Government Technology Agency (GovTech) staff demonstrate Singapore's contact-tracing smartphone app called TraceTogether, as a preventive measure against Covid-19. in Singapore on March 20, 2020. Photo: AFP / Catherine Lai

“We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis for the next world order.” – David Rockefeller

Mankind has gone through many crises during its evolution. All those crises have pushed humanity to discover new frontiers and go through new experiences.

But modern human civilization has never faced a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, which affects so many different frontiers of lives and is far beyond the control and comprehension of any single field of knowledge.

It is not only about a virus infecting people all across the world; the pandemic has also exposed the fragility of our health-care systems, institutions, governments, the UN and WHO, as well as the lack of coordination among them.

The current crisis is not about the pandemic alone but also about its far-reaching consequences on human behavior. Measures like mass quarantines, lockdowns, new laws, tracking, and surveillance of citizens will likely continue to affect our lives.

The most likely effect will be on mental health. Human beings are inherently social, not solitary, creatures. So if their social contact falls below their expectations, they begin to feel lonely, and that is stressful and depressing.

The stress of loneliness degrades mental and physical health through behavior such as self-harm, adjustment disorder, and post-traumatic stress. Post-pandemic behavior will see fewer social contacts as trust among members of the human community will hit an all-time low.

A new type of human being will emerge whose daily behavior and thinking will differ from what they were before the outbreak. They are likely to behave more rationally than emotionally.

The generation born after the pandemic will think differently from the pre-pandemic generation. Cleanliness and hygiene will become a major preoccupation and spending on health by both individuals and governments a top priority.

The current political, legal and economic systems will have to adapt to this new generation. Behavioral changes will force businesses and brands to look for new inventories and strategies to get accustomed to new realities.

Digitization trends will likely increase with the adoption of virtual media for all sorts of experiences, whether shopping, transactions, sales, or accounting.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 will leave us a complex legacy, but will this be the last of such events, or are we entering a period of “black swan” events?

A ‘black swan’ century

“Black swans” are surprising events that had been thought to have a very low probability of occurring. These events appear evident in hindsight but lie outside the path of predictions or normal human expectations.

Generally, average human brains understand events or things that are repeatable and discussible. But looking at the current situation, the term “black swan” needs redefinition, as the gap between the attributes of such events, such as a class of uncertainty and our intuitions about randomness, is widening as the world becomes more complicated and interconnected.

When we entered the 21st century, there was a lot of optimism and hope. Many people saw it as the dawn of a new era, or the start of a new world. But within two decades, the world has seen some major black-swan events such as 9/11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the global financial meltdown, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and now Covid-19.

The upcoming decades will bring a lot of uncertainties and randomness in the global order, which may increase the probability of a black-swan event. Almost every memorable technological advancement is a black swan. Subjects such as economics, epidemiology, nutrition science, quantum physics, and psychology are not linear domains like engineering, astronomy and biology.

An “outside context problem” is a sort of thing that most civilizations will encounter just once. To illustrate an outside context problem, let’s imagine an artificial intelligence that becomes aware of itself and somehow gets access to the Internet. The entire fate of humanity will be in the hands of that digi-superintelligence.

Rapid developments in AI with no regulation at present may prove to be an excellent case for such a scenario. If that digi-superintelligence has a goal and humanity just gets in the way, it will destroy humanity without any hard feelings, much as we destroy the environment for our economic development without caring about its impact on the ecosystem.

So we need constantly to question our basic assumptions about predictions for the future. We need to build a system or model that not only responds better to such events but also minimizes the impacts of shocks.

Asimov or Keynes: Who will lead the next world order?

The 20th century belonged to Keynesianism, as much of the world’s government policy decisions were based on keeping in mind John Maynard Keynes’ 1936 book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

Keynes’ theory suggested that increases in government spending, tax cuts, and monetary expansion could be used to counteract depressions and sustainable growth. Until Keynes came along, economics was decidedly supply-side, which places demand at the center of macroeconomic activity. It is buying that supposedly drives an economy forward, not producing.

But the 2008 financial meltdown led to a reality check on whether the Keynesian theory still held much relevance. Because when demand collapses across the economy, you suck a large portion of the money out of circulation, and there is less scope for value-adding activity.

We have seen that despite trillions of dollars of stimulus through quantitative easing, the world economy has hardly recovered. The trouble with Keynesian economics is that eventually, you run out of other people’s money.

By waiting until that day of reckoning, we postpone the inevitable. But in the end, the inevitable arrives. And when it does, not only does the original problem need to be solved, repairs are also needed for the Keynesian non-solutions that were attempted first.

Currently, we are seeing the death of the old model based on the monetarist experiment and emergence of a new order, as predicted by Isaac Asimov. Seven decades ago, Asimov first published ethical guidelines for robots, predicting that one day, human-like robots would work with humanity for a shared future.

During this pandemic, the world has witnessed his prediction getting true. Robots were on the front lines in the battle against Covid-19. They helped minimize human intervention at all levels, starting from patient examination to patient care and drug delivery. It is one of the key technologies that have made a huge difference on the ground.

In the post-Covid-19 world, robots are set to become our servants, companions, and co-workers. We need to deal with increasingly complex situations. This will create ethical and safety questions, which have been ignored until now, regarding trust in machines. But looking ahead from the present experience, automation will likely increase as a part of our daily lives, and an automated economy will be a new normal based upon Asimov’s principle.

Ravi Kant

Ravi Kant is a columnist and correspondent for Asia Times based in New Delhi. He mainly writes on economics, international politics and technology. He has wide experience in the financial world and some of his research and analyses have been quoted by the US Congress and Harvard University. He is also the author of the book Coronavirus: A Pandemic or Plandemic. He tweets @Rk_humour.