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World Economic Forum 2024: Key results

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, brought together 3,000 participants from around the globe. That included 1,600 business leaders, 350 heads of state and government ministers, and hundreds of academics, civil society leaders, and entrepreneurs. 

It was an elite affair as always, with sky-high lodging fees, champagne nightcaps, and chances to see and be seen by people holding some of the most influential jobs on the planet.

Quartz was on the ground all week, attending as many of the 450-plus conference sessions as we could, while still leaving time for “bi-lats” (that’s Davos-speak for one-on-one meetings) and writing up our coverage of the proceedings.

Now that the event has wrapped, scroll through our takeaways to see what you missed.

CEOs are really nervous about geopolitics

When we asked Paul Knopp, the CEO of KPMG US, what he came to Davos feeling most worried about, he echoed a common refrain heard in Davos this week. “Last year, for me, it would have been the economy. I’m a little more concerned right now about the number of geopolitical concerns around the world that could create shocks,” he said.

“The war that’s happening in the Gaza Strip, in Israel, what’s happening in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and how that’s disrupting some supply chains, the continuing concerns around the war in Ukraine and the continuing impacts on energy security and food security that still have extreme importance to a lot of parts of the world, including Europe, and then, you know, just the tensions among countries that might be a little more nationalistic and their behaviors more isolationist. To me that warrants some higher level of concern.”

Or, as the WEF put it, “This year’s meeting convened against the most complex geopolitical and geoeconomic backdrop in decades, making the need for purpose-driven, impactful action all the more important.”

Politicians are nervous about the fate of democracy

With elections this year in countries that are home to a combined 4.2 billion people, democratic leaders are worried about the threats of fascism, nationalism, disinformation, and other number of other risks for free societies.

“We are now reaching a watershed moment: 2024 will be the year when European countries and the EU will be in a position to decide if we want to be sovereign or not,” French president Emmanuel Macron said, addressing just one region where elections are coming up soon.

Economists are pretty evenly split in their forecasts

In the WEF’s latest survey of chief economists, conducted in November and December, 56% said they expect the global economy to weaken this year.

But that means 44% of them don’t.

The connections between climate and health are getting clearer

The UN’s COP environmental conference had its first ever “Health Day” last year. In Davos, several panels nodded to the increasing awareness about how climate change affects human health. In one of them, Nisia Trindade Lima, Brazil’s minister of health, described her long list of concerns, including waterborne and mosquito-borne diseases that come with flooding and extreme rainfall; malnutrition that can come with drought; the overburden on public health infrastructure during climate-induced health crisis; the damage to those facilities from extreme weather; and the mental health impact of physical stressors tied to climate change.

It’s a good time for companies to get their data cleaned up

Salesforce president and chief financial officer Amy Weaver told us that companies in wait-and-see mode on investing in artificial intelligence still have important AI-related work they can do in the meanwhile: get their data houses in order.

“Now is the time,” she said, noting it will be much easier to feed data into AI models when it’s been streamlined, scrubbed of duplicates, and otherwise put into usable form.

Sam Altman is looking ahead to artificial general intelligence (AGI) — and a quiet life

The CEO of OpenAI made a big splash this year in Davos, where AI was referenced in nearly every session we attended. As part of the official WEF agenda, Altman sat on a panel in Congress Hall, the event’s largest meeting venue, with the CEOs of corporate heavyweights Accenture, Pfizer, and Salesforce, along with British finance minister Jeremy Hunt. On the conference sidelines, at a lunch hosted by Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff, Altman was the surprise guest speaker — and the victim of a minor grilling about his personal goals for the next 10 years.

“In our industry, people are always overestimating [what they can accomplish] in a year but underestimating what they’re able to do in one decade and certainly in a couple of decades,” Benioff said. “So tell me, in one decade, where is your mind? What would you like to have under your belt, fully accomplished? Where do you see yourself? Where would you be living? What would you be doing? … What is going on? Give us the full picture now.”

After the laughter died down, the recently married Altman replied, “I think the definition of AGI has become so fuzzy, it’s sort of irrelevant. But I think in a decade we will have made something that most people will consider AGI. I hope to be working on that, watching this wonderful world unfold, living on our ranch, raising our kids, having as quiet of a life as I can.”

Heather Landy