COVID-19: Challenges, Opportunities and the Road Ahead

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As a global community, Singularity University (SU) equips leaders, startups and organizations with the tools, experts and mindsets to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. During these uncertain times, people have questions, and the SU community is here to shed some light.

Harnessing SU’s knowledge and leadership in innovative experience delivery, over 30 speakers from the community, some of the world’s leading experts in health and medicine, technology, society and impact, came together, virtually, to share facts, spur discussion and address concerns surrounding COVID-19. Below are some of our key takeaways from the #COVID19SUSummit.

To protect yourself and others, social distancing is key

Dr. Divya Chander, Chair, Neuroscience Faculty, explained that with COVID-19, one person has the ability to infect 2-3 people, and after five cycles, this could be 368 people, compared to the flu, which could infect only 45 people after 5 cycles.

This rate of infection is a key part of what makes COVID-19 so dangerous. It is also why social distancing, frequent handwashing, and a focus on flattening the curve are all critical. “We only have a certain capacity within our health care [system], and if everyone gets sick at the same time, we are going to have to start rationing healthcare,” Chander added.

Harness the Power of Technology

From Artificial Intelligence (AI) and artificial reality,  to 3D printing and new networks, technology provides new tools to help fight pandemics and re-build once the worst has passed.

“If there is one technology that we need to be leveraging during this time, it is AI,” said Brad Twynham, Leadership & Innovation Faculty. Twynham argues that AI has not been leveraged effectively, yet it needs to be, as pandemics are a reality of the future. He cites four key areas where AI could have a significant impact: prediction, diagnoses, treatment, and augmenting policy and decision making.

Onicio Leal Neto, Postdoctoral Researcher and Disease Detective discussed the power of crowdsourcing and mobile technologies, emphasizing the benefits of sharing our individual data to aid in the curing of disease. Under participatory surveillance, users are able to self-report their symptoms, and data is shared in real-time. Algorithms will track groups of individuals with the same symptoms, allowing decision-makers to monitor at-risk areas.

Virtual Care, argues Dr. Sonny Kohli, Medicine Faculty at SingularityU Canada, is key to assessing and treating patients at scale – while protecting the most vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers. Virtual care solutions allow for remote monitoring of symptoms and vital stats. For instance, doctors can conduct virtual visits with their patients, capture their key vitals, track progression, all from the patient’s home, reducing exposure for both parties.

With a view to ensuring that organizations and communities remain connected, both now and as we emerge from the critical state of the pandemic, Aaron Frank, Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality Faculty, highlighted new collaborative platforms that are made possible with the emergence of AR/VR. These are especially important, during a time of disconnection, as they allow for greater connectivity.

As leaders, we all have to rise to the challenge

“If you’re here, you’re a leader,” began Elie Losleben, Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership and Health Faculty. As leaders, we need to be taking proactive measures, yet also remain compassionate. “These individual actions, taken collectively, will shift the outcome…at scale, our actions matter.”

At this time, uncertainty is affecting us all, and leaders are being pushed beyond their comfort zone. “Your job right now as a leader is to show up and be strategic,” said Charlene Li, Leadership, Disruption, Customer Experience. In several ways, leadership must change in order to thrive while working as distributed teams, which includes recreating structure and creating new rituals. This is an opportunity to create new ways of working, to form new habits.

The importance of shifting mindsets to consider new possibilities was a key theme running through the Summit. This extraordinary situation affords us an opportunity to press the reset button – to reimagine how we want to live, moving forward.

For one, we can reimagine open spaces and how communities are built, and construct strong and resilient communities that can protect themselves against climate change, as well as pandemics such as COVID-19. Showing images of innovative design, such as rooftop farming and wind turbines installed on roofs, James Ehrlich, Smart Cities & Environment Faculty, offered a glimpse of an alternative mode of living, as a “healthy, happy and an optimistic way forward.”

Similarly, Jos Dirkx, AI and EI in Education, Diversity and Inclusion, Cross-cultural Awareness Faculty, highlighted this pandemic as an opportunity to revisit the education system. It gives us a chance to rethink what is being taught, as well as address various issues in the system, such as outdated curricula, large class sizes and a lack of safe spaces.

Jamie Metzl, Technology Futurist and Geopolitical Expert likened today’s situation to that of 1941, a time when we were in the midst of World War II. Although fear and uncertainty lingered, this was a time when things shifted – the Atlantic Charter was issued, and people began imagining the future, for a world following the War. “The world will not snap back to exactly as it was before, we are going to [emerge] from this into a different world,” he said. “We need to be dreaming about the world that is going to follow this crisis, because this is going to pass, and this is our moment to come together,” he said.

This extraordinary time highlights the power of community. The SingularityU community is here as a resource to help you navigate our ever-evolving times and uncertain future. 

We are here to help you and your organization leverage digital technologies and platforms to navigate the current environment of business and social uncertainty. To learn more, reach out to [email protected]