scarcity, trepidation about globalization, and, of course, WMDs. This is heady stuff. Cybersecurity has officially gone prime time. This week in Davos, I’ll be moderating and contributing to panel sessions on this topic.

The timing could not be more ripe. Right now we are witnessing the convergence of multiple seismic risks to data integrity. Social networks capture and mine ever larger amounts of data about humans and companies, opting users into increasingly invasive data collection with little or no notice. Apps operating on social networks and smartphones continually pull data streams about friends, families, personal connections, contacts, geo-location, behavior, preferences, tastes, and health habits — even when these data streams are unrelated to the stated purpose of the applications.

The Rise of Robo Sapiens

There are a few sessions at this year’s World Economic Forum that discuss the future but the fully-subscribed session on “The Rise of Robo Sapiens” on Saturday gives a glimpse on how artificial intelligence is reshaping our lives.

Panelist of that session, Gil Weinberg, professor of music technology at Georgia Institute of Technology, is here to present his project on “Shimon” – a $100,000 robot that “listens like human being but improvises like a machine”.

“The robot can play classical or jazz or whatever. It will push music forward”, Weinberg told Reuters.