COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure – what that means for governance

  • Emerging technologies are propping up our daily lives under lockdown.
  • Such tools must be considered as essential infrastructure, revealing opportunities for governance.

Under COVID-19, emerging technologies are propping up our daily lives. Connected devices enable both education and remote work. Chatbots provide life-saving information and relieve overwhelmed health systems. Location data applications track and map the spread of the virus for health workers and researchers.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that emerging technologies like the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are not just tools, they are essential to the functioning of our society and economy. Particularly in this time of instability, we need to think of them as critical infrastructure.

Our ability to be adaptive, human-centred and inclusive in the way we develop policy and protocols for emerging technologies has never been more essential. The continued security and resilience of our society depends on it.

If, in response to this pandemic, we can match technology with the appropriate institutions, standards and norms, we will emerge stronger than before.

Here’s a set of links for deeper reading, highlighting our dependence on emerging technologies during this crisis. Each story demonstrates the need for agile governance, to maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks of this new critical infrastructure:

  • Connectivity is a requisite for telework, but more than 21 million people in America lack advanced broadband internet access. Most of them tend to live in rural areas. Emerging technologies have the potential to be a great equalizer, but without the right governance in place they could intensify the digital divide. (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • The use of videoconferencing for children’s education exploded over the last month as lockdowns forced schools to go remote. But these platforms can sometimes highlight critical privacy and security flaws. Such tools underscore the need for a global baseline consensus on security to help users to understand the risks posed by each device and network. (Fast Company)
  • Many companies and organizations are deploying chatbots to provide COVID-19 information and even help the public better understand their symptoms. Though these tools can ease the strain on health systems, they vary in their effectiveness. Inconsistent responses could erode public trust in this developing communication tool. (Agenda)
  • Estonia may be the nation best prepared for the consequences of the pandemic, both economically and socially. The country already treats technology like critical infrastructure and could serve as an example for others to follow. (The New Yorker)
COVID-19 World Economic Forum, Strategic Intelligence Platform
The World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence Platform helps put the COVID-19 into context.
Image: World Economic Forum, Strategic Intelligence Platform
This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum - 
which owns all rights to it. It was written by Kimmy Bettinger.

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