MEIG Highlights 18 décembre 2020

Highlight 5/2020 – How COVID-19 Propelled us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Olive Kinga, 18 December 2020

The ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has proven how ill-equipped our healthcare systems, economic frameworks, political structures and international organizations are, in tackling such a global crisis effectively. As we say goodbye to 2020, it is crucial to consider the long-term impact of COVID-19 by asking ourselves what kind of world we will inhabit when the pandemic ceases. With this frame of thought, we must examine how COVID-19 propelled us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution by analysing the various forces, trends and drivers that enabled us to relocate our services from the physical world, to the digital world.

As Albert Einstein noted, “In the midst of every crises, lies great opportunity”. Hence, the COVID-19 crises have given us a first-hand opportunity to experience what life could be like in the digital age. As such, the social super forces of Natural Science and Computer Science, have enabled us to gradually shift from  physical interaction to digital mediums of interaction.

The Technological mega trends like Tik-Tok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, and Twitter, have equally restructured how we interact with one another by challenging us to blur the lines between human trust and the trust in algorithm. To exemplify this point, Israeli historian and author of Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century; Yuval Harari denotes that as a consequence of being constantly bombarded with unmitigated digital information, we run the risk of losing our right to privacy through “biometric data collection” in exchange for access to the Internet of Things (IoT); which is becoming a lifeline for many business and organizations during this pandemic.

As Biometric data becomes the currency of the digital world, the drivers spearheading this revolution have become our digital gods and goddess who ensure that we buy, consume, invest and remain loyal to their services. The GAFAM family has not only made the developed world dependent on them, they have equally ensured that we follow them as they lead us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To this end, thanks to COVID-19, they have become the Dictators of the digital world.

As we enter 2021, the need to have an International Digital Governance System to quell the rise of digital dictatorships is imperative. As it stands, the leading digital governance organizations such as the Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and the Internet Telecommunications Union (ITU) are ill-equipped to overcome the exponential power of the GAFAM tech giants. Therefore, I agree with M.I. Franklin; author of Digital Dilemmas: Power, Resistance and the Internet that it is time for us to re-examine what kind of digital world we will inhabit when global decision-making by online domains are accessed and controlled by a relative few. To this end, I find that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup call for an even bigger digital pandemic that is bound to arise if we do nothing.

Olive KINGA, How COVID-19 Propelled us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, MEIG Highlight N°5/2020, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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