The year 2024 unfolds with challenges and opportunities almost unprecedented in the business world, driven by the complex interplay of geopolitics and technological evolution.
To better understand how to navigate this mutable and potential-rich scenario, we interviewed Alec Ross, Distinguished Adjunct Professor at the Bologna Business School and an expert in technology policy. In his analysis, Ross delves into the emerging trends and strategies companies can adopt to remain competitive by harnessing the potential of new technologies. With 2024 shaping up to be a year of significant changes, from the growing relevance of global geopolitics to the acceleration in the development of artificial intelligence, Ross encourages Italy to adapt and thrive in this new economic landscape.
What emerging trends do you foresee having a significant impact on the business world in 2024? Which sectors or specific technologies will be most involved?
A significant emerging trend that will have a profound effect in 2024 is Geopolitics. Over 50 countries worldwide, with a total population exceeding 4 billion, will conduct elections in 2024, marking it as the year with the most elections in history. This is true for countries like the United States, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Mexico. Elections will be happening almost everywhere. The link between geopolitics and economics is stronger today than it has been in the last 40 years. We have to look back to the 1940s, during World War II, to find a time when geopolitics was more decisive for economic outcomes. This comes in a context where we are witnessing not just the development of various emerging technologies, but also the materialization of products that have been anticipated for years. Thus, 2024 will be a pivotal year where Geopolitics and Geoeconomics, tied to new technological developments, intersect significantly.
How do you think Italian companies can capitalize on these global trends?
In my opinion, this scenario represents a positive opportunity for Italian companies. There are 196 countries in the world, and Italy is one of the most beloved. Americans love Italians, and so do the Chinese: everyone admires and loves the Italians. Therefore, despite competition and political turmoil, having the brand and reality of being Italian is a positive, as it allows for conducting business with almost everyone. The only obstacle might be the tendency of Italian companies to become somewhat conservative during times of transition. They often lack a bit of boldness, and I believe 2024 is not the year to play defensively: it’s time to attack and gain more access to global markets. Even though in Italy we treat politics like a football match, with fan clubs and political figures likened to players or celebrities, it would be better to ease the conflict between left and right, create more economic unity of purpose, and focus on how to conduct international business with the government that is – and will likely still be at the end of the year. Another factor to consider for 2024 is that the geopolitical factor will become increasingly fundamental within every multinational enterprise. Hence, integrating individuals with experience in managing geopolitics in a business context or seeking consultants and training executives on how to navigate such a disruptive geopolitical environment is crucial.
Specifically thinking about Artificial Intelligence, how will the evolution of digital technologies influence the global business landscape in the coming years?
I don’t believe there is a single digital sector anymore; in fact, all sectors are now digital. Digitalization is part of every sector. We begin 2024 with about 52 billion devices connected to the network, including our laptops, smartphones, and sensors in supply chains. By the end of 2025, this number is expected to grow from 52 to 75 billion. This surge is not because we are carrying more phones, but because we are digitalizing new sectors, including those considered traditional like shipping, manufacturing, fashion, and agriculture, all of which are now digital sectors. From an AI perspective, every company must consider the role of AI within their specific context. While some may not find a direct application for AI, most will. In agriculture, for example, AI can help us conserve resources like water and become more precise in our field activities. AI will not replace humans, but rather enhance and amplify human capabilities. We’ve talked about 5G for years, but only now are we feeling its real effects and creating an Industrial Internet. Let’s recap what 5G is: with 1G you can make a call; with 2G you can make a call and send a text; with 3G, we can connect to the internet and use apps. 4G is what we are most familiar with, and it is essentially 3G but with the added ability to stream video. The true innovation of 5G is in creating this Industrial Internet that enables industrial processes through these networks. We are finally at a point where our factories, through a combination of various 5G technologies, AI, and cloud computing, are digitizing industrial processes. For Italy, this presents a significant advantage and opportunity not to be missed, as we will never win in terms of labor costs, but we can innovate within our factories using these technologies, continuing to develop the manufacturing sector.