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  • Foto van schrijverKristian Esser

Corona, The Game

A pandemic has projected us into the future at a glance. Much of what we have done in recent decades has become Global. What we eat, where we travel, money, news, the clothes we wear, everything is developed from a global perspective. It also includes planetary problems, such as the climate and finally, indeed, health. Humanity has more than doubled in the last 60 years, the cities have become metropolises, for years we have tolerated that “more” and not “better” is proof of success. And as often happens, something has to break to realize we can’t continue this way. A virus has crashed the machine. But what broke?

Mobility What is undoubtedly most visible about this crisis is the slowdown in mobility. Whether imposed or not, we may and must limit contact with others. Travel has also been restricted to what is necessary.

Personal contact The ability to physically meet is minimal. It is no longer allowed to hold one another, and what a physiological need for human functioning has suddenly become im- possible.

Work We no longer go to the office but have to work remotely. The social aspect of work has also become obsolete, and we still have to get used to remote work.

Health The virus is undoubtedly deadly and contagious, the side effects are severe. Trust between people is undermined, and the healthcare system is being put to the test. Economy Businesses have come to a standstill, and world trade is suffering tremendously. The trade flows are no longer sufficient to meet growth expectations.

We have entered the most significant social experiment since the end of World War II. For the first time in our history, we can measure the consequences of such a massive phenomenon. Not a data model (a digital twin), but the real world has become a laboratory. And in this situation, we even can include the sentiment people have. What do we think about it? How does it feel?

Whether it’s recovery or change we have to face after Corona, almost all thoughts enhance the use of technology. It is probably the best tool we have at our disposal to measure what is happening in the world. It is as if the past 20 years have been necessary to prepare for this. But now that the time has come, we are also faced with a difficult decision. Are we going to accept what technology can do for us, under any conditions?

Complexity The realization that the world has become too complicated is getting to us. We are no longer able to understand what is happening and why. This pandemic is an example, it’s an explosion of uncontrolled complexity. The problem is new, and it takes time to figure out a solution, but at the same time, time is our enemy. But we do have a time machine, we just don’t know how to use it properly yet. That time machine is called technology. Artificial Intelligence, coupled with as much data from our society as possible, could calculate scenarios that outsmart the virus and allow the pandemic to subside in a controlled manner.

In this fight with the virus, whoever is first to beat the other has won. Technology is a time accelerator and could offer the chance to defeat the virus.

It’s not about privacy, it’s about autonomy Now that technology is a possible solution, the public de- bate about protecting our privacy starts. That’s because we are the data suppliers for Artificial Intelligence to calculate answers. The fears about a surveillance society immediately emerge. Fueled by images from China and Korea, we find it hard to accept that our collective behavior can be used for good. We want to do it, but then it must be anonymous, and governments and companies may not be allowed to keep the data. We want guarantees that this will not happen.

But I think privacy is only the outer shell of a much more complicated story. It is about the wish to keep our autonomy versus the chance to become part of a technological system.

Time Our biological time is out of sync with technological time. Every decision that moves away from our ‘biological’ time also takes away our autonomy. The choice to use a car speeds up our life, at the same time, we do organize our life by including its speed in our considerations. We might come up with agreements on the value to attribute to technological time. Speed by design?

Do you notice that we are doing our very best to develop technology that is increasingly similar to ourselves? The last edition of Brave New World hosted Bina48, a “humanoid” who learns to be “human”. The Replika application is a chatbot that determines how you are, fed by your chats, and then becomes a copy of yourself. In some cases, technology is already part of ourselves. Take as an example the implanted antenna in Neil Harbisson’s brain. That antenna helps him to recognise colours by converting them into sound signals. Neil is colour blind. We have a ‘relationship’ with technology. And just like in any relationship, we need to make suitable arrangements to maintain it. And here comes ‘time’ into play. It is the key to those agreements.

Has chess become pointless when a computer could always beat us?

Is avoiding a deadly danger useful when a computer can detect it faster than we do?

These are two questions about time, suggesting that we can link different values to it. But it’s not the first time though, in Greek mythology, we already know Chronos and Kairos, which stand for empirical time and “the right time.” However you look at it, technology accelerates time. Yuval Noah Harari describes in his book Sapiens that we were in sync with our biological time when we were hunters. Then we started accelerating it. We have now entered a complex system and are increasingly distant from biological time. Yes, we do have to sleep, but a large part of our behavior is no longer determined by nature.

We have to sync times.

But why Corona the Game? There are two scenarios: We go back to a simple model where the economy is not focused on growth, or we evolve to a smarter model where balance is the mantra. I estimate the chance for the first scenario quite small. In general, it would be perceived as degradation, even if I have to say that caring for the climate and health is hopeful to change this perception. In the second scenario, I see opportunities. As said before, we live in a complex world where technology is needed to understand that complexity. Then let’s get technology to help us with balance. Gamers have a special relationship with technology. It’s a group of people used to connecting remotely with like-minded people through technology platforms. With these “friends,” whom they have never seen in real life because of their physical distance, they discussed strategies, developed skills, built relationships, all to achieve the same goal. Win the game.

Now in gaming, competition is important but less interesting than the dynamics that arise in the digital environment. In addition to connecting the gamers, this environment provides a “digital twin” designed on an imaginary reality. A system.

Now consider a similar system, but “for good.” This system can be a copy of an existing one. A system that no longer works properly, connected by rules that no longer work with the new goals that have been set. On that system, we can play the game, the game that can convert the old system into a new one, which is in balance.

Game ON. This article is also featured in the book "Brave New Human" published by Bot Uitgevers Brave New World's official publisher.


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