Strawberries. Simple enough for farmers to grow, but can they do better? That is a question that a smart Agriculture Competition in China attempted to answer. Four technology teams competed with farmers over four months to grow strawberries. This Article by Victoria Masterson describes what happened next: data scientists produced 196% more strawberries by weight on average compared with traditional farmers. It is not surprising, given that vertical farming using intelligent sensors and AI have shown the possibilities. As we witness this rapid pace of innovation, we see the potential for human development (in this case food abundance), but also the likely unintended consequences. These Two Paths have historical precedent, as every great period of invention has followed both paths. After all, fire provided light, warmth, and food, but also burned down villages.
That makes global governance an absolute necessity, yet a gaping hole. A recent report on Global Technology Governance via the World Economic forum explores both the governance gaps and a governance framework for managing a period of great invention. The pandemic makes the need more acute. From the report:
Efforts to recover from COVID-19 have triggered a tsunami of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery – and shifted many customer behaviors, habits and expectations. Several of the emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – for instance, artificial intelligence (AI), mobility (including autonomous vehicles), blockchain, drones and the internet of things (IoT) – have been at the center of these innovations and are likely to play a dominant role in what emerges post-pandemic. These technologies power applications that are themselves revolutionary, creating a self-reinforcing cycle that spins like a flywheel, surging on its own momentum.
There are so many examples of COVID-19 accelerating innovation. A powerful example is reflected in this visual. Ten years of ecommerce growth in three months – an amazing story of innovation speed and adoption that is playing out across multiple domains. This one example alters the path of multiple industries. As the underlying technologies accelerate, they help address pandemic-related challenges. The governance report provides examples.
AI and data analytics have helped Taiwan predict the risk of infection. China has used drones and robots to minimize human contact. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using blockchain to provide seamless digital services to its citizens, and the United States is using autonomous vehicles to deliver test samples to processing labs. Many countries are employing mobile apps as sensors for contact tracing.
In the post-pandemic period, that which was inevitable accelerates. With this acceleration comes the increased challenge of governance. Take a look at the report to explore one of our biggest challenges this decade.