Davos Day 4: Launch of the Free Thinkers Society


Davos Day 4:  Launch of the Free Thinkers Society

I was lucky to be a part of an exciting new “unDavos” experiment:  the launch of the Free Thinkers Society by my friend Trudy DiPippo and her extraordinary team. Its purpose is to promote open, authentic dialog, leavened with equal measures of love, compassion, and critical thought. Free Thinkers are united by our conviction that democracy thrives and business progresses when ideas are given free rein in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect — a welcome respite from the divisive, polarized conversations of our times.

Trudy kicked off the launch event by framing the Free Thinkers Society as a place where diverse perspectives can be shared and debated, unbound and uninhibited by fear or hidebound orthodoxy. Guest speakers featured authors Niall Ferguson and Martin Wolf, noted economist Nouriel Rabini, and prominent Indian tech investor Manu Kumar – each of whom staked out bold predictions about the future of politics, finance, and society.

The crowd was riveted by Manu’s claim that the tsunami of job redundancies from near-term advances in AI, robotics, and automation is coming much sooner than we think, likely on a 2-3 year horizon  . . . and his view that no society on earth is prepared for the social, financial and emotional disruption that those trends portend in the near future.  While mass unemployment typically conjures images of an economy in free fall (e.g., the Great Depression), Nouriel pointed out that these anticipated waves of redundancies will likely occur in an era of stunning prosperity due to accelerating productivity of robots twinned with AI. He posed the questions of whether and how to share the bounty from those productivity gains with the tens or hundreds of millions of people who will lose their source of livelihood. The speakers agreed we may be looking ahead to a strange period of accelerating corporate profits for the mega-cap companies who own the robots coupled with mass unemployment for laborers and professionals alike.

Niall exhorted us to study history to understand that humans are prone to conflict and violence in times of massive social dislocation. He predicted that Trump will “almost certainly” be restored to the Presidency, claimed that working families in the US had had stagnant incomes for 40 years (except during the Trump presidency), and foresaw the US taking a sharp turn away from the “woke” trends so dominant in current liberal ideology.  Martin and Nouriel both cited numerous concerning trends that they thought were unsustainable in the future including the accumulation of public and private debt, the likelihood of a return of inflation on a global scale, and the demise of globalization into discrete trading blocs.

One participant zeroed in on Manu’s predictions of automation-driven waves of unemployment and worried aloud that people would lose their sense of purpose and identity, likely producing a sharp increase in “deaths of despair” from opioids, alcohol, and suicide.  Yet the session ended on an uplifting note:  Looking ahead to the upcoming Free Thinkers sessions on mindfulness and conscious leadership, several people speculated that perhaps humanity can prepare for transition to an era in which people find purpose and identity outside the narrow confines of their paid work – that is, if we can solve the problem of how to spread out the wealth creation expected from AI and automation of production.

The primary theme emerging from the Davos mainstage was that we are heading into an “era of volatility.” With 64 national elections in 2024, many governments will be changing just as the world is coming to grips with climate change and the global transformation to a renewable energy economy, wobbling its way out of a devastating global pandemic, navigating complex wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and puzzling over the future of AI. That’s a recipe for disruption and volatility.

Throughline

Looking back on this launch week, a clear throughline emerges:  The world of our near future will require a different kind of leader:  more compassionate, more aware of interconnectedness, more tolerant and able to accept and learn from diverse perspectives, clear-eyed about the importance of mental health, more aligned with the spiritual needs and emotional priorities of stakeholders, more rooted in a sense of purpose that brings meaning to the work at hand. The path to developing such leaders lies in an understanding of expanded consciousness. Mindfulness practices, including psychedelic-assisted journeys and therapies, are the best tools available for cultivating the attributes that will define authentic – and successful – leaders in the world that is emerging before our eyes.

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