Posted on January 21, 2020

For the first time, QatarDebate – in collaboration with The New York Times – is to sponsor a debate on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where leading speakers will examine the pros and cons of big tech.

As global society becomes increasingly influenced by digital technology, debaters will go head-to-head at the event to discuss whether the world’s top tech firms can be trusted to self-regulate, and if governments need to set tougher guidelines and stronger principles for corporate practices. “Big tech firms are continuously evolving and shaping our lives,” said Dr. Mahmoud Y. Barraj, Outreach Program Specialist at QatarDebate. “You only need to look at what Google is undertaking on an AI level, and what is being delivered across healthcare and life sciences, to witness the impact of technology on humanity. However, the lack of regulations has led the industry to become less known for its remarkable innovations.”

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Dr. Barraj believes that although tech companies do self-regulate, two chief concerns are yet to be resolved. “The first is data leakage, which has seen millions of people exposed, and the second is how big tech firms are collecting, misusing, and perhaps selling data to third parties,” he said. “This is a pressing issue, and it will remain one until a solution is found.” The main theme of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 50th Annual Meeting is, Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World. However, a key element of the forum is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, opening up discussions on technology and trade governance.

International speakers from a variety of industries will bring their perspectives and experiences to the debate, with three participants arguing for and three against the motion in front of a live audience and jury. The Oxford-style debate will also see jury members add their comments, critique arguments, and pose additional challenges to the debaters. Debaters include Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation; Tristan Harris, Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology; Lisa Witter, Co-Founder and Executive Chairperson, Apolitical; Andrew McAfee, Co-Director and Co-Founder, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy; Rebecca Masisak, Chief Executive Officer, TechSoup; and Malcolm Frank, President, Digital Business, Cognizant.

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The judges are Dr. Barraj; Helen E. Clark; former Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008); and Shamina Singh, President, MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth & Executive Vice President, Sustainability, MasterCard. Speaking about the significance of the event at the WEF and the importance of fostering a culture of debate in today’s world, Abdulrahman I. Al-Subaie, Head of Outreach Program, QD, said: “Today, more than ever, we recognize that the life skills debating instills in its practitioners are the very same qualities that are needed for building a peaceful and prosperous society. “This idea is guided by an enduring belief that by raising the quality of discourse and exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of respect and sincerity, humanity is best equipped to prevail over the monumental challenges facing all of us.”

The WEF will be held from January 21-24, bringing together more than 3,000 participants from around the world, including global leaders, industry experts, and business professionals. “The World Economic Forum is a platform where global challenges are addressed,” said Dr Barraj. “It is a comprehensive event, attempting to improve the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.” 

The debate takes place on Wednesday, January 22, and will be available to watch on the QatarDebate and NYTLive YouTube channels.

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