Tech Policy, Politics and Power in the Era of COVID-19
We are at least four months into an unparalleled global crisis. And yet, instead of industry collaboration and federal cooperation, the world seems to be lurching from one month to the next with very little sense of a unified plan. Some countries have responded well – namely South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand. Some countries have not. For the first time in a long time, there isn’t a global leader spearheading a global response to a crisis. It’s every country for itself (in some places, every state or region). So, who is filling this leadership void?
Forbes argues it’s female leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, who are paving the way for some of the world’s best responses to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. STAT News notes that Singapore could teach the U.S. a thing or two. And Silicon Valley – in typical Silicon Valley fashion – believes its big tech leaders (think Bill Gates, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Marc Benioff and many others), and the technology behind big tech, will be at the forefront of the global economic reopening and the large scale eradication of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than ever before, the lines between tech leadership and national leadership have been blurred. Over the last few decades, the Tech Industry has become one of the most powerful entities in the world. But COVID-19 is testing whether that power can be applied to global leadership in a crisis. Companies like Facebook and Twitter are setting a new global standard when it comes to remote work, with both companies recently announcing plans to keep their workforces largely remote for several years to come (and in Twitter’s case, ‘forever’). Tech giants like Apple and Google and Twilio are developing and releasing new coronavirus contact tracing software, enabling state and local authorities to trace and mitigate the spread of coronavirus in major metropolitan areas. Data moguls like Splunk are developing solutions that allow organizations to innovate with and optimize the information they have on hand. And more individuals, providers and physicians are turning to telehealth platforms, like Zocdoc, to monitor symptoms and optimize healthcare services remotely than ever before.
But is tech leadership really making a difference? Can we say it has made the response better, particularly in the United States? Amazon warehouse workers are dying because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Ransomware attacks on global healthcare organizations are through the roof. And, lest we not forget about the one and only, Elon Musk is threatening to take Tesla out of California. Some tech leaders have been arguing for years that they could successfully fill the void of federal leadership. But, COVID may prove that there is simply no replacement for old-fashioned government during a public health emergency.
Every assertion is precarious these days, but it does appear like the tech industry is doing some good in the eyes of the public. Facebook recently pledged $100 million in grants to small businesses, Amazon contributed $100 million to Feeding America’s Covid-19 Response Fund, and Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey pledged to donate $1 billion to relief programs related to the coronavirus. Could it be that the techlash tide of the last decade is now turning?
COVID-19 has made the shortcomings of our society painfully obvious. None of our leaders – whether it be in government or tech – have been able to lead effectively on their own. The solution to remediating this crippling public health crisis is for everyone to work together. . he tech industry needs to connect, collaborate and empathize — instead of simply falling back on its machines and coding capabilities. . Big Tech has far too much power to bury its head in the sand and focus simply on business outcomes.
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