Quote of the Day
”An alien might someday ask how the entire population was bugged. The answer would be that humans gave each other surveillance devices for Christmas, cleverly named Echo and Home.”
When Covid-19 has done with us, what will be the new normal?
This morning’s Observer column:
The most important implication of the breakneck changes currently under way, though, is that there’s no going back to normality. That train has left the station. The coronavirus isn’t going away. And even when there is a vaccine, the risk will endure, because climate change and the erosion of wildlife habitats will ensure a ready supply of zoonotic viruses. Companies will have learned to build supply chains with resilience built in. White collar workers will have discovered that they don’t have do as much commuting as before. Air travel will go back to being a luxury. And so on.
A useful metaphor for the new normal will be what happens when driving a car on black ice. The worst thing to do is to slam on the brakes, because then you completely lose control. Instead you pump them – brake a little, then back off and repeat the process until back on gritty tarmac. Our immediate futures will be like that: a combination of what some people are beginning to call “the hammer and the dance” – the hammer of successive lockdowns followed by digital dances in which we use surveillance and testing to find and control outbreaks. We are heading into a cautious, rather than a brave, new world – with Orwellian overtones. I wonder what Aldous Huxley would have made of that.
Bill Gates and the pandemic
This is a TED talk that Bill Gates in 2015. That’s five years ago. “Today” he said, “the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this”. At which point up came a photograph of the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb. “Instead”, he went on, “it looks like this”. And up popped an electron microscope image of a corona virus.
It’s called foresight.
The Andreessen manifesto
Marc Andreessen is one of the most interesting (and sometimes annoying) people around. As a graduate student he more or less made the Internet mainstream: with Eric Bina he wrote Mosaic, the first proper browser — the program that made ordinary people realise what this Internet thingy was for. Now he runs a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm. And every so often he launches a broadside on the world. His latest is entitled “It’s Time to Build” and this is how it begins…
Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, but it’s not too early to ask why, and what we need to do about it.
Many of us would like to pin the cause on one political party or another, on one government or another. But the harsh reality is that it all failed — no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — and despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifice by many people within these institutions. So the problem runs deeper than your favorite political opponent or your home nation.
Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t do in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to build.
We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have…
More on contact tracing
If you’d like a good general guide to most of the key issues in the arguments about using smartphones for contact tracing, then “Outpacing the Virus:Digital Response to Containing the Spread of COVID-19 while Mitigating Privacy Risks” from the Safra Center at Harvard is pretty good.
And Tyler Cowen points out in his Bloomberg column that the coming societal dependence on smartphone technology will create a new digital divide. “All of a sudden the US will have a new segregation — between those who have smartphones and those who don’t. If you’re on the wrong side of that divide many places and services will be hard if not impossible to reach”.
Quarantine diary — Day 29
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