The New You – Issue 19: Illusions

I’d been to a lot of science and tech conferences, but it was clear right away that this fall’s World Economic Forum meeting in Tianjin would be different.

For one thing, it took place in a cruise ship-sized convention center surrounded by a sea of empty concrete and flagpoles in coastal China. A couple of at-attention soldiers could be picked out in the distance, past a fleet of black Audis and through a yellow haze. Word was that the building had been commissioned with the Forum in mind.

Then there was the limelight. The Premier of China gave the opening keynote. There were lots of CEOs and foundation chairs, and the attending roster included Hillary Clinton (though she ended up bailing). This wasn’t just science for scientists.

The context sharpened into view when, in the middle of a small session I was moderating, the founder and chairman of the Forum, Klaus Schwab, arrived to deliver a surprise speech. Technology decades ago, he told us, was important because it improved this or that aspect of our lives. Today, it is important because it is changing who we are.

This seemed simultaneously encouraging and alarming. Encouraging, because the centrality of science to…
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