2018 will go down as the year that the world fell out of love with technology, and it was a theme touched on at several of our lectures in 2018.
At a debate on the future of the corporation Professor Colin Mayer, from Said Business School, said mistrust of business remained “profound, pervasive and persistent” and there was a need to reframe business for the 21st century around its purpose, commitment to trustworthiness, and its culture and values.
He said an increasing focus on profits had led to growing inequality and a mistrust of business. “While technology offers tremendous opportunities for enhancing the wellbeing of society, it also poses serious risks not just in terms of jobs, but in terms of inequality.”
During a lecture on the future of video, Patrick Walker from Facebook said that as digital technology becomes more powerful there was a need to keep a check on our mobile phone use. “It’s really important that people think carefully about their own consumption habits,” he said. “We at Facebook are focused on friends and family. We want people to think about using the products but also connecting with each other in real time, and that means sometimes putting down your phone and not using services like ours just to be closer to your friends, family and loved ones.”
Meanwhile the dangers of fake news and its impact on global health were addressed by Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene. He was blunt in his appraisal of the damage that fake news can have well beyond the political arena, saying fake news had the potential to undermine trust in public authorities and that the smartphone revolution created huge challenges as people generate their own content.
Brexit was, of course, never out of the news in 2018, and we welcomed Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable who warned that the Northern Powerhouse project risked being derailed by Brexit which was “sucking the life” out of government and parliament.
On a more positive note Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told our lecture on the future of Greater Manchester that the city had “lit the way” in terms of its revival over the past 10 to 15 years. But it was now time to talk about “what comes next” in terms of making the city region even more competitive on the global stage.
She said there were a number of priorities that Manchester should focus on. “I think probably the biggest is people and skills and preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, particularly digital skills.”
Another subject which came up at several events was the impact of an ageing population on society. At our Grigor McClelland lecture Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said changes in life expectancy were radically going to change our whole experience of ageing.
Dixon cited how someone born in 1914 had only a 1% chance of reaching 100, yet children under 10 today have more than a 50% chance of reaching the milestone. “But it is critical that those extra years are lived well,” she added, as she called for a much more positive narrative around older people.
You can keep up to date with our events in 2019 here.