COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure – what that means for governance

laptop covid

(Gabriel Benois, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kimmy Bettinger


  • Emerging technologies are propping up our daily lives under lockdown.
  • Such tools must be considered as essential infrastructure, revealing opportunities for governance.

Under COVID-19, emerging technologies are propping up our daily lives. Connected devices enable both education and remote work. Chatbots provide life-saving information and relieve overwhelmed health systems. Location data applications track and map the spread of the virus for health workers and researchers.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us that emerging technologies like the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are not just tools, they are essential to the functioning of our society and economy. Particularly in this time of instability, we need to think of them as critical infrastructure.

Our ability to be adaptive, human-centred and inclusive in the way we develop policy and protocols for emerging technologies has never been more essential. The continued security and resilience of our society depends on it.

If, in response to this pandemic, we can match technology with the appropriate institutions, standards and norms, we will emerge stronger than before.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

Here’s a set of links for deeper reading, highlighting our dependence on emerging technologies during this crisis. Each story demonstrates the need for agile governance, to maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks of this new critical infrastructure:

  • Connectivity is a requisite for telework, but more than 21 million people in America lack advanced broadband internet access. Most of them tend to live in rural areas. Emerging technologies have the potential to be a great equalizer, but without the right governance in place they could intensify the digital divide. (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • The use of videoconferencing for children’s education exploded over the last month as lockdowns forced schools to go remote. But these platforms can sometimes highlight critical privacy and security flaws. Such tools underscore the need for a global baseline consensus on security to help users to understand the risks posed by each device and network. (Fast Company)
  • Many companies and organizations are deploying chatbots to provide COVID-19 information and even help the public better understand their symptoms. Though these tools can ease the strain on health systems, they vary in their effectiveness. Inconsistent responses could erode public trust in this developing communication tool. (Agenda)
  • Estonia may be the nation best prepared for the consequences of the pandemic, both economically and socially. The country already treats technology like critical infrastructure and could serve as an example for others to follow. (The New Yorker)
COVID-19 World Economic Forum, Strategic Intelligence Platform
The World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence Platform helps put the COVID-19 into context.
Image: World Economic Forum, Strategic Intelligence Platform

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to COVID-19, Global Health and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

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