No, Coronavirus is Not a Black Swan! But Our Reaction to It Might be Considered as One!

By Mariana Todorova, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DG-Agora 2.0, Bulgaria

April 3, 2020

In the reports of a number of futurists, organizations, dealing with scientific forecasts, and institutions, such as the World Health Organization, scenarios for global pandemics of a virus or flu have always been presented, which under the forecast criteria — plausible, probable and possible, are classified on leading positions. Among them may be distinguished: The Millennium Project’s State of the Future reports[1], the book “Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning — Emerging Technologies and New Counter — Terror Strategies”, edited by Theodor Gordon, Elizabeth Florescu, Jerome Glenn and Yair Sharan[2], Bill Gates’s 2015 Ted Talk[3] and many others. This became of particular importance after the cases of Ebola, SARS and MERS. But humanity on a global scale is myopic to the obvious threats and usually reacts reactively, not proactively.

Decision Making During Coronavirus

Is there a true decision? The possible scenarios, which are discussed to the moment, are three[4]:

First scenario: Stronger restrictive measures, which to a maximum degree try to decrease the spread.

Second scenario: An attempt for controlled spread of the virus among less risky groups, with the purpose to create a collective immunity, which will have the role of a protective wall for the more vulnerable.

Third scenario: Non-interference and uncontrolled spread of the virus.

Undoubtedly, we may categorically reject the third, as anti-humane and overburdening the healthcare system, placing at risk the patients from all age ranges.

The big question is, could we distinguish one of the first two scenarios as more effective? At this stage it is difficult to define, because of the presence of two big unknowns: 1) We don’t know to what extent Covid-19 transmission will be seasonal; 2) We don’t know if Covid-19 infection indices long-lasting immunity[5].

Each one of these two factors may confirm the rightness or to disrupt one of the two scenarios. The seasonal character hypothesis may verify the correctness of the first scenario, the proposition for cultivating of (herd) immunity will confirm again the second scenario as working.

On the contrary, the non-presence of these factors compromises the two approaches. In scenario one, we make a priority the health and the life of the most vulnerable, but indirectly intensify the economic consequences of the crisis.

The choice of the second scenario stops the economic blockade, but allows the possibility to burden the healthcare systems and lives to be put at risk.

There is no “correct” solution to the moment, but there is a proper protocol/algorithm for action. Each one of the scenarios, undertaken as an official government strategy of a certain country, must be accompanied by a solid description of all the possible consequences and cause and effect connections, leading to them. Along with this, measures for counteraction of the aftermath of the virus must be worked up speedily. If social isolation is selected, there should be available immediately a stimulus package and liquidity support for the affected business and economic sectors of whole industries. On the contrary, if the controlled circulation of the virus is preferred, then the country must possess a list of the potentially risky sick people — with chronic deceases and above 60 years of age, an analysis of the capacity and the opportunities the healthcare system is able to cover the care for these in stages or simultaneously. Thus, we, as citizens, will be able to hold accountable the governments post factum, not for the correctness of the plans on the whole, but for their internal consistency and respected logic.

Of course, we are all equal before the Coronavirus, but we do not have equality of the opportunities. Each country is different under the Wellbeing and GDP index, people mentality, rule obedience, etc. In this sense, the call of Uval Noa Harrari in the Financial Times for global cooperation[6] is very important. Here all sorts of conspiracy ideas that these ideas are only an attempt to return globalism must be forgotten. These challenges are global and need to be solved by the support of global leadership and institutions. Unfortunately, now we observe the impossibility of the EU to prove itself as a philosophic and humanitarian construct…

Now, Coronavirus may serve as a huge lens, by which to see and observe the covert obviousness. The virus discloses the hybrid character of the world today, astraddle between the postmodernist slogan: “everything goes”, “works” and the conservative answer that we must get closed, and limit globalisation, because of the virus and not only, and built up visible and invisible barriers again. We will hear many voices, supporting both the theses, now is the opportunism time in all directions. But the truth is that we may have to construct a new concept of togetherness, parallel to the presence of super powers and national states.

