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It Will Come Down to Critical Thinking and Preparation

Marconi Society Coronavirus and Our Connected World

By Vint Cerf

2020 will go down in history as a time when “sufficient” and “necessary” became confused. The extreme response in China ultimately had the desired effect of reducing new cases of COVID-19. In the US, the response was far less crisp and now runs the risk of being “necessary” but “not sufficient,” leading to massive economic side-effects while possibly overwhelming our health care system. Shutting down the economy has extremely disparate impact on various parts of the US population with those in the lower economic strata far less able to weather the effects.

For people who can work at home, the effects may be disruptive but not necessarily unsurvivable. For many others, this is not going to be the case. Information and communications technologies have created a remarkable ability to connect, inform, work remotely and innovate in online environments. While these capabilities benefit the world in a wide range of ways, it is vital to recognize that their benefits are not distributed equally. For those with no access or inadequate access to the Internet, working at home (or schooling at home) is much harder or impossible. Even when digital inclusion becomes a reality, there is much work that simply cannot be accomplished online and means to achieve economic continuity and to assure essential services must be found while protecting the health and economic condition of those upon whom we depend. Priority for the protection of these essential workers must be an important consideration, as should be the support for those unable to work in consequence of shutdowns. One cannot overestimate the importance of access to scientific and medical information in times of crisis.

The potential for misinformation and disinformation to pollute public thinking is equally of great concern. Helping people find good quality advice and accurate information should be high on everyone’s agenda. Of course, this burden falls on the full range of media (television, radio, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc) and underscores the need for accountability for this content. It should be everyone’s business to weed out misrepresentation by not spreading rumor, unconfirmed guesses and deliberate disinformation. Critical thinking is called for by all parties: consumers and well as producers of information.

While I am reasonably confident that we will survive this crisis, I hope we will take into account the most important lesson: preparation and foresight. We owe it to ourselves but also others sharing the planet to protect against a future pandemic. There is no question in my mind that another will come and we must be more ready for the next than we have been to this one.