In my Editorial, I focused on what we have achieved with “Visions for Europe” in its first year, but 2021 has seen some heavyweight achievements by the European Technology Chamber, which entitle us to aim for even greater things in the years ahead. As you will know, our foundation, our philosophy, our mantra, if you like, is Technology Obliges, which encapsulates what we are fundamentally all about.
Over the last two hundred years or more, the industry has driven change. Steam engines, cotton mills, steel furnaces, coal-burning power stations, an oil industry spawning car for the masses, long-haul flights that we all take for granted – a brash new world full of noise and fumes and higher living standards and vast disparities in wealth. The industrialist’s duty was to make things that made money; profit was the engine that fired this exponential transformation of the world. No one can gainsay that titanic achievement. It has been an epic journey for mankind. But as we are realising, that that philosophy is now obsolete.
Science proves that our epoch of fossil fuel has imperilled the very survival of our species. Climate change is a real and present danger. We have to change our ways and to do that we have to change our philosophy. Hence, Technology Obliges. Technology remains important – arguably more important than ever before. But it has to be used responsibly. Of course, no one can be expected to work for nothing; of course, profit remains at the core of the business. But every deployment of technology must be judged by very different yardsticks. It is a huge challenge, but one we must embrace wholeheartedly. Because the choice is a stark one: keep going as we are and risk the end of everything we know and have striven for or change radically and earn the chance of a new version of modern life – sustainable economies; carbon-free industries; a world of reforestation and cleansed oceans.
And with that possible new world will come a great restoration of justice across the globe. We simply cannot continue accepting that billions of our fellow planet sharers live in grinding poverty, with lifeexpectancy low, child mortality high, a disease endemic and conflict a constant, producing neverending streams of migrant refugees pressing on the borders of the welloff West. Reversing these trends is a priority. We have the means to do it. We just need the will. And that is what Technology Obliges ultimately means.
Our confidence in this new approach is so great that EU Tech Chamber has registered “Technology Obliges” as a trademark. It should be a constant reminder and a continual spur of our collective commitment. So, what have we done to warrant a sense of achievement this year? With the launch of our Virtual Center, with its multiple opportunities to meet and engage, we can claim to be Europe’s largest technology network. We have hosted over 200 events – talks, webinars, and so forth – along with 600 networking meetings. We have also hosted five virtual exhibitions, drawing in tens of thousands of visitors, who have been able to gain access from all around the world. The response we have had and the support that it represents have been both exhilarating and humbling. We feel we are surfing a great wave of enthusiasm and positivity that can only grow in its power and reach. But we want to do more – much more.
We want to be a global force for good. And we want to be the world’s leading tech network. But how, you may ask, can we hope to compete with an organisation like the world-famous World Economic Forum? This was started by Klaus Schwab way back in 1971 with a simple commitment to ‘improving the state of the world’. It has grown and grown, and now makes headlines every year with its gathering of world leaders and industrialists. The television news shows clips of the world’s most powerful businessmen rubbing shoulders with high-ranking politicians, leading economic thinkers, and of course representatives of the global banking industry. It’s like a United Nations for a world elite. It would seem its position is unassailable. But we disagree. Let me explain.
The World European Forum is a dinosaur, rooted in an obsolete model of how the world works. It serves – and panders to – the industrial and financial elite, still wedded, for all their fine words, to the root commitment to profit. Ultimately, what is good is what is good for the company and its shareholders. And these institutions, with their globally recognized names and seemingly limitless resources which make them seem too big to fail, are living on borrowed time. Because at the turn of the millennium, a new economy was born. New companies emerged – often incubated in some brilliant young man’s bedroom or garage – and the great tech giants started to grow. And grow. And grow. Stock markets got excited about them, hyped them up, and saw them crash. But that crash was nothing to the 2008 crash of the old-school titans when the global economy teetered on the brink of the abyss.
Thanks to brave – some would say reckless – decisions by governments and central banks, the global economy was saved. But it was also subtly restructured. Amongst the lumbering dinosaurs, there emerged the unicorns – a new wave of tech start-ups whose ticket to global success and ultimate domination was their light-footedness. They required no physical assets, no sprawling industrial complexes. They didn’t need ships or long-haul flights; they didn’t need ruinously expensive infrastructure. They could get the most important asset – access to virtually every individual on the planet – for practically nothing. And that was beyond price.
With the mobile phone, the internet, and the cloud along with social media, the new digital economy could leave the industrial world far behind. And it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Of course, the world still needs things – more things than ever before, catalogues of things to feed the demands of our ever-increasing populations. And these things have to be made in factories, just like things always have been. But the difference is this: in the past industry was responsible only for manufacturing products that could sell in order to generate profit and thus satisfy shareholders.
In the new world economy, the emphasis is increasingly on satisfying stakeholders – a much wider category, including the workers who put the hours in on the factory floor; the society which hosts the factory and doesn’t want its rivers polluted or its children to die young because of toxic fumes. There is also the wider responsibility not to use raw materials that come at an unacceptable cost in terms of deforestation, for example. In other words, we have to recognise and acknowledge a whole new raft of responsibilities; and we have to spread the word on these new ways of thinking and doing things. And that is what we are committed to doing. But to achieve this, we don’t have to summon people to exclusive holiday resorts; no one has to get into a private jet or a limousine, adding to their carbon footprint. All they have to do is turn on their computers.
EU Tech Chamber has a twenty year mission to bring this vision of the new responsibility to the whole world, and to that end, we have built our new “Tech.Forum”. This is based on our virtual EU Tech Center which we introduced earlier in the year. That was aimed at and reserved for our EU Tech and Senate members. The Tech.Forum uses the same technology and offers the same range of networking possibilities – only we are aiming globally. We propose a new tech network for the new world that we all see the need for. We will generate the exchange of ideas; we will keep open minds on the way the future will develop; we will invite the innovative thinking we need going into that future from every corner of the world, and from every entrepreneur, financier, industrialist, and NGO committed to finding the solutions we need so badly. One way of looking at it is as Wikipedia for networking. Like Wikipedia, it is free; like Wikipedia, it is growing.
Nearly 7,000 companies have come on board, and interest is increasing on a daily basis. Of course, the numbers may be daunting: how could anyone find their way around? We offer three stages: simply log on, see what’s happening, and choose something you would like to listen in to; secondly, you can connect more formerly, probably (but not necessarily) to make your own contribution; or finally, you can opt to contact one of our managers, who will note your specific interests and set up virtual meetings so you can find like-minded people with whom you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
There are so many questions, so many challenges ahead – will Bitcoin replace traditional currencies – and if so, with what consequences? How will the colonisation of space impact life on earth? To what extent will AI revolutionise all our lives and businesses? How will we guide, direct, and stay in control of an intelligence greater than our own? And most pressingly, how are we going to develop the technologies to upgrade our carbon-dependent economies? These, and other burning questions, will be our central concern. And at the heart of our endeavours will be our mantra: Technology Obliges – with the mission to Build the World’s Leading Tech Network. Mission Impossible? Surely not! At this crucial point in the world’s history, optimism becomes a paramount responsibility. The alternative is simply unthinkable.