Earlier this month, China’s Xinhua news agency ran a brief article about the use of robots amid the coronavirus outbreak. The article highlighted the use of robots to serve meals in medical centers and to run routine disinfections of facilities. Neither of these are particularly novel uses of robots, and countries in Asia, including China, South Korea and Japan, have been experimenting with robots in service roles for years.
But the story, and several others around the world showcasing the use of robotics, of AI systems used to predict the direction on viral outbreaks, and of telecommunication systems used to facilitate business operations with minimal human contact, are all reminders of the way countries and businesses are turning to technology to manage disruptions from the current coronavirus pandemic.
In Stratfor’s 2020 decade forecast, we discussed the ways technologies will continue to have a broader impact on societies and nations, providing new economic, social and political opportunities even as they shake up existing norms. Virtual work and education, as part of COVID-19 mitigation programs, are testing the existing limits of information infrastructure and exposing the gaps that still exist in societies in access to the technologies that facilitate distance operations.
Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, governments and civil society are likely to intensify the already at times contentious debates over access to information technology, responsibility for infrastructure development, and issues of national and personal security. The discourse over 5G, currently couched in a competition between the United States and China, will be swept up in the lessons learned from the rapid shuttering of much of the physical economies around the world. The issue will be no less contentious, but the real-world examples of successes and failures of systems during COVID-19 shutdowns will provide new impetus to overcome some of the political obstacles to information technology infrastructure development - and may trigger countries to rethink national investments into technology development and deployment.
The real-world examples of successes and failures of systems during COVID-19 shutdowns will provide new impetus to overcome some of the political obstacles to information technology infrastructure development - and may trigger countries to rethink national investments into technology development and deployment.
Advances in information, manufacturing, and energy technologies, while promising new opportunities, are not going to bring equal benefits across the globe. One key benefit would be the ability to disperse educational and economic opportunities, reducing the need for migration to access opportunity - a trend that has led to the hollowing out of advanced industrialized nations and added to both internal and international social and political frictions. But as with any disruption of the status quo, opportunity in one area can remove chances in another. New manufacturing techniques may facilitate just-in-time manufacturing, and facilitate the onshoring of production of many products that have long been made in low-cost labor markets overseas.
For countries just beginning to move up the economic ladder, such developments could see them bypassed, just as their own populations are growing and expectations are rising.
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