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WEF Founder: World Unprepared to Deal with 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'

World Economic Forum (WEF) Executive Chairman and founder Klaus Schwab presents his book, 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution,' during a news conference in Cologny, near Geneva, Jan. 13, 2016.

World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab says the fusion of different technological advances, which are changing the world as never before, will be a major focus at the forum’s annual meeting next week in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos.

More than 2,500 leaders in the fields of business, government, academia, civil society, the media and arts will meet to debate matters of major import in Davos.

As part of the formal agenda, more than 300 sessions will deal with critical issues involving global security, the refugee and migration crisis, geopolitical tensions, climate change, sustainable development and the global economy.

Fundamental changes ahead

Taking center stage will be an in-depth discussion about what Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Schwab says the revolution is being driven by advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology and other areas of science.

He says people today do not have the luxury of time that existed in previous industrial revolutions to adapt to the rapidly evolving technological advances.

“This fourth revolution comes on us like a tsunami. The speed is not to be compared with last revolutions and... the speed of this revolution is so fast that it makes it difficult or even impossible for the political community to follow up with the necessary regulatory and legislative frameworks.”

Impact on employment

Schwab says robotics, with new innovations such as self-guided cars, will destroy employment and wipe out much of the middle class, a major pillar of democratic systems.

“My fear is, if we are not prepared...and we have a concentration of jobs in the high level, more innovative areas and in the low service areas, this could lead to a new problem of social exclusion, which we absolutely have to avoid,” he said.

Schwab says governments must put the necessary regulatory systems in place now to tackle the problems he expects will be brought about by these changes. Failure to do that, he warns, will lead to social tension and conflicts in the future.