The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented changes to our lives and the economy. The enforced switch to virtual work, changes to our travel and consumption patterns, and bans on social gatherings have generated a seismic shift towards virtual activity. Anything that can be done virtually is now done virtually. The lockdown has us thinking about what the future will bring.
A new white paper compiled by a panel of thought leaders and co-edited by Dr. Jane Thomason and Jannah Patchay has just been released. ‘Covid and the New World Order – Actionable insights from global technology thought leaders’,is a forward-looking paper seeking to provoke ideas, discussion, and debate. It serves as a call to action to a remarkably diverse community.
“We brought together panels of global thought leaders to consider the impact of the current crisis, and built on it to produce a view of our world and its challenges, and the fresh new thinking and technologies that can enable us to build better as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Thomason, an executive director at Fintech.TV.
Outside of the Western world, a handful of cities are fast becoming important global business players. Some of their home countries are recognizing that power and seek to create a multi-polar world that isn’t so reliant on the U.S. and Europe. These are the power cities outside of the core economies of the west.
Beijing. Population 11.9 million. The political hub of China wants to become the think tank for Central Asian and South East Asian development. With the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Beijing’s proposed Silk Road Initiative, Beijing is the center of the multi-polar universe
Shanghai. Population: 14.5 million. This is China’s petri dish of capitalism. It is where the government tends to inaugurate pilot projects like free trade zones, and opening the local stock market to foreigners for the first time. When it comes to Asian economic power, Shanghai is the new Tokyo.
Hong Kong. Population: 7.2 million. The autonomous region of China has its own currency and knows how to do capitalism. Most of the world’s major investment banks are here. Hong Kong is the Asian London. Want to trade the Chinese yuan? You’ll have to have a broker in this city. Good luck finding affordable rent in Kowloon.
Moscow. Population: 11.5 million. New Moscow City rises up from the Moscow River. The towers are the tallest in Europe, symbolizing what Russia is and wants to be considered in the future: a significant world power. Since being virtually banished by the European Union in 2014 on account of Russia’s misadventures in Ukraine, Russia has moved political closer to China. This city will do what it can to help Beijing assure the U.S. and Brussels do not rule the world.
Singapore. Population: 5.3 million. The city is the hub of Asian trade. And while ports in southern China will surpass that of Singapore sooner rather than later, this city-state will remain a regional commercial powerhouse for generations to come. It is set in stone. Anyone doing business in Asia, is doing business in Singapore.
Mumbai. Population: 12 million. It is the financial hub of India and is emblematic of the growth story India is, and will be, for generations to come.
The paper covers some of the macro changes from the impact COVID-19 has had on society: health care, small and medium sized businesses, the monetary system, and governance.
Many of these changes are driven by our seemingly systematic inability to respond effectively to the crisis in government, business, and society. The paper urges a rethinking of the economic system, to rethink what we value, and to rethink how we live.
“COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of nation states and indeed the existing world order. It hasn’t brought about anything new. It exposed the weakness of the old and the weakness of all states, seeing themselves as post-industrial, walking backwards into the future, unable to seemingly affect that future and just looking at the rubble of their past.
The truth of it is we have a horrific death toll in the UK and a crashed economy,” says Lord Holmes of Richmond, sitting member of the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the U.K. Parliament.
COVID-19 has, from some perspectives, arguably precipitated the deterioration of the global governance system and supply chains and accelerated a worrying trend towards state isolationism.
We have seen the US-China political and economic divide uncomfortably exposed, and the new race for Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) has accelerated this, partly spurred by economic sovereignty concerns.
Dubai. Population: 2.1 million. A futuristic and diverse city, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has become a real estate, financial, logistics and travel mecca. It is home to one of the top 10 biggest ports in the world. Nothing in the U.S. comes close. And it succeeded in making the U.A.E. a commercial transit hub for flights connecting the U.S. and Europe with Asia.
Abu Dhabi. Population: 2.2 million. This migrant city is the capital of the U.A.E. The country is oil rich, but its diverse economy is more service than commodities. It’s attracting Hollywood’s attention (Furious 7 was filmed there) and, like Dubai, is a transit hub connecting the West to the East. A generation ago, this was desert. Sixty years ago, it was more nomadic than five star luxury.
Doha. Population: 796,000. The capital city of Qatar won’t be outdone by its rivals in the U.A.E. It’s airline Qatar Airways is one of the best in the world. It’s economy is diverse. It’s peaceful. This is how most of us would like to see the middle east. If you want to see the future of Iran and Iraq, in an ideal world, Qatar and U.A.E. are as good an example as any.
Kuala Lumpur. Population: 1.6 million. The twin towers of Petronas oil company of Maylasia are the tallest buildings in the old Asian Tigers. China growth, not U.S. growth, will keep these cities growing well into the future.
The white paper’s big message is that now is the time to be radical in our thinking about how to innovate society for the greater betterment our citizens and use to the new technologies we have at our disposal to achieve this innovation.
New technologies include the blockchain and decentralized applications, artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital assets, surveillance technology, and big data. It is a once in a generation call to create new global collaborations, driven by average citizens, to put the ‘we the people’ back at the center of society and the economy in the free world.
Mexico City. Population: 8.8 million. Mexico City enjoys a close relationship with the U.S. thanks to the old North American Free Trade Agreement. Higher cost of living in China is helping bring some offshore American manufacturing to the city. It has its problems, like most of Latin America cities in the U.S. sphere of influence. But Mexico City is no slouch. There is room to grow, and a lot of it will happen right here.
Sao Paulo. Population: 11.3 million. It’s the Death Star. Use the Force, Luke. This mega-city needs some work, but this is the heart of Brazilian finance. The new LatAm multinationals all come out of this state, and this city. Sao Paulo is close to the U.S., but has no best friends. It is all about money, and goes in the direction of its biggest customers.
