As you head to Davos, here’s what was overheard on the connecting trains from Zurich to the World Economic Forum

Zurich Central Station

MacKenzie Sigalos

DAVOS, Switzerland — It took 18 hours, a Lyft, two planes, three cross-country train rides and a ride in a Volvo sport utility vehicle to get from downtown Manhattan to an apartment on Scalettastrasse, a snow-covered street in the heart. from Davos.

The small Swiss Alpine town is once again hosting the World Economic Forum (WEF), where the world’s leading financial and political leaders gather every year to try to solve the biggest problems plaguing our planet.

There are quicker ways to get there, involving less air travel and a direct commute from Zurich either by car or chartered helicopter – but no matter which route you take, the Swiss fortress remains remote and tucked away. Airport-level security at every entrance to the Convention Center also helps make it an ideal retreat for the elite to come safely and securely for a week of socializing each winter.

But the long and winding journey to Davos offers another lesser-known benefit that makes the longer commute worthwhile.

This year’s trek to the village at 5,100 feet above sea level was filled with insider information about the topics and people making up the 54th edition of the World Economic Forum.

Here’s what was heard on the connecting trains from Zurich Airport to Davos Platz.

Nothing special in first class

When it comes to traveling by Swiss National Railway from Zürich Hauptbahnhof at Davos Platz, riding in a second-class car trumps the first every day.

The cloth seats are just as worn and the colors just as faded, but the benches are full of chatty journalists and WEF attendees eager to chat.

Dressed in a uniform complement of snowmen, fur jackets and pom-pom balls, these enthusiastic forum-goers offer insight into the issues that really matter most to attendees joining this year’s forum, titled “Rebuilding Trust,” which begins Monday morning.

Virtually every conversation started with, “Are you here for Davos?” before the inevitable retort: ​​”Me too.”

Generative AI led the rhetoric, including information about what actually led to a corporate upheaval at ChatGPT maker OpenAI and the failed ouster of its founder Sam Altman.

First class car on the train from Zurich to Davos

MacKenzie Sigalos

In November, a consortium of OpenAI investors and employees forced OpenAI to take Altman back as its CEO, following his surprise dismissal. His return as CEO coincided with the departure of the board members who had voted him out.

The incident happened within just a few days.

It exposed several points of vulnerability for the startup, which is said to be valued at $86 billion, including the company’s unusual governance structure that weakened its C-suite, as well as the fact that its biggest backers, including Microsofthe had no seat on the board of directors and very little involvement in the company’s major strategic decisions.

Many are still hoping to hear directly from Altman the unfiltered version of what led to his sudden firing.

A media representative for OpenAI declined CNBC’s request to interview Altman in Davos, citing a “tight” schedule.

However, OpenAI’s reinstated CEO will appear on stage on Thursday for a panel addressing security issues as the technology continues to intertwine with our daily lives.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, as well PfizerBoss Albert Bourla is among the voices wrapping up the session — but many will be specifically waiting for Altman to hear the November shakeup at his company.

Another passenger on the train used Davos as an opportunity to recruit talent on stage for the AI ​​conference held in Saudi Arabia in March.

Meanwhile, the issue of intellectual property rights and licensing in the AI ​​sector more broadly also caught the attention of WEF attendees this year.

The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft in December over alleged copyright infringement and misuse of the newspaper’s intellectual property to train large language models.

One Davos attendee noted that their company is in the IP space and raised the issue this summer because “the rights issue is so complicated.”

Restricted airspace around Davos, Switzerland

Cantonal Police, Grisons

It is speculated that data owners, including news publications, as well as X (formerly Twitter), Reddit, Disney and other content creators could potentially enter into licensing agreements with companies that need source material to train their LLMs.

This year, the WEF has significantly skewed its programming direction towards AI. In its “Global Risks Report 2024” published on January 10, the survey found that tampering with election results tops the list of the biggest risks in 2024 from artificial intelligence.

In its ranking of the top 10 risks of the next two years, disinformation and disinformation derived from artificial intelligence were placed above climate change, war and a weak global economy.

$40 Ubers

The eight-minute train ride to Landquart station usually involves bobbing and weaving among the locals, who carry skis slung over their shoulders and walking sticks converted into walking sticks for balance.

The Switch also offers the ability to shuffle the deck and start the conversation again with a new cast of characters.

Financial products for sustainability, including on-demand hydrogen generation via electrolysis, as well as the fintech ecosystem in Brazil and the so-called “other one percent”, which also appeared in snippets of chats about commuting to the Alps.

But as the oversized suitcases slipped aimlessly from their owners’ hands and slunk down the aisles, the program’s priority was to focus on after-hours programming on the fringes of WEF.

One person returning to the conference said they weren’t forced to get up early this time, so they would “do” Davos “better” this year.

Another questioned whether an exclusive cocktail reception might require the infamous and highly coveted white badge, which grants the wearer virtually unlimited access to everything the forum has to offer.

“Do you need a white badge?” this person wondered aloud to the group. “Can you sneak me in?”

One traveler recalled having breakfast at the same place as Sting last year. The musician performed at an invite-only event hosted by Microsoft last year, the night before the company launched to 10,000 people.

Another thing to take away: Don’t lock the door to apartment rentals after problems with keys in past years.

Another concern was getting around the city.

You can get pretty much anywhere you need to in Davos in less than 30 minutes on foot, even in the snow. More often than not, almost everything is just a few blocks away on the iconic downtown boardwalk.

It’s not as easy as you think to get an Uber, one person recounted years ago. And with taxis, there are either none to be found, or they all swarm at once, which leads to traffic jams.

Someone said they learned their lesson after paying $40 for a short Uber ride from an evening event in Davos. From now on, they will always walk home – even in arctic weather.

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