Coronavirus as Propaganda

Nowadays, a lot of topics are suitable to serve certain goals. Coronavirus was a reason that the

USA and China exchanged accusations. The Guardian[7] published an article with the title: “American coronavirus: China pushes propaganda casting doubt on virus origin”. It says that diplomats, state media and officials in China encourage the idea that Covid-19 came from the USA. America claims the same holds true but for the China. Besides being a geopolitical struggle on the propaganda stage, this also demonstrates that the world, most of all, gets separated in the face of global threats. The decisions are sought on the level of “national country” and that is the reason they have a different impact.

New Definitions Needed

In any cases, the Coronavirus shakes up the definition of “super power”, because even in the USA the health system is not prepared to resist it, and thus many inequalities of a new type will emerge. These are inequalities of people not only residents in the countries, but also inequalities of access to the healthcare services in the different societies. Even the welfare states gained the sense of the goods deficit during communist times, when the food stores got queued up, and in some cases ended up with fights.

Now is the time for a new definition: What is a super power? It is a country, which is: purposeful, effective, smart, fast, transparent and smart. These are the new qualities of good leadership. Megan Penhoet[8] pointed Sweeden as a leadership that offered a caliber of pro-social, intelligent and positive messaging in the media.

Coronavirus as the New September 11th, 2001

The survival in crises on such a scale will leave a profound imprint, in particular, in the direction of limitation of more and more rights at the expense of security expansion. It will become necessary to redefine the concepts of individual freedom and sovereignty, but this may give rise to new defects in democracy and will strengthen the authoritarianism. We may expect a rise of conservatism and populism, whose representatives already declare that the refugees and the migrants as a factor will intensify the virus crisis. The need of a global council, which will play the role of a global government in the treatment of definite issues, will become more and more discernible. Here is a possible Black swan — humanity may react with joint efforts to such types of threats and fathom that in current context the local conflicts are not so significant, at all.

In the meantime, we must be again careful of what Uval Harriri warns. A number of governments will benefit by a temporary derogation of the Convention on Human Rights. This will be a covert test of the powers how far they may extend in such situations. But here, similarly to many other spheres, we must define what is allowed opportunism? We must refer the issue to the morality, and not allow the law disappear, because of a lack of updated philosophical categories.

Corona Virus as Training Situation

Coronavirus is a suitable occasion to think twice and eventually to construct an action plan in a case of a natural or caused by the climate change cataclysm, or a technological invention that will remain out of our control — from the genetic editing, to the biological weapons and the (self) emergence of general or super artificial intelligence.

“The narrow artificial intelligence” which is already achieved, is designed to address limited, single tasks. A great part of the currently functioning systems of artificial intelligence are exactly this type of it, which performs clearly defined task/s. This is a technology, which allows high functioning systems to repeat, and even surpass human skills in terms of their assigned tasks. Such are: “Watson”, “Siri”, “Cortana” and “Alexa”. They have a definite degree of intelligence in a certain field, but without the completeness, complexity and associations in judgment, of which humans are able.

The narrow artificial intelligence is on the road to disrupt future of labor and jobs, politics, economy and business, religion, media, jurisdiction, etc. It already changes and hacks institutes and phenomena, such as: “birth”, “parenthood”, “education”, “career”, “longevity” and “death” in synergy with biotechnologies. It is known that technologies develop exponentially, while we and nature linearly, and this common incompatibility becomes more and more visible.

We are not ready for the consequences only of the narrow artificial intelligence, even in one isolated sector — jobs, without debating the universal base income actively. And we can’t talk at all of preparedness in their totality and complex interaction.

The issue for the control of released from laboratory nanorobots[9], strengthened by artificial intelligence, becomes more disturbing, too. The phenomena of singularity probably are also forthcoming in forseeable horizon. “General artificial intelligence” is described as systems with understanding knowledge and cognitive abilities, which make it undistinguishable from the natural intellect, although the speed and possibilities of processing of the data is faster and with incomparable volume and capacity. Such artificial intelligence may produce systematic summaries, may judge and learn from its experience. “Super artificial intelligence” to a great degree will surplus human abilities and achievements in all the areas and fields.

