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An optimistic outlook for the age of AI

‘The future is upon us.’

December 16, 2019

That was the eye-catching headline on my New York Times dinner invitation for the opening night of the World Economic Forum annual meeting. Subtitled ‘AI and the new work order’ the dinner helped ensure that the transformational effects of artificial intelligence will feature among the top talking points at Davos this year. AI is driving a wealth of new opportunities, but is also bringing heightened responsibilities to business and governments.

JLL’s event this morning, a collaboration with Harvard Business Review, explored the topic further. Our theme ‘Reimagining work in the age of AI’ was debated in front of a packed room, with a thought-provoking opening presentation by Accenture’s Paul Daugherty, co-author of the book Human + Machine. Paul then participated in a lively panel discussion, also featuring Nielsen CEO David Kenny and JLL’s Vinay Goel, expertly moderated by HBR editor Amy Bernstein. Significantly, this was a panel united in the belief that while AI will continue to bring rapid change to our work and lifestyles, it can create substantial amounts of new employment to offset jobs being lost to automation and digitalization. It is exciting to think how repetitive work will be done by robots and the humans can focus on new types of skilled and rewarding work. The caveat to this thought is the need to re-skill large parts of the existing workforce. It was good to hear today on many different occasions how strongly major corporates are upping their game in training their people.

We need more of this balanced realism – acknowledgement that while change is inevitable and often unsettling, it can be a far more positive experience than many people fear. Ultimately, the age of AI can be strongly beneficial for society, but we do need more focus on reimagining work, with more inspiration and less of the fear factor.

Speaking of reimagining and flexibility, Davos has outdone itself with an extraordinary number of shops and restaurants temporarily converted into exhibition spaces and meeting lounges this year. I don’t know how these retailers normally do with their stores on Davos high street, but most of their annual rent will be paid by the sublease for this week. Maybe a new version of a pop up store?

Christian Ulbrich is JLL’s Global CEO.

For more on our presence at the World Economic Forum, please visit JLL’s Davos 2019 page.