Of Germ Pods and Personal Learning Clouds……… two trends of a post COVID future


It is fascinating to see how technologies originate in response to unmet needs and then go on to transform and impact the world in unfathomable ways.

In this post, I look at two such technology initiatives and then explore how they might evolve and impact us.

The first technology initiative is Germ Pods.

It was early April 2020 and the Covid had just started making initial inroads into India with recorded infections hovering around a couple of thousand.  The Government launched an innovative contact tracing and self-assessment mobile App called Aarogya Setu. It became the fastest growing App in the world with more than fifty million downloads in less than two weeks. The App gathered data from positive infection reports on a real time basis and was designed to identify infection hot spots and alert the user about the number of Covid infected people in the vicinity. Government ministries and Indian Airports made it mandatory for all people to register into the App to ensure low risk. Aarogya Setu was subsequently merged with the COWIN portal which was designed to register and update vaccination status at the individual level.

Countries around the world launched similar contact, movement and vaccination status tracing Apps during the pandemic.

As I muse, the import and the transformative potential of the tracing and status app becomes clear. The future would be about a real need to protect and secure the health of oneself and one’s own community. Increasingly, testing for various transmissible diseases, real time tracing and proximity alerts would form the basis of AI based algorithmic analysis to create hierarchies of health risk statuses. In spite of repeated assurances that individual privacy norms would be protected, geographic and digital clusters of such hierarchies would begin to emerge and, in more ways than one, would trample on individual’s privacy and behaviour. These clusters or “Germ pods” would over time become much more than mere health pods. They would morph as digital identifiers of micro-groups displaying differing economic, demographic and social behaviours.  Can you imagine what such identifiers would do in the hands of marketing organisations, Government policy makers and politicians?

What thus started off as mere health protecting ‘Germ Pods’ might become somewhat sinister gatekeeping tools allowing individual entry based on constantly tweaked algorithms; they would actually become functionally invisible to folks who do not qualify. Groups would get shielded from public view as well as from one another, as they get into exclusive symbiotic relationships with marketing organisations and the Government. Overall transparency and accountability in a society relating to spreading of resources would take a hit, further exacerbating the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ divide.

My sense is that in the future, the above transformative technology might usher in a societal problem.

The second technology initiative is Personal Learning Clouds.

 For some years, I have been engaged in training the next tier Leadership for a large business group in India. While the need for Leadership development programs is acutely felt in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment, the organisation also senses that traditional class room case study-based programs are no longer working to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for the challenges they would face. The training manager thus finds it hard to justify costs relating to such training programs. Last but not the least, the program does not really get ‘owned’ by the participants’ boss and other team members leading to the program learning not getting the needed support for effective application at the workplace.

The pandemic has fast paced the shift of training programs onto Zoom and other digital platforms. My client organisation has started seeing this as a great alternative, cutting down as it does requirements of logistics and physical infrastructure. The participants are able to virtually join in from their work desks or homes with a much shorter lead time.

As I think of the emerging trend, I visualize the birth of ‘Personal Learning Cloud (PLC)’ in today’s rapidly changing and constrained environment. The PLC would be flexible, allowing  24X7 accessibility to learning modules aligned to the need and behaviour of an individual and his team. Over time the PLC would emerge as a networked learning infrastructure. It would not only allow overall lowering of training costs but would facilitate the organisational leadership to offer ‘just in time’ targeted learning experiences for personnel according to his / her role and immediate organisational needs. Finally, the PLC ‘s real time accessibility, relevance and interactive capability would allow the learner’s immediate superior to become an active stakeholder in the process and provide support and accountability.

I sense that over time the PLC would make learning personalized as well as democratized (in terms of access) and would allow organisations a better gauge to measure return on investment and ensure work place application. Something essential to keep the ‘just in time’ PLC based learning relevant in a fast-changing world.

My hope is that in the future, the above is where significant growth and development opportunity would lie.

In learning……….                                                                               Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

  1. ‘After the Pandemic: What happens next?’ – Document prepared by Ayca Guralp, Instititue of the Future, CA, US.
  2. ‘The future of Leadership Development’ – HBR March-April 2019

The economic inequality fallout of the pandemic


While doing a course on, ‘Welcome to our post-pandemic future’, the aspect of economic inequality trend jumped out at me. A trend that seems to have accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.

