This year's World Economic Forum theme is “Rebuilding Trust”. Unlike past gatherings aimed at pushing the human frontier or engendering a new global social paradigm, this year brings basic human instincts to the fore of the global platform – human trust or, rather, the lack of it.
With its “back to basics” theme, Davos sets relatively unambitious aims. Despite the bottomless champagne, the jet set, and the meet-and-greet among the sharp-minded and the hyper-connected, pessimism is spreading among the world’s top 1%, who are both responsible for and blamed for the state of the world, under which the remaining 99% have not much choice but to live in.
For the global elites, there is a lot to worry about: the two ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza with no strategy on when and how they will end, escalating tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, and increasing mutual sanctions between China and the US.
They also are looking at a possible Trump landslide win in the Republican primary in Iowa, a possible US recession or inflation re-spike, global supply chain disruptions, and AI’s potential to destroy the collective human race.
The argument that the World Economic Forum reflects a growing disconnect with everyday people is gaining credibility. However, Davos is one of the best places to witness the shifts and recalibrations of global powers and economic forces.
A year ago, ChatGPT was a novelty. AI was not on the Davos agenda. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, was little known in the Swiss village. This year, AI and the sci-fi-inspired ideas of whether AI will destroy humanity are the talk of the town. This sharp turnaround in focus reflects the inability of the forum to anticipate and respond to global change.