martes, 30 de marzo de 2021

A year of hyper-accelerated digital transformation

Comparto aquí un artículo, escrito junto con Sergio García y Pilar Conesa, sobre el significado e implicaciones de la pandemia en el ámbito de la transformación digital, una especie de balance de qué ha pasado en los últimos doce meses. Puedes leerlo aquí completo, A year of hyper-accelerated digital transformation: what our cities and societies have learned, como parte de una serie de monográficos sobre diversos temas relacionados con el la Covid-19 y su impacto en las ciudades y en algunas dinámicas sociales. Dejo aquí unos extractos: 

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1. Never before have we been so aware of the need to ensure the resilience and security of the global technology infrastructure
To cope with the emergency physical distancing, we have relied on digital connectivity in all spheres — education, work, affectivity, leisure ... This dependence, however, has made us aware of the importance of security and of the robustness of connectivity infrastructures to sustain our day-to-day, which depends more and more on solutions that we take for granted — and on physical infrastructures that are not exempt from vulnerabilities. Our use of these systems can also be fragile, raising questions about how to ensure safe, accessible and reliable operation. What challenges are we facing?
  • It is time to get serious about cybersecurity. What if the next virus attacks the global internet infrastructure? The fragility we have experienced has created the expected momentum to think seriously about the security and vulnerability of technological systems at all levels – from domestic connectivity to the physical infrastructures of the global network, throughout the technical systems that support economic activity and public systems.
  • Transparency is essential in complex societies. Can we hope for greater control and accountability of technology systems? Facing the unknown has forced us to become familiar with public information flows on epidemiological data, from which we asked for clarity and transparency. Thus, we have confirmed the need to be able to trust the data and information systems that sustain our societies.
  • We can still turn the Web into a space for democratic debate. Network security also implies that we have to be able to trust this space to strengthen the deliberative capacity of our societies. During recent months, however, we have witnessed the rise of dynamics of confrontation, populism or polarization in the network and in public debate —  mostly under the amplifying effect of social media. Finding ways to make social networks and information platforms contribute to more constructive environments is one of the great democratic challenges of our time.

2. From global to local, digital transformation should not be 'the' goal, but an enabler between challenges and solutions
 
During the pandemic we have been looking for answers in technology. At first, some of the most successful countries in containing the virus seemed to rest their strategy on technological solutions and, to a greater or lesser extent, governments have sought answers in mobile applications, artificial intelligence, big data... Despite the efforts, many factors have been responsible for the fact that the available capacities of emerging technologies and the real capacity to implement them have not converged. All of this makes us wonder how to better couple digital transformation with addressing today's main challenges.
  • Flattening the curve of global warming? The world has experienced a sudden and unforeseen emergency that made it urgent to “flatten the curve” of infections. That challenge can be quickly translated into the fight against climate change — it is urgent to face an ambitious strategy to “flatten the curve” of greenhouse gases, and we know that the technological system and the economic and industrial sectors will be fundamental.
  • Accelerating the modernization of public health systems. The complex balance in the management of the pandemic has been based on public health’s workload —which has uncovered the fragilities of a crucial system under strong, intense pressures. If something has to come out stronger from this pandemic, it is the public health system, and it will be essential to harness all scientific-technological possibilities not only to make progress in terms of treatments, but also in terms of primary care, patient follow-up, health data management, telemedicine for chronic diseases...
  • It is time to rethink those global sectors that have local impacts. When will something like pre-pandemic normal return to tourism, culture or macro events? Throughout the pandemic, technology has been key to avoid a complete blackout: museums have managed to make their collections accessible from home; big conferences –such as the Smart City Expo World Congress– have been able to reinvent themselves through virtual or hybrid editions; operas and theaters went online to broaden their audiences. These are valuable lessons that were unexpected a year ago – but will survive the pandemic.
3. Towards a rights-based digital society: much debate, 'new' gaps and some progress
Today we are more aware than ever of the social effects of technology — which are interlinked with rights, accountability or the safety of our daily activities. But also with the fact that availability and access to technology are not enough, and that exploiting the potential of digitization is much more complex than simply appealing to "online education", "telework", "distance culture" or "electronic administration". All this has sharpened some of the pre-existing challenges in this long-distance race towards an inclusive and rights-based digital society.
  • The centrality of data in a digital society. The emergence of tracking apps or reports on mobility during confinement through tracking of positioning data have ended up involving the general public in the debate about data privacy and rights. And we must take it more seriously.
  • Digital inequality is not a theory. Is it enough to think in terms of access? Not really, and the digitization of much of our daily activity during the pandemic has made the elephant in the room evident. We perceived that technology adoption and internet penetration had been sustained over the past few years — yet the reality has been much more uneven, and online education is a good example of this. On the other hand, we have found that there is not a single digital inequality, but rather many manifestations of it defined by a variety of factors - rural environment, housing conditions, race, functional diversity ... - that have in common that they all segregate.
  • Managing and legislating in troubled waters. How to adapt to the speed of digital change? Before 2020 we already knew the difficulties involved making local institutional action keeping pace of changes derived from an increasingly global digital society, but the pandemic has represented the greatest episode of disruption imaginable. The regulation of issues such as teleworking, the taxation of large technology companies or gig labour has revealed an enormous complexity, and finding new balances is urgent to make progress in that regard. Meanwhile, ensuring equitable access to the internet and digital infrastructure is more important today than ever before.
4. ‘Incoming video call from Grandma’: daily life is today more digital than ever before
Getting connected was easy — doing it well was not. We have met with friends and colleagues through video chats, our grandparents have gotten used to video calls, we have bought through our mobile phones, subscribed to content platforms, carried out online procedures... It remains to ask ourselves if everything that has happened is a perfect switch and, above all, how much of our daily lives we want to substitute digitally. Meanwhile, the mass technological adoption we have experienced opens up new challenges, consequences and unforeseen effects.
  • Comfortably numb, constanly online. How much is enough in a digital life? Together, home and the digital sphere have become the absolute epicenters of our professional and learning activities and our leisure and human interactions. The border between productive time and free time is now more blurred than ever, and the idea of claiming disconnection as a right is something that we must reflect on. Otherwise, the price we might have to pay in terms of social cohesion, community fabric and collective mental health can be high.
  • E-administration: we still have a usability problem. We have witnessed fails in government websites when people have tried to apply for financial assistance, the impossibility of making a –digital– appointment to make –digital– inquiries and requests; the justice systems’ inability to adapt to the new scenario... It is now clearer than ever that the e-administration has the obligation to put the user at the center.
  • And what about life in the city – and human relations? Cinemas, theatres, bookstores, cafeterias, restaurants, offices, trade fair organizations, shops, museums… all of them have been subject to the acceleration of digitization in some way, and are exposed to the obligation to explore how to take advantage of it. Rather than thinking that everything that happened this year puts the cities we knew at risk, we must consider that it forces them to reinvent themselves.

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