Technology can help us avoid traffic jams, take an ethical stand and even write romantic fiction. But the world of Business 4.0 also offers solutions to society’s wider problems, as guests at Tata Consultancy Services’ Mastering Business 4.0™ with AI, IoT & Data Analytics learned at Davos.

Rick Haythornthwaite, chairman of Mastercard, emphasised the need to use machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. But he said legitimate concerns about privacy would have to be addressed as they were in his business.

Companies should focus on building trust, respect and integrity, not just because it is important to the technology, but because “it is the right way to do business.”  He said: “The bottom line is industry needs to wake up. If you don’t wake up now and you’re a laggard, extinction beckons.”

Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab described how his team were developing ways to analyse data in ways which made it useful without compromising privacy. It would be impossible to reap the full benefits of AI if data remained restricted, he said.

Anonymised data was already making our lives easier through everyday apps like Google Maps, he said. Traffic delays could be highlighted because people allowed the app to use their location. But it did so without identifying them. His team was taking this a stage further with privacy learning techniques.

Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab.

Trading your data

Christian Schüpbach, Digital Venture Builder at Swisscom, said he believed that in future individuals would own their own data and data would become a new asset class with the development of marketplaces where individuals would be able to sell their data. 

Tommy Nicholas, CEO of Alloy, whose software is used to validate the identity of bank customers, said AI allowed them to quickly distinguish between genuine customers and fraudsters, making opening an account as easy as checking out on Amazon.

Alloy’s success was based on using “one of the biggest digital banks in the United States.” But their success had created an ethical dilemma when client banks asked them to identify the citizenship status of potential clients.

Although the request was not unlawful, Alloy declined it.  The experience made him realise that companies had a responsibility to shape good practice. 

“We made the right decision that was hard to educate our clients on why they shouldn’t necessarily discriminate against folks based on their citizenship status, but we face issues like this every single day and have to spend a lot of our brain power thinking about that,” he said.

Tommy Nicholas, CEO of Alloy.

Tell me a story

Mira Wilczek, Managing Director of Link Ventures and Vestmark, showed the audience a book. It was practical, readable…and written entirely by AI, she said. Inspired by the book, at least one novelist was already using AI to help draft his next work.

“He says it’s a creative prosthesis,” she said, which showed how people and machines could work in harmony. She ended with a quotation created entirely by AI: “We are all starfish in a sea made of stars.”

Krishnan Ramanujam, President, TCS Business and Technology Services said some principles of business, like creating and leveraging ecosystems of partners with a shared goal, can also be powerful in solving societies’ problems.

He cited the example of a digital system that TCS created to co-ordinate and deliver healthcare to the poorest people in India, a nation where there is only one doctor for every 1,600 patients and medical infrastructure is stretched to the limit.

Throughout history, business managers saw their role as optimising scarce resources, he said. But today’s digital technologies mean that companies have an abundance of resources to call upon and ecosystems are the way to harness them.

The concept of Business 4.0 helps enterprises leverage digital technologies for growth and transformation.  It represents a generational shift in terms of enterprise capability by leveraging ecosystems and embracing risk.

Krishnan Ramanujam, President, TCS Business and Technology Services.

Digital inclusion

Santanu Bhattacharya, Chief data scientist at Airtel, said voice technology would enable a massive increase in the number of people who have access to the internet in India. He predicted the 400 million current smartphone users would be joined by a billion using voice-enabled devices.

Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, spoke about the importance of inclusion and developing employees to achieve their full potential. Diversity was a key part of building a successful organisation and it was important that everyone in an organisation shared the enterprise purpose.

Alison Omens, Chief Strategy Officer of JUST Capital, said polling by her company in the United States showed the single most important factor influencing how ordinary citizens rated companies was the way they treated their workers.

Indeed, the distinguished panel were clear on one thing, no ground-breaking technology or innovative idea will fulfil its full potential unless underpinned by the very basics of human behaviour:  trust, respect and integrity.

You can keep up to date with our coverage of Davos through our live blog, here.