A corollary of Buckminster Fuller’s Knowledge Doubling Curve states that the knowledge created since 1900 exceeds the sum total of knowledge created by mankind since the start of recorded history. The pace at which new knowledge is created, and applied towards the development of technologies, is exhaustive and exceedingly hard to track even by ardent practitioners of a knowledge sub-domain. Access to knowledge itself has also increased in quantity as well as rapidity, enabling various stakeholders to utilize the emerging technologies according to their respective motives. For example, commercial entities in an interest to gain an edge over their competition, apply the latest knowledge to augment their technologies, grow in reputation, and gain market share. Similarly, many other non-state actors besides commercial entities seek to use emerging technologies to increase their reach, influence, and hence power. The infusion of new technologies, at such a rapid pace and in such wide variety, brings about several consequences on the state of society, economy, and hence governance. These consequences, to name a few in a manner in which they may be easily recalled for the sake of discussion, include impact on:
- Economic security
- Social security
- Electronic security (including cyber / info security)
- Bio security
Taking these aspects one-by-one, emerging technologies have a significant bearing on the economic security. In today’s world, economic health (and power) is directly related to the state of innovation. Where emerging technologies are being continually produced, the competitiveness and growth of an entity i.e., a company, a conglomerate, and ultimately a society or nation is ensured. The converse is also true – where stagnation has taken root, the ultimate price is economic downfall and its concomitant effects of social strife and social disintegration. Due to the pace of technological development, the phenomenon of technological obsolescence has taken root where technologies are rendered obsolete within a short time of being introduced. In some cases, this is a natural consequence and in some cases this is deliberate in order to maintain a competitive edge. Therefore, a critical angle from the governance perspective is how to look at emerging technologies from the lens of economic security, conduct a sector-wise analysis to ascertain level of technological sophistication and productivity, establish a dialogue with stakeholders, and create policies to gain edge.
The second aspect, and perhaps the most critical one from the perspective of governance, is the impact of emerging technologies on social security. The effects on social security include impact on job security due to automation and digitization, managing labor market shifts, managing inequality in society due to the difference in skill levels for utilization of emerging technologies, and ensuring regulatory order as well as transparency and accountability. Besides the above, emerging technologies also affect human ethics and deeply held values, which will be addressed subsequently. Various non-state actors will continue to inject emerging technologies in their processes, and the aforementioned impacts will occur in society at a pace which could be prohibitive for proactive management. Traditional governance structures and policy-making processes would certainly not be able to cater to the regulate-implement-account process and therefore more agile processes would have to be developed.
The third aspect of electronic security, which includes cyber security and information security as a subset, is an aspect which captivates public imagination and ingrains a fear for a total shutdown of modern life as we know it. As governance and other day-to-day processes become increasingly electronic in nature, the threat of electronic warfare by violent non-state actors within national boundaries as well as hostile states across national boundaries requires elaborate countermeasures and development of redundancies at the technical as well as social level. In order to prevent harm to national electronic infrastructure, industry, data breaches and unauthorized access to sensitive info, as well as color revolutions and fifth generation warfare emanating from traditional media and social media domain, a multi-step management and counter strategy would have to be developed and applied as a science.
The fourth aspect of Bio security best described as protection against biological or biochemical substances poses gravest and greatest challenges in terms of governance and control. Emerging technologies have enabled humans to manipulate the future to the best of his interests while putting humanity on mercy of nature and on human’s choices. Biological or biochemical substances if ignored at early stages can turn into a pandemic within a matter of days which causes huge distress to not only the healthcare systems of a country but also crashes its economy. SARS outbreak of 2003 to ongoing Corona Virus outbreak originating from Wuhan China has paralyzed not only the developed countries like USA, Italy, France, Singapore but also the developing countries like Pakistan, India and Iran. It has wrapped around the entire world like a wildfire in a matter of months with the spread on constant rise exposing the world to the complexities and challenges of bio security. Biological threats like these have the potential to not only cause millions of causalities and create political and economic instability, but can cost billions in losses.
The risk of a catastrophic biological event can be magnified by negligence of the masses, global travel, urbanization, inexperience and insufficient resources to tackle such situations. While travel bans and excessive precautionary measures can help minimize the risk of spreading but proactive measures and awareness on the underline threat and gravity of the situation amongst masses is vital and is possibly one of the biggest governance challenges. In a pandemic even the world’s best healthcare systems with advanced technologies fail to provide quick solutions in the hour of need as seen in Italy where hospitals worked on maximum capacity and the system was forced to make a call for who to save and who to let die. For developing countries like Pakistan where 24% of the population lives below the poverty line with a literacy rate of 65%, a country barely managing the needs of its people with extremely limited resources surviving through a pandemic one of the worst challenges.
In the absence of rapid responses to the outbreak in place, the systems and economies face threats to collapse in the matter of days. To fight such global pandemics where risk of spread and mortalities is high, nations need to take strict actions to minimize the causalities and economic losses. In order to deal with bio security issues a futuristic thought process would have to be adopted from the very beginning.
Learning from China, in case of a pandemic quick and aggressive measures on a national level can be taken to contain the viral spread while introducing strategies to boost immunity of the masses for better recovery. A regular assessment of Healthcare systems / facilities should be a must for preparedness in case of any pandemic. Research institutions be funded more to study potential biosecurity threats and have a better understanding of the havoc causing pathogens, to come up with a rational plan well in time not only for the containment and prevention but also the treatments / cures to fight of the biological threats. Strict regulatory strategies should be imposed to monitor and prevent businesses and mafia from taking advantage of the global crisis.
Humanity is not prepared to take control yet and is posed to human rights, ethical, and moral dilemmas attached to deeply held values. Genetic engineering and man-made interventions to natural systems, vaccine development and advancements in biotechnologies may provide answers to the underline biological threats and nations are spending billions of dollars in R&Ds. With the technological advancements in biological systems, mutations / evolution of species over time, the possibility of emerging biotechnologies creating ethical and governance dilemmas are quite real and early intervention through comprehensive dialogue on action plan and its implementation at the earliest is a must.
In conclusion, an agile mechanism is required for governments’ to proactively assess the impact of every new technology on society and prepare their policies and measures accordingly even before the technologies reach their nation’s borders. The role of scientific leaders and topical experts is crucial here, as their assessment in view of any disruptive technology can secure the nation.
- Dr. Mohammad Ali Mohammad is the Director Research at NUST and can be reached at email@example.com
- Ms. Fabiha Aziz is Assistant Director (Publications) at NUST and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org