Rio de Janeiro. Population: 6.3 million. In the business world, Rio is known for two things, tourism and oil. Petrobras is headquartered here. An undersea Venezuela is buried off its coast. When Shell Oil acquired BG Group in April 2015, it cited those oil fields as one of the key reasons behind the deal. Of course, there is room for error in this city. But if Rio plays her cards right, Petrobras can turn this into a high tech oil hub much like Norway did with its North Sea oil discoveries. Rio may be unruly. It may be violent. But it’s still Brazil’s “Cidade Maravilhosa” and that will never change. Rio will continue to be one of the most important cities in the Americas.
At one point, New York City was looked at by the Europeans as their Shanghai. London finance was rivaled by New York, but London didn’t fall off the map. U.S. cities will remain havens for innovation. And so long as the middle class remains strong, American cities will be the go-to market for everything from Brazilian sandals to Indian IT.
Tehran? Could it be? And why not? We saw what happened with Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha in just two generations. There are all still Muslim. The call to prayer still chimes from the hundreds of mosques spread out throughout the city. They are examples of what leaders can accomplish when their society is willing to tolerate differences. Iran…this could be you by 2050!
“The paper is a call to citizens to use their democratic rights in new ways to change the areas of the system that need to be changed. The white paper contributors have come together as individuals, none of us are speaking as representatives of institutions, agencies or lobby, and yet we’ve become influencers in this space.
“We are simply humans who have a deep belief that we must do something; that ordinary people can actually change things in this world that really need to be improved, and we want to invite everyone interested in this mission to join us,” says Thomason.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity, but it is all about potential, and not inevitability. There is a mantra going about the place in the United Kingdom that we’re all in this together. The truth of it is we’re all in this. We’re not all in this together.
“Technology is not a silver bullet but seeing that we have such phenomenal tools in our well washed hands for us to deploy, it’s on us to determine how we deploy them. To enable the citizens to look at a smart social contract and to reawaken that sleeping giant democracy, which can only work when it has us as citizens, us as humans at its back,“says Lord Holmes.
Lord Holmes is one of the UK biggest advocates of digital technologies. He sits in the UK upper chamber, the House of Lords. He is a leader in areas of citizen’s data and privacy rights in the new digital world. He has served on Select Committees on Democracy and Digital Technologies, he is co-chair of a number of cross-party groups on fintech, blockchain, and the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Dr. Alex Cahana, chief medical office at ConsenSys Health and United Nations blockchain expert in healthcare, draws attention to the increased collaboration in the health care sector brought about by the pandemic and citing, “We’ve seen unprecedented global collaboration in health care, and that’s largely from professionals. What excites me is the self-sovereign or empowered collaboration. How can we get that kind of collaboration so that we can enable that kind of data sharing and ethical approaches to predict future pandemics and use blockchain?”
Blockchain is more than a new technological infrastructure. It facilitates collaboration enabling large global communities of people to connect, independent of a central governing entity. Blockchain networks give us new ways to design and build incentive systems and we have the capacity to rapidly build and implement large-scale structures for creating incentives that align the interest of the individual with the overall beneficial outcomes for society and the planet, a human centered approach.
Pervasive inequalities, loss of trust in government, a global economic system that only rewards economic growth (and not humanity and conservation), the rise of platform economies, and surveillance capitalism, have all been amplified during the pandemic. The current global monetary system was created after the second world war at Bretton Woods. We don’t yet know what kind of global convening might take place post COVID-19, nor who will be at the table, so it is in all our interests to get our markers down.
“The pandemic has helped crystallize our collective realization that the current global economic order, and our financial markets, are not equipped to address the wider environmental and social issues that face humanity,” adds Lord Holmes.
COVID-19 has also allowed governments to implement unprecedented levels of privacy infringement, with their use of technology, facial recognition, cameras, scanning and tracking technology with little opposition or public resistance. More people globally are now conducting more transactions online, where their counterparties, location, and purchasing habits are observable to both authorities and corporates for surveillance.
The crisis is leading to an increased effort to aggregate and analyze the behaviors of individuals more generally, making financial transactions, which provide a far higher degree of assurance, both more important to this surveillance regime and more likely to be subject to surveillance.
“I think we have three major forces coming together and convening to transform life on this planet in a way that has never been done before. One of those is the technology revolution that we’re currently in. The second is the fact that we live on a heating planet, and it’s also one where if we continue to use the resources, it won’t be able to sustain life as we know it. And the third sounds a little bit more prosaic but it’s profoundly important is the economic rebalancing that is taking place in this world,” says Jeremy Wilson, chairman of the Whitechapel Thinktank.
Climate change and social justice are no longer fringe issues, they have been brought squarely to the forefront of our attention. We cannot ignore the gross injustice and unfairness created by economies and financial markets focused on and driven purely by economic growth and profit incentives. Instead of putting efficiency first, policies must ensure society’s resilience to the full range of threats, including pandemic diseases, climate volatility, and economic and financial stress.
“We created Fintech.TV as a global platform for people to engage on these burning social and environmental issues and to elevate and amplify these conversations to create much broader awareness and engagement,” says Vincent Molinari, founder and chief executive officer of Fintech.TV, “and through this visibility and education, we hope to spur innovative thinking and collaborative solutions to solve for the most complex problems facing humanity that we have taken into the 21st century.”
We are learning how to survive in a distributed way, and many are developing technology to help us. That is why humanity’s task in the 21st century, starting now in 2020 is simply to survive. If humanity is to do more than merely survive, if it is to thrive in the future, then we need to aspire to greater outcomes, to collaborate as one human race, on one planet – the only one we have – in pursuit of a better future for all.