Senior researcher and Director of IPS Projects of the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development (CLACDS) of INCAE Business School, and expert in methodology of The Social Progress Imperative, where he participates in the design and implementation of sub-projects ...
Innovation in the pandemic: the other exponentiality
April 30, 2020. At the time of writing this text there are 3,139,415 people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 in the world; and 218,564 deaths in total, according to data from the Coronavirus Resource Center of the Johns Hopkins University. In the region we have 190,003 cases, distributed mainly between Brazil with 71 thousand, Peru with 31 thousand, Ecuador 24 thousand and Mexico with 16 thousand. There are 9,871 deaths in total; of which 5 are from Brazil, Mexico has 1,500, Ecuador and Peru about 900 each.
Most countries continue their efforts to flatten the contagion curve and avoid the collapse of health systems; for this they have applied measures such as border closures, closure of public places, prohibition of mass meetings, quarantines and social distancing measures, restrictions on economic activities (shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, etc.), teleworking modalities, suspension of face-to-face classes in the schools and colleges, among others. And some are also already preparing their strategies to gradually start the economic and social reactivation coexisting with the virus until you have a cure or vaccine.
But beyond the actions that come from the government, there have also been initiatives from the private sector and citizens that have come to add and improve the response of countries and cities to this global crisis. Many of these initiatives have a technological component and have made a difference in the control of the pandemic, as in South Korea, a country that today announces its first day with no new cases for the first time in more than two months, despite having 10,765 confirmed cases and 247 deaths. In this country mobile applications to diagnose, telecommunication solutions to track cases, innovation in the development of kits for testing, and other technologies have been part of the success in controlling COVID-19.
And it is that although the exponential term in recent days has been more related to the trend of virus growth. We must not forget that the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution present increasing marginal returns; In other words, they also have this exponential behavior, which has allowed them that at the end of 2020, more people in the world will have a cell phone than access to electricity or sanitary facilities. But this exponentiality has also meant an increase in the power, capacity and lower price of the new technologies, allowing that today practically everything can be made visible, social and measurable.
This capacity and scope of exponential technologies or the fourth industrial revolution have been present in initiatives, products and trends around the world to face the pandemic and its impacts. The variants of technological response to COVID-19 have been many and diverse, such as:
- Real-time information and open data
- Digitization and socialization of the plans for build respirators
- 3D printing of masks
- Applications of epidemiological tracing y symptom monitoring
- Platforms online teaching
- Biotechnology to do rapid tests
- Artificial intelligence to identify and treat possible infected
- Intensive use of social media to share sanitary and economic measures
- Dynamics of teleworking
- Digital government and digital procedures
- Robots and drones that clean and disinfect
The development of these technological solutions have not been centralized in a single country or region, they have emerged in Europe, Asia, or America; have been created by large companies such as Google or Apple, but also startups, technological citizen movements such as makers, study centers or universities. These responses are an example that having digital skills in the population, having rules of the game or flexible regulatory frameworks, and facilitating collaborative, multisectoral and multidisciplinary work are necessary conditions to generate a resilient society capable of responding in periods of crisis.
In the Latin American region we have not lagged behind in terms of technological solutions and initiatives, but we certainly have less technological and institutional conditions to be able to have the volume of solutions and impact that these interventions have had in other regions, there is a digital divide to be closed and a digital economy that has yet to take off. If we look at the data from the Global Competitiveness Index 2019, specifically the pillars of adoption of information technologies, innovation capacity and skills in the population, the region has mixed results, Uruguay ranks 14th worldwide in technology adoption, followed by Chile and Costa Rica but occupying 56th and 63rd places respectively, among the 141 countries measured by the World Economic Forum. In innovation capacity, the best positioned is Brazil in 40th place, followed by Mexico in 52nd and Chile in 53rd. And in population skills the best is Argentina in 31st place, Chile in 47th and Costa Rica in 51. (See figure 1).
Source: Global Competitiveness Index 2019, WEF.
Looking at the conditions in the region and the global risks we are facing, expectations cannot be very optimistic; above all because the leaders of the region they still do not update their speeches, their diagnoses and their policies. The problems of the 19st century continue to be discussed as if we were still in the dynamics of the last century. But as we have seen, the technology of the fourth industrial revolution goes beyond the technological or industrial sectors and becomes tools of social resilience to face global crises such as this pandemic; and they will undoubtedly be decisive in raising the new normal in the post-COVID-XNUMX world.
As Prof. Schwab says, the fourth industrial revolution can compromise and denigrate the fundamentals of humanity, understand work, community, family and identity; or it can elevate humanity to a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. Today that shared destiny is a global crisis in which we are all exposed but in which exponential technology helps us in this fight against COVID-19.