Full interview: Tech expert Don Tapscott on global co-operation in the Trump age
Published Monday, January 16, 2017 10:25PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 16, 2017 10:37PM EST
Don Tapscott is one of the world’s leading authorities on technology, innovation and business. He is a long-time participant in the World Economic Forum who has authored or co-authored 15 popular books, including The Blockchain Revolution, which looks at how blockchain technology will fundamentally change the Internet and civilization.
Tapscott spoke to CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme from the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Lisa LaFlamme: Let’s start with the biggest global challenge to the initial vision of Davos, globalization and climate change. This Friday, a man who rejects all of this is about to become President of the United States. From your vantage point, how does that reality reflect the goals of the World Economic Forum?
Don Tapscott: The election of Donald Trump is really the backdrop to everything here. He is the elephant in the room. Actually, he’s the elephant not in the room because he isn’t here. But he’s challenged pretty much everything we think of as the global order and even of civilization, certainly the general ethos of what people in Davos think -- that we should have international co-operation, it’s not about one country, that there should be freedom of trade and movement of people, that we should attack big global problems like climate change, problems that are caused by humans. He rejects that. In some ways he even rejects the basic way the world is laid out, questioning whether Europe and the European Union is a good idea, and whether or not there is a country called China. Maybe there are two. So this has really disrupted things at Davos. Many people are very concerned.
LaFlamme: He did tap into something that has resonated. People feel left out for one reason or another. Davos faces criticism that it is an elite club that doesn’t speak to the average person. Does it have an image problem?
Tapscott: I think it has an image problem. But the World Economic Forum that hosts Davos is to me a very important organization. If you go back 75 years, after the Second World War, countries got together and they created a bunch of global institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the global agreement on trades and tariffs, the G8, the G20 and so on. These are all institutions attempting to solve problems in the world, but they are controlled by countries, by nation states. Since then, a lot has happened. The private sector has become more important and not-for-profits have become a big and influential part of the economy. So the World Economic Forum is an organization that is attempting to bring the private sector, governments at all levels, and civil society together to collectively solve global problems. That’s what happens here at Davos. There are 400 sessions addressing every issue imaginable on the planet. But there are also a whole number of smaller more private meetings where key people get together and try and forge new ways to address some of the vexing problems facing us.
LaFlamme: There are so many issues facing the world. Certainly your focus is the new technologies. In reality though, this fourth revolution is generating fear, widening the economic gulf in society. What is the solution to that which may possibly emerge from Davos?
Tapscott: The idea of the fourth industrial revolution has been popularized by the forum. The first was the steam engine, we mechanized things like shovels. The second was electricity and that created the modern production line. The third was the computer that led to the internet’s mobility, the social web. The fourth is now technology infusing itself into everything, our physical world, our institutions, and into our bodies. Lots of people are concerned, and I think justly so. There are whole parts of the economy that smart machines can replace. If you think about 48 of the 50 U.S. states, the number one job type is truck drivers. Well autonomous vehicles are going to replace them. So there is a lot of discussion here about what do we do when we have structural unemployment caused by machines. The general theme is we are going to need a new social contract, a new understanding in society, probably leading to something like a guaranteed annual income for everyone.
LaFlamme: Social responsibility has always been part of Davos, now some of the leaders who share that vision aren’t even there: Merkel, Hollande, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In your opinion, what is the impact of their absence?
Tapscott: Many of them aren’t there in part because they are attending the Trump inauguration, but there are many important leaders who are here. For the first time ever, the president of China is attending. It’s an odd situation where this vacuum of leadership that has been created by people like Donald Trump not caring about these big social and international problems may well be filled by the president of China, who seems to be emerging as one of the few adults left standing on the international scene.
LaFlamme: In all the years you have attended this forum, can you point to positive change that has come out of these meetings?
Tapscott: There are many, many activities that are underway here. This is not just a big gab fest. There are dozens of initiatives that are being catalyzed. I think about one that has occurred over the last two years, the creation of GAVI, which is a global program to immunize children in the developing world. Right now as we speak, 300 million children are being immunized and four million lives of children have been saved. That is the direct result of some meetings that took place here at Davos.
LaFlamme: How do you foresee the revolution in the next five years -- key changes to everyday life?
Tapscott: One of the biggest themes here of this fourth industrial revolution is the blockchain. The internet is entering a second era where we are going to be able to move things of value like money, and stocks, and bonds, and intellectual property, and votes, and music and so on peer-to-peer, directly between us without powerful intermediaries. This is turning the whole financial industry globally on its head. I think the industry will be unrecognizable in a decade. This is going to be good for everybody. It will be good for artists who can get compensated fairly for the work that they create. In some ways it can create a new kind of halcyon age of entrepreneurship where little companies can have the capabilities of big companies without all the limitations like big bureaucracy and legacy systems and cultures and so on.
In some way, this is the blockchain Davos. There are a dozen sessions underway, and in one of them I will be sitting with the central bankers of the world, also ministers of finance from around the world, talking about how this technology can help run a central bank, but also supercharge an economy.