Democracy and the Virus: Reflections from our CEO

The Athens Democracy Forum asked some of their speakers for their thoughts on how the current crisis is impacting democracy, and the lessons to be learned. Our CEO, Diana Paredes, shared her thoughts.

How are the various governmental responses to the coronavirus impacting democracy in the short and long term?

The scale and speed of the coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented in modern times. Looking at China and Italy, two of the countries most impacted by Covid-19 so far, we see that despite their different approaches to enforcing isolation, they have ended up in starkly similar positions. Across the world, as the number of people and of time spent in isolation increases, the reliance on the use of technology and the internet also surges. Technology is a fundamental building block for democracy. Despite the short-term setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, in the long term we are likely to see an uplift in democracy as we see new levels of technology investment and adoption. Technology’s power to democratize the flow of information transparently, quickly and efficiently is immense. Covid-19 may take its toll on the economy and democracy as we know it today, however it will also be viewed as a catalyst for a historic upsurge in the rate of technology adoption that will set a precedent for the future.

Is there a place for deliberative democracy in times of crisis, or is it simply too much of a luxury?

One of the basic requirements for democratic decision-making is information. Accurate and timely data that is shared effectively can be used as a tool to makepositive change, and I believe that this crisis is no different. To support deliberative democracy, you need an effective transfer of knowledge and information to allow people to make authentic decisions. As we have already seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to make society react to the isolation measures without a degree of nudging and adequate information. As governments are catching up with the pandemic and more information becomes available, many countries are organically realizing and reacting to the threats faced without the need for force. It is the role of governments around the world to ensure that people are aware of the dangers posed by Covid-19 so that they can respond accordingly. Technology provides the infrastructure for this flow of information and determines its accessibility; therefore, governments must use and invest in technology to enhance this communication.

What role can and should big tech play in helping “flatten the curve”? Are there any risks inherent in this approach?

Technology companies own or have access to vast quantities of data. Using technology such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, this data can be processed quickly and provided to governments at a time when quick decisions and reactionary measures are needed to fight the spread of the virus. With trust as a significant issue for large tech companies, the pandemic provides the technology community with an opportunity to work together and prove its ability to create positive solutions to the current and future problems caused by Covid-19.We are already seeing some governments opening their arms to technologists and innovators to help fight the crisis, and this will likely continue. In the UK, there are various government-backed funds emerging to invest in new technology that will help solve Covid-19-related problems. These measures provide entrepreneurs and technologists with freedom and an incentive to innovate. In these unprecedented times, it is crucial we encourage innovation to enable positive change. While there is no denying the great sadness that will emerge from the pandemic, there is also an opportunity for big tech to come together to make constructive changes. There are always risks in deploying new technology, however if managedand used appropriately these can be mitigated and the potential of technology as a force for good will be realized.

The full article can be found here