It is 75 years from the end of the World War II and almost 20 years since 9/11.
50 years from now will the Covid19 pandemic rank with World War II and 9/11 as events that define “before” and “after” eras?
As things stand now (April 4th 2020) with more than 60,000 dead, the world’s most developed economies shown-up to be almost helpless against it and no one being sure what kind of horror is about to unfold among the billions who live in the developing and under-developed world, I certainly think so.
The aftermath of Covid19 will see many paradigms shift in geo-politics, in socio-economic structures and going deeper even at the cultural and psycho-social levels.
What will change in the world of technology?
My hypothesis is that over the next few years the technologies of AI and IoT will move from being edge technologies to being core public utilities on par with electric power, water, education and health.
Concerns about the surveillance society will be over-ruled as societies, the media and the governments realise that the technologies of AI and IoT with access to untrammelled access to Big Data is the best defence for a world threatened by existential threats like the ongoing and accelerating weirding of weather, pandemics and terrorism empowered not just by the wide reach of cyber-sabotage but now quite likely bio-sabotage.
Think of this scenario.
Today in all nations of the world an individual’s legal entity is defined by one or many State-issued ID systems — Driving Licenses, Social Security & Tax Ids, Voter Cards, Passports etc. The unstated deal is that the State will act as a trusted repository of these databases and use the data either for transactions between the State and the individual and at the aggregate, anonymised level for analysis and planning processes driving society and community level interventions.
This trust while in breach in some countries all the time and in most countries some of the time, is by and large a pact that lies at the core of the State-citizen relationship.
Governments over the past few years have realised that the Internet along with cellular services are now an integral part of the basic public utility ecosystem. Based on this realisation there is incipient movement most evident in the EU to regulate these utilities on the lines of power and water.
Big Data as gathered by the Googles and Facebooks of the world is beginning to attract notice and discussion. A leading voice against the dangers of Big Tech’s use of Big Data is Soshana Zuboff, a Professor Emerita at Harvard. Ms. Zuboff lays her case out with great clarity in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
Besides warning of the dangers Ms. Soshana also hints at a solution. In her mind the solution is to build awareness among the populace of the dangers before it is too late and mobilise this awareness into activism that persuades society and Governments to act.
In an August 2019 post on my blog titled ‘How Marketing Can Be the Hero and not the Handmaiden to The Anti-Heroes Of The Digital Age” I have pointed out the opportunity for marketing and advertising experts to use their expertise to build the kind of awareness and kindle the kind of activism Ms. Soshana writes about.
Is it possible that the shock that Covid19 has inflicted on both the State and the citizenry leads to a re-evaluation of the uses of Big Data clubbed with a realisation that the emerging technologies AI and IoT could and should accelerate their way to becoming the next wave of public utilities as important as water, power, the Internet and cellular services?
How long before someone realises that the State should insist that a citizen’s ID should extend beyond a name on a database to an under-the-skin implant that acts as the ID as well as adding a new stream of data — the location and the vitals?
With the ubiquity of the cell-phone, location is already a data-stream that can be continuously monitored, stored and analysed. Except that the citizen has the option to turn-off that data stream is she so wishes which in the case of an implant is an option she will not have.
The availability of second-by-second vitals — body temperature, blood pressure, blood glucose and some level of blood analysis — will be a new data stream with immense possibilities at both the aggregate and individual level.
Complementing the 5G powered IoT network of implanted sensors will be other widely dispersed IoT networks that will sense micro-climates, air and water pollution levels, seismic and volcanic and oceanic activities, the flora and fauna population as well as other key environmental data directly impacting health and wellness.
The system will also have access to hospital, lab and pharmacy records. The system will also be able to access the entire available knowledge base in the health and wellness domains.
Advanced AI will crunch, in real time, the Big Data generated from these intermeshing IoT networks to develop and effect health and wellness initiatives both at the aggregate and if the individual wants and gives the requisite permissions, at the individual level.
Even the mere suggestion of an implant would have elicit widespread condemnation and alarm in the pre-Covid19 world. My hunch is that this will change in the post-Covid19 world.
What is that will persuade the citizenry at large to accept an implant-based ID system as part of an IOT network driven by advanced AI?
The core to acceptance in free societies like the Western democracies and countries like India will be trust in the State. Trust that the State will use the data to deliver far superior health services both at the aggregate and individual level. Trust that the ultimate ownership of the data generated by the implant will be the individual’s property and will be used only with his or her explicit permission and for his or her good.
In countries where the State is not trusted are for the most part States that can push the implant system down its citizenry’s throats anyway.
At the end, let me once again assert that I am aware that the idea of a State sponsored implant based, vitals measuring ID system powering an AI monitored intermeshed IoT network is an idea that in February 2020 would have been outright rejected and the proposer pilloried.
However, when Black Swan events like Covid19 happen the impossible becomes possible and the unthinkable becomes rational.
Covid19 could be the door that opens to a new world whose contours will come into view only after we have passed through the threshold that is the shock and the disruption, we are all currently witnessing.