Science & Technology

How Covid-19 could lead to better future through AI, green economies

By Javier Albisu

Brussels, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- Crystal clear water trickles through the Venice canals after decades of pollution, air pollution has plummeted in large cities like Paris, Milan and Madrid and satellite images confirm a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions in highly industrial areas where activities have slowed due to the spread of Covid-19.

While the world is stunned into paralysis over the advance of the novel coronavirus, some experts are trying to look at the positive outcomes of how patterns have changed in recent months.

Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat who played a leading role in the drafting of the Paris Agreement and now heads the European Climate Foundation, says the world is “at a crucial moment to accelerate” an ecological transition.

“Viruses do not respect borders, nor does climate change.

“If we do not solve the climate crisis, the same will happen,” explains Tubiana via videoconference with Efe.

Now that “everyone is thinking about injecting liquidity and potentially bailing out some entities”, the economist considers “it a good time to support the automotive industry on the condition that they accelerate the electrification of transport.”

She also supports the creation of a European Green Pact to help prevent the crisis from ending in “trade wars and nationalism.”

“If in 2008 so much effort was placed into saving banking, perhaps now countries could make an effort to save the planet,” she adds.

It also seems that this global stress test offers enormous possibilities to the technology sector, in great part due to the boost in remote working and the reduction in travel and pollution that mobility generates.

The head for Europe of Chinese technology giant and 5G provider Huawei, Abraham Liu, goes even further and talks of the importance of “leaving no one behind.”

“New technologies are there to play a role in creating wealth and value again, for everyone. We could look for new business models and even new ways to manage our economies,” Liu said.

Liu also sees opportunities in the field of artificial intelligence and predicts that “next year will be when its applications will begin to be recognized by other sectors of the industry and the general public because their potential to help with situations like the one we are going through now is immense.”

“It can help remote medical care in many ways, such as through remote diagnostics and consultations. AI-assisted diagnosis is six times faster.

“AI can help expert surgeons and physicians perform operations thousands of kilometres away from the patient through the use of robotics and connectivity.

“It can help with much faster drug detection, leading to faster production of vaccines and life-saving treatments,” Liu continues.

But this revolution could go beyond the health sector.

Modernization of agri-food production, factories where AI and robotics improve logistics and production, or intelligent management of mobility and traffic that could mean less CO2 emissions and air pollution.

But even the best-case scenarios, such as the use of big data to tackle the pandemic which has so far worked in South Korea and Singapore, also push new challenges to the fore.

“We have tended to be careful with digitization to try to ensure that we can also protect individual freedoms, and it is unlikely that some of the solutions currently in use, for example in China, will be adopted in Europe,” says analyst Annika Hedberg of the European Policy Center.

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