Harrari warns of observation “under the skin” when the human biometrical data will be accessible for tracing by different agents — doctors, country. This, hypothetically makes vulnerable too much the person and opens Pandora’s box for multilateral impact. But we must construct immediately possible reactions and strategies for the emergence of General and Super artificial intelligence. They must be in several directions. Firstly — we must secure a protocol for action, in the case of (self) achievement of General or Super artificial intelligence by a definite super power or a country. An adequate reaction is needed, if some company achieves that. A third scenario is if the project is performed by a malicious or terrorist organization. But the global humanity must be prepared for the legitimate, but threatening the democracy usage of the technologies and the Artificial intelligence, too. This will be a struggle for human rights of a new type in search of new models for democracy.

Conspiracies, Fake News, Counterfacts

Now, we feel as strong as never before the impact of the conspiracy theories and fake news, and this is not only in the social media. Many unverified hypotheses, candid lies — such as fake news and constructed facts — counterfacts parade around the information space. We may discover all types of malign occasions — the unfair competition, tolerating one drug at the expense of another, pseudo-experts, who are thirsty for fame, opportunists, seeking disloyal ways for new possibilities.

Now, more than ever, we are witnesses of construed facts — counterfacts, which impact more strongly the reality than the true facts. We are talking about medicines for treatment of Coronavirus, mathematical models, forecasts. Along with the number of the true authorities, many suspicious experts sneak up. The technologies intensify this phenomenon, but they have the capacity to limit it, too. It is possible to follow such content, although it generates traffic. It is also possible to switch of algorithms which profile a man individual for his/her product or political preferences and to ban the collection of big data, again with prediction purpose.

Coronavirus hysteria is a good reason for that.

The Cultivation of Self-consciousness and Solidarity against Consumerism, Hedonism and Socialisation Culture

Some time ago, the terrorism threat began violently to deprive us of part of our freedoms at the expense of security, and now we voluntarily, by way of free will and choice, may have to temporarily self-limit our freedom to maintain the security of the vulnerable people exposed to risk.

If we may at all distinguish something “good” in the whole situation is, that the Coronavirus secures not only a lens, but a very precise mirror. The younger generations — millennials, zeta, must react to the culture of hedonism and egocentrism in new ways so they do not turn into selfish age discriminators.

For a short time, concepts, will be blown out and reconsidered such as: “social life”, “travelling”, “entertainment industry”. Some will be continuously digitalised and virtualized such as — trips, museums, experiences.

Others, however, demonstrate they have reached their own limitations and show the need of re-humanization, such as the communication (not the business one, but the purely human), it cannot be comprehensively compensated by the social media and the digital platforms.

Experimental Filed for Other Coming Issues

Humanity, and in particular, the active and modern part of society, will be convinced, in a painful way, that a business trip by plane, a participation in a scientific forum or a long weekend may be sacrificed at a higher price. Many economies will probably crash, new obstacles will emerge.

A number of green plans and climate change agreements were announced killers for economies and businesses. But Coronavirus demonstrates that this is a price paid for the sake of life and that we urgently need a new economic model, that may adequately meet the cataclysms of a such nature.

And this, in a natural way, will get us closer to the ideas of the climate activist Greta Thunberg, although some of them are extreme and beyond the allowed limits. She claims that in the moment we meet the biggest existential threat and that is why we must limit the\ carbon-dioxide emissions. She called for governments, banks and firms to stop investing and subsidizing fossil, fuels, such as oil, coal and gas. Greta recommends four simple steps[10] to combat climate change: 1)“fly less or not at all; 2) cut down on meat consumption or go vegan; 3) join an activist movement; 4) vote. Some of the recommendations are naive, because they require a more complex approach, but they are a good beginning. The others demonstrate the true key — strengthening of the civil activism and participation in the political decisions.

There is no need to go into the debate now of the reasons the climate changes are due to — whether to the greenhouse emissions or a new cosmic cycle, in which the Earth travelling through the Universe, enters. We must and may control only the things we are responsible for. We may deny wasteful consumerism, while Coronavirus is a proof of that following its cruel logic. Now, we have the chance of reaching the next level — a new level of collective consciousness.

Technologies will demonstrate that they may properly save us from ourselves — constructing a digital twin of our reality, which may not be contaminated with human viruses. And this is alright. But later, we must again return to ourselves, with a modified consciousness and experienced catharsis.

This article was authored by Mariana Todorova, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DG-Agora 2.0, Bulgaria