It is possible to successfully navigate societies through the many technology related risks and realize a global digital society.

A passenger scans his fingerprint at an automated immigration control gate at Changi airport's Terminal 4 in Singapore April 30, 2018.      REUTERS/Thomas White - RC11342B11D0
Image: REUTERS/Thomas White

More than a century ago, when individuals were isolating themselves against Spanish Flu, people turned to the telephone to keep in touch. It was a nascent technology at the time and services promptly broke down because of the rapid rise in demand. Rather than crippling the industry and the technology, however, the pandemic served to underscore how essential it was to modern society.

In his essay, “Digital Epiphany? COVID-19 and our Tech Futures,” Samir Saran observes that just as the telephone was instrumental in shaping today’s global village, the most significant opportunity to arise from the pandemic is for states and individuals to realize the potential of a truly global digital society.

Perhaps civil society organizations and policy-makers will be similarly moved by the current crisis to create new means for enabling the transfer of technologies and innovations. Perhaps they will be encouraged to rethink rigid intellectual property regimes that previously got in the way.

The most significant opportunity to arise from the pandemic is for states and individuals to realize the potential of a truly global digital society.

This will, however, require navigating at least four important challenges: the threat posed by a largely ungoverned digital public sphere; data sharing practices that emerged to combat COVID-19 under scant oversight or accountability; efforts to undermine the integrity of the cyber realm and trust in technology; and the risk of individuals being permanently left behind accelerating digitalization.

Saran proposes that the pandemic offers an opportunity to reform political and administrative practices, which have previously faced the obstacle of legacy institutional constraints. It is also time for states to respond to the needs of a growing global informal workforce, who require new systems of social protection.

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