Daniel Ibáñez :COVID-19, China and the New Technological Renaissance

Author: Release date:2020-04-04 21:38:12Source:+Add to My Favorites

Towards the middle of the 14th century, the black plague hit Europe: about 60% of the European population disappeared. This sad episode had two fundamental consequences for the societies of the time. For one, the abrupt decimation of so many lives led to a greater availability of economic resources for those who survived. For the other, the black plague proved the ineffectiveness of the Catholic Church as a divine intermediary. Despite the prayers and the work of the priests, people were still dying. Some of the measures taken by the Catholic authorities were even lethal for the spread of the epidemic, such as holding processions on public roads.

In the same way as in that dark episode in European history, I consider that we must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic some lessons that will serve us in the future. Unlike then, few people now go to church to ask for salvation of a person. Rather,they placed their hopes on the doctors and nurses who care for patients. They are contemporary heroes, capable if not of working miracles, at least of demonstrating fundamental humanistic qualities of solidarity and compassion. The hopes are also placed on thoseworkers who provide essential services and basic products, on thosescientists who strive to make a vaccineto end this pandemic, and on state leaders who build up structures that respond to people’s appeals by making quick and tough decisions.

Even months ago, by the start of the pandemic, the purpose of the expansion of artificial intelligence and second-generation cybernetics, which includes the study and development of self-organized beings, had not been clearly understood. However, now the border seems clearly defined:human beings are the goal of all technology. Technology can help us to remedy human vulnerability. And, in this sense, based on a preliminary examination of COVID-19 crisis management by different states,China has been one of the most efficient countries, thanks to the collectivization of resources, as compared to European or American individualistic societies.

Right in those regions—Europe and the United States—the pandemic has been spreading especially widely, due to weak political leaderships, the individualistic societal culture, and also the inefficient use of technology.Europe and the United States are still stuck in antiquated debates on the use of data on the internet. Those debates on the one hand highlight the protection of individual’s data, while on the other hand let companies there—and not the states—make use of that data, not for the common good, but for corporate interests or the victory of this or that candidate, as for example in the notorious Cambridge Analytica scandal.

This global health crisis offers us the opportunity to reflect on its causes and, as a result of this collective effort, the end of the pandemic may lead to a new period, which we may call the technological Renaissance.This new historical stage, based on a renewed view of human beings and their problems, may be oriented to:

-The use and configuration of technology centered on collective well-being.In the same way that art in the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, technology needs to focus on human beings, in order to help us reevaluate some fundamental issues, such as social interaction or our relationship with nature and environment. In this way, technology must be understood as an extension of the human beings, rather than as a form of division or individualization. As opposed to the telephone, the Internet—which is one more application for individual exchange, though within cyberspace—should be considered as a tool for the deliberative process, belonging to the public sphere and, therefore, instrumentalized in the service of the majority.

-The incentive for scientific development, at the service of basic human needs anda general improvement of living conditions.

-An interconnection between industry and scientific and technological developmentto promote greater innovation and a new conceptualization of products and services.

-Collaboration between countries and people, elimination of nationalist policiesthat, as in the case of the United States, seek isolation, andcontact with other cultural, commercial and political expressions.

-A holistic formation of individuals in values, clearly oriented towards the formation of relationships with others: respect, responsibility, empathy, ethics, to name a few.

-A deep knowledge and protection of planet earth, its beings and life forms.

- Anda joint expansion to explore other planets and places, beyond the earth, just as it happened in the European Renaissance with the discovery of America.

The crisis of COVID-19 can help us to develop amore optimistic, brighter future, characterized by new ways of seeing and appreciating the world, of perceiving life, of helping each other. And, in that sense, China can become an example of modern revival for the rest of the world, like the Italy of 15th century, thanks to the concentration of many of the characteristics described above.


The author Daniel Barrendo Ibáñez is Senior Lecturer at the Universidad del Rosario (Colombia). He is also the Coordinator of the group in Digital Communication, Social Networks and Processes of the Latin American Association of Researchers in Communication. He was a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute, Fudan University, from May to June 2019.

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