Former US president Barack Obama was the star speaker at the Digital Enterprise Show in Malaga today, Tuesday 14 June, touching on subjects such as the war in Ukraine, the battle between authoritarianism and democracy, the digital revolution, social inequality and the lack of opportunities for young people.
It wasn’t all serious, though: he also included a few tongue-in-cheek comments about local culture and his family, such as his wife Michelle visiting Spain more than he does and spending her time “drinking a lot of wine and sunbathing”.
Speaking in English, he told the audience, who had paid 1,900 euros each for a ticket with entry his talk, and some of whom were upset that there was no simultaneous translation facility, that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is a threat to the democratic order and that Ukraine has opened people’s eyes to the fact that peace and prosperity is not guaranteed.
With regard to the environment, he said the migrant crisis we are seeing nowadays has been triggered by climate change: “People have no option but to leave their own land,” he said. “We have to commit to green energy, indeed governments have to promote incentives for the energy transition of companies. Technology can help with that. A factory today can save 10, 15 or 20 per cent of its expenditure on electricity with the help of artificial intelligence. There are great opportunities for entrepreneurs in the fight against climate change,” he said.
In terms of digitalisation and work, Obama said he believes there is no doubt that automation will reduce the number of jobs involving repetitive tasks and that computers will do the work that requires no adaptation or imagination. However, new jobs will be created, not all of them in technology. “We will have to reimagine,” he said, and maybe pay higher salaries for tasks which are not automated, such as carers, creative work or teaching. “You can have online classes, but there will always be a need for a teacher to put a hand on a pupil’s shoulder and tell them everything is going to be fine,” he said.
The former president also spoke about technology, research and innovation, the benefits of a ‘give it a go’ attitude, and the importance of encouraging the next generation to assume leadership.
“All over the world there are incredible young people making a difference…the trouble is that they don’t have enough support. What we want to do is say to these young people that we are here to support them. Because many problems are not going to be resolved in our lifetimes,” he said. “These generations are better educated, more innovative, more ideal, more comfortable with diversity. If you run a business, you should think about who will come later, mentor them, help them, inspire them".
And Obama finished by saying he feels at home in Spain because it is a hot country, and he likes the warmth and hospitality of the people. “I want to come back soon and stay for longer,” he said.