How COVID-19 Is Accelerating the Shift Toward a Quantified Society

Essay by Jesse Hirsh: “The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating global digital transformation and the adoption of digital technologies. It is also enacting a political and cultural shift toward a quantified society: a society in which measurement and predictive modelling dominate (political) decision making, and where surveillance is expansive and pervasive.

While viruses and disease have always been with us, what’s changing is our ability to measure and understand them. This ability comes at a time when globalization (and, by extension, climate change) has transformed the kinds of viruses and diseases we will face.

The knowledge of what can kill us — or is killing us — compels governments and health authorities to both take action in response and gather more data to understand the threat. Like many disasters or other globally impactful events, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the development and implementation of quantification technologies.

Health researchers are now measuring the spread of a virus across the population in ways not previously possible, through the use of a set of data that is ever-growing, especially in countries such as China that have less regard for personal privacy. Canada and the United States are not yet conducting tracking and tracing of infections at a level that would enable containment. This level, however, is due to inadequate staffing rather than insufficient data. Still, the desire for more information remains.

As a result, our ability to measure human health and disease transmission is set to reach new records and capabilities. Through sources ranging from individuals’ use of digital health tools to contact tracing records, health-related data is amassing at a prodigious rate.

What are the impacts or consequences of this dramatic increase in both health data and the perceived value or urgency of that data?…(More)”.