This interview with Ayman Z. Jomaa, CEO of Numbase Group, was conducted in March 2020.
Do you think the world at large is prepared for covid-19?
Observing what could have prevented the Coronavirus pandemic reveals consequential opportunities. I’ve been hearing most of my friends refer to the current state of the world “as if we are living in a disaster movie like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, or Deep impact”. Perhaps watching these films subconsciously prepared us for the aberrant behavior and nature of the world today.
In your opinion, has technology been used to its full potential during the pandemic or could governments have done more to enlist resources?
As a tech entrepreneur, investor, and enthusiast, I was intensely disappointed by how the entire tech scene dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak at the end of January 2020. I asked myself – why wasn’t technology tracking the historical movement of confirmed cases of the virus? Why weren’t governments utilizing location data to pinpoint in real-time, areas of large gatherings, and communicate their findings, and subsequent warnings, via text alerts and automated calls?
Why didn’t governments ask their citizens to complete a survey on their mobile device to gauge any symptoms they are experiencing, enabling the data collected to determine and record outbreak hot spots. Why didn’t social media giants liaise with government and health officials to present a platform for suspected and confirmed patients to access first responders, doctors, and medical teams? Why didn’t these platforms unify to wage an awareness campaign outlining prevention and quarantine measures instead of leaving the transfer of information by unverified sources and fake news to go viral?
Where are all the Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning capabilities we’ve been hearing about, investing in, and forecasting a different world based on their applications? How come emerging quantum technology was unable to track the behaviour of a virus, analyze the pattern and present a cure?
Living in an age of abundant and optimized resources, one of the main pillars – crowdsourcing – started with navigation information, then moved on to rating workers and businesses. With so many questions being asked, let’s start with – why didn’t tech companies take the initiative to create a business model where responsible citizens could post their symptoms, and probable infectious location to inform others in the area, or those in direct contact with the individual showing signs of COVID-19? Although government groups took selective action using technology, no real attempt was made to unify a solution for a global pandemic.
What more could those in control do to ‘flatten the curve’ with technology?
Why didn’t world leaders demand urgent online global communication, joining forces to fight an invisible enemy with all available technology? Perhaps the UN General Assembly in New York is waiting for the 75th session in September to discuss the issue, thereby not feeling the urgency of an immediate global discussion? Why didn’t governments waive the limitations put on tech geniuses, handcuffed by “Data Protection” laws and regulations, and allow the world access to their innovative capabilities?
Why were the media and governmental focus on the number of deaths and people tested positive, rather than an awareness campaign explaining in numbers the impact of the exponential nature of a virus having a contiguity coefficient between 2 and 3? In simple terms, one infected person can spread the virus to about 2.5 others, and if this goes on for just 20 times, the number would grow to more than 90 million infected people!
Raising these questions left me with an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and disappointment. A friend of mine from Silicon Valley – one of the founders of the digital world and an author of ‘internet protocol” – called last week to check up on me and my family. I relayed my disappointment that tech companies were not using their available capabilities, data, and innovation to put an end to the virus outbreak. More disappointing was his reply, “no, you’ll be surprised … some companies here are coming up with new tests that provide an almost accurate result in 15 minutes”. My suspicions were doubly as it was confirmed the new direction being followed is faulty and my questions are legitimate. The focus concentrated on testing devices, new manufacturing lines for masks and gloves and a race for respirators! I compare this to the accurate navigation technologies we use today such as “Google Maps”, with data points being sourced from billions of users’ devices versus old technologies that relied on millions of sensors installed on roads, and not as close to accurate as crowdsourced data.”
Do you think there is enough focus on critical issues and if not, what are your recommendations?
“I am still a big believer that we should not surrender to this enemy, rather see and exploit the forthcoming opportunities. Much analysis has been recorded relating to new world orders post-COVID-19, and with changed social habits, but we really have a chance to see the eradication of several health issues and diseases that have become part of our daily fabric. We must focus on fighting and destroying this enemy and not fixate on protective measures because, with the growing number of cases and deaths, developing an armour is only a temporary measure.
I have just two answers to the above questions. Firstly, “Dataphobia” is the reason that, even with vast resources of technology – Artificial Intelligence, machine, and deep learning, quantum computing, social technologies, and mammoth media – we were unable to prevent this pandemic. Populated more and more, especially with the introduction of GDPR Compliance in the EU in 2016, and followed by other worldwide regulators, Dataphobia built borders and boundaries. Not looking at what people wanted, this phobia essentially handcuffed many innovative applications, deliberately arousing public alarm. Fearmongering, the cornerstone of the data lockdown, created the illusion that legislations put in place were protecting personal data. Confining the behavioural data within certain borders was the real reason for the lockdown. Ability to analyse this behavioural data could have saved tens of thousands of lives so far, without causing harm to the population at large, since what they care about most is keeping personal information – pictures, videos, messages, and credit card details – safe, not behavioural data, such as targeted advertising.
The second answer is more human than numeric, it is solidarity. Comparing the world we live in to blockbuster movies such as Armageddon, draws attention to the fact that rivals, enemies, foes, competitors, and civilizations thought to be mortal enemies, can unite on common ground and save the world! Today, more than ever, global solidarity between nations, tech giants, analysts, scientists, and innovators is crucial to “put on the table” all available technology, data, and findings. We have in our grasp the combined resources to stop not only the current pandemic but a myriad of global anomalies with the power to impact and unhinge our daily lives. With all this amassed data, the possibilities are endless from discovering ways to cure cancer, end war and famine, to surviving influenza. If the truth is told, we must dare to let go of our phobias today, be brave and find a way for a better tomorrow.