The highlight of day-1 at the Startup Village Livestream’20 conference was a visionary session devoted to a model of the world after the pandemic and to technologies that will be needed in our current world.
The host of the session, the head of the Moscow School of Management Andrey Sharonov, began by stating that history is no stranger to catastrophic pandemics and during each of these there were tectonic shifts within society. But before philosophical questions were raised, the host addressed an entirely pragmatic question to the aid to the president of the Russian Federation Maxim Oreshkin. In the opinion of the former head of the Ministry of the Economy, what is more critical? To give money to the needy categories of the population or support this proposal by instead supplying money to small and medium-sized businesses?
Maxim Oreshkin believes that the right balance is necessary. “Why was a decision made by the president on the support of families with kids?” the aid to the president asks. “Because that is often the most vulnerable group and after two months of heavy restrictions it is a very necessary measure and supports demand at the most crucial moment.”
However, in talking about a balance in supporting supply and demand, M. Oreshkin notes that the situation in Russia differs greatly to the situation in Europe. “Europe entered this crisis with a zero percent interest rate. In this situation, you can only provide support through the budgetary channel. Interest rates in Russia are far higher than in many developed countries; but, for example, a 1% reduction in the interest rate is half a percent of positive GDP growth for borrowers. This channel is working; we see that the central bank made a decision to lower the interest rate, and is signalling that the interest rate will be lowered even further. This is about both supply and demand; but from the supply side it isn’t just budgetary policy, but also monetary policy,” he said.
Viktor Vekselberg: I think that there will be a shift in the discussion on personal data. Photo: Sk.ru
The floor was then given to the chairman of the board of directors of the Skolkovo Foundation Viktor Vekselberg, who noted that it is necessary to understand what a post-pandemic world will be like before discussing technologies that will be in demand after Covid-19.
Viktor Vekselberg is certain that the world will change, and it is very important to understand what these changes will be. He disagrees with the opinion that this is another crisis; it’s more similar to a wartime scenario. Humanity is fighting a common enemy and there is already a tangible number of victims in this struggle. “And, most importantly, we have a paradoxical disparity between the economic and material consequences that will occur and the seemingly far from obvious human casualties that we are dealing with today,” the chairman of the Foundation said. The question that is continually asked is: how justified is the economic cost that countries are paying to combat the pandemic?
Practically all countries, with the exception of Sweden and Belarus, are taking unprecedented steps to battle the consequences of the pandemic. Why is this happening? “To me this appears to be a consequence of our civilization living in peace for 75 years, although local conflicts do break out periodically,” says Viktor Vekselberg. “A peaceful space was created that predetermined a different significance to human life and the values of a particular way of life. You could say that the human has gained a completely new socio-economic significance and that today is the most crucial and fundamental issue. We certainly stand therefore on the threshold of rethinking and reevaluating the human as such, like a system-forming element of our entire space. Countries are ready to take any steps just to prevent the loss of life.”
According to Viktor Vekselberg’s reflections, that is why we should try to understand the possible social changes in peoples’ lifestyles before evaluating the paths of technological development.
If everyone turns to technologies, there are two areas that will get a boost in development as a consequence of the crisis. The first area is for technologies that are tied to medicine: searches for vaccines, medicines, tests, telemedicine, etc. Until now, technologies in this area such as artificial intelligence and mathematical modelling have been applied very modestly. That is why, according to Viktor Vekselberg, the search for a modern vaccine and medicines is so stalled. He is certain that AI will develop exceptionally in this area.
The second direction is tied to digital technologies, which came into serious demand because of the necessity to work remotely. Take the company, Zoom, which nobody knew about until recently; it has taken a giant leap over the last two months. That is an example of super-fast but harmonious growth, which would have happened sooner or later. The same category includes technologies for creating remote jobs, long-distance learning, and a variety of video surveillance systems and telemedicine.
“This whole complex of technological initiatives and projects will develop at very quick tempos - but that inevitably would have happened anyway, be there a pandemic or not,” Viktor Vekselberg emphasizes. “Significantly more interesting are the technological transformations that will be brought about by a change in the way of life and by people rethinking values and priorities, which would not have happened if we were living in a normal situation.”
As an example of such technological ideas, the chairman of the board of directors of Skolkovo mentioned the so-called “pandemic passport,” which has provoked a major debate. Or take the mass casualties among medical workers, which has highlighted the gaps in protocol at clinics. Inevitably, new principal protective materials will appear, along with new principal medical technologies, particularly the use of robots.
“I think that there will be a shift in the discussion on personal data,” said Mr Vekselberg.
To conclude, he gave two examples, each of which shows that a rethinking of lifestyle is long overdue and with that the development of the appropriate technologies. Exactly three months before the beginning of the pandemic, Skolkovo hosted the “Open Innovations” forum where Nick Bostrum, a well-known futurist and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, made a speech. He named the pandemic as among the most real threats to humanity; many did not take his view seriously at the time, but he was correct.
Here is an example from the domestic sphere. One of V. Veksilberg’s colleagues confessed to him during a conversation the other day that he had taken a new look at his extensive wardrobe - his and his family’s - which none of them had needed over the last two months of self-isolation. This rethinking of values is taking place and will continue in the field of air transport and tourism. “These transformations will cause and require principally new technological solutions,” Viktor Vekselberg has no doubt.