DALIAN, China — Technology is transforming the world, but if businesses and governments aren't careful, innovation could hurt society by exacerbating inequality, rather than making lives better.
That was the message from global business leaders Tuesday in Dalian, China, as the emphasis lay squarely on cutting-edge creations that benefit everyone.
The event, the World Economic Forum's annual "Summer Davos," is focused on technology, science and innovation, and is held annually in China's warmer months — an extension of the marquee event in Switzerland. The theme fits the locale: Entrepreneurship has become increasingly important for the world's second-largest economy as it looks to the private sector to make bigger gains to counter waning growth.
Expanding access to technology and education will be important, but it has to be something made available to everyone, said Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, an Indian IT services firm, at the event.
"Education is the answer to the question of automation and jobs," he said during a news conference, responding to concerns that technologies like robotics could take away more jobs than they create.
Change is happening at such an unprecedented pace now that it will "be important for all business leaders, for government officials, to make sure that the people that we serve don't get left behind," said Alex Molinaroli, chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls. "As their life changes, we find ways to be able to help them, cope with the changes, and have access to the new technologies."
Another issue of equal access applies to the companies working to develop these new technologies, and ensuring they are operating in a fair business environment — something critics say China has long lacked.
Foreign firms continually report difficulty in conducting business in China, the world's second-largest economy, and complain that Chinese companies receive preferential treatment.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang denied that criticism at the forum's opening session on Tuesday. All companies would experience a fair market environment in China, he said, hinting that doing business might actually get easier.
Li also stressed China's continued commitment to opening up its markets.
"What you have to remember is that the Chinese market is open," Molinaroli said. "But open in a way to serve what the Chinese market requires, so I think there's different levels of openness depending on the technology, depending on what's required."