Statistics show that the eight wealthiest people in the world now have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people combined! Incredible as it seems, that is correct. The combined wealth of this league of extraordinary gentlemen out weighs that of three and a half billion people! It set me thinking. What is that differentiating proposition that creates such a disparity? Is it the intelligence quotient, is it the emotional quotient, a combination of the two or something else?

As I reviewed the behaviour patterns and articulations of these extraordinarily wealthy gentlemen. I could discern a pattern. A common underlying theme behind such incredible wealth creation seemed to be a knack of envisaging a future that seemed impossible, in fact laughable to most folks around. However, these individuals held the belief to hunker down and live into that future, having the doggedness to hang on till they could make it true.

 I discovered something else. As the world shifted in terms of technology and mindset, there came a moment when the window of opportunity aligned with the envisaged future and competence set of the individual. Because of the ability to hunker down and hang on, the individual could recognize that ‘clunk’ of the future as it arrived and take appropriate action. This seemed to be true for Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg as well as the others on the list.

In the next three to five years, how could we expect to see the growing economic inequality pan out and its impact on the world? One might envisage depressed ‘across the board’ consumer demand and a drag on the global economy. Most of us can recognize the negative potential of a severe long-term drag.

In one of my earlier posts some years back (https://esgeemusings.com/2017/01/22/a-brave-new-world/), I had mused:

“…….Our Brave New World too seems to be a story of the blue and red pills allowing us a choice of the path we could take.

One road leads us to a virtual utopia. Inhabited by people fully able to realise their creative and innovative potentials. A world where people are uniquely free to follow their passions and creative urges. Where innovations are exploding every other day and unimaginable wealth is getting created. Where products and services are plentiful and available to all. Where being wealthy or not no longer matters. A world that has finally come to realise the socialistic dreams of Karl Marx and Lenin, but in a warped way.

The other way is to the land of dystopia. Of people lacking meaningful work and condemned to exist on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. With not a hope in hell of achieving the higher rungs of potential. Of folks condemned to live on a Universal basic income provided by the Governments of the day. Of large sections of society feeling increasingly dispossessed and spiralling down into drugs, gambling, terrorism and similar madness……….”

 As I think of the growing inequality of today, I do spot some of the above-mentioned patterns of change. But I remain unsure of a pre-determined outcome. Would the economic disparity continue to grow? If so, what could each one of us do to support folks to more effectively handle the situation?

I sense that over the next few years, the world would need to go through a period of healing, not only emotional healing from the damage and trauma of the pandemic but a movement to restore overall consensus and a more equitable share for all towards livelihood. All of us would need to get involved and ensure that groups who have been disproportionately affected are at the table for coming up with plans and solutions, including young people, and that they have a chance to really have a say in what happens next to ensure a better and safer future in the coming years.

In Learning…………..                                                                                                      Shakti Ghosal

The Fault in our times


Do the following look familiar to you? Do they apply to you?

  • Are you living an E- Life, is your life made up of bits and bytes, black and white?
  • Are you perennially rushed, shortchanging your grasp of a situation as you celebrate breadth instead of depth?
  • As you face a situation, do you see yourself reactively ‘firing from the hip’ rather than standing aside and reflecting deeply?
  • In a fast-changing world, are you racing through your days without the clarity of who you really want to be and where you really want to go?
  • With relentless demands at work and home, are you becoming short tempered and easily distracted?
  • Are you so wired up that you are melting down?

Equipped with day planners, to-do lists, smartphones and laptops, we pride ourselves as efficient time managers as we hold the intention to multi-task and optimize our productivity on a 24 X 7 basis. What is that which stops us from bringing sufficient energy into all that we are doing, why is it that we fail in so many of our well-intentioned endeavours?

Have you wished you had more time and the wherewithal to do things better? But is it the paucity of time………. or is it something else?

There is a significantly different element, not time, which is the fundamental currency of performance and effectiveness.

http://www.empathinko.in

What secret did Lal Dighi hide?


Turning, he called out to the guard outside, “Ask my special guards to meet me”.

Two robed men came in. Omichand commanded, “Follow that ayah who accompanied the English woman. Find out all that the woman knows and who all she has met over the last few days. Do what you need to do but ensure that details of Joba’s movements do not get around”.

The next morning, the Captain Commandant’s household was in a tizzy. His wife’s trusted ayah had vanished in the night. Initial suspicion that she had run away with some valuables was quickly dispelled when nothing was found to be missing. Jim got the fort security to investigate but they came up with no answers. The mystery got solved after a few days in a rather gruesome manner when the ayah’s dead body was found floating in the Lal Dighi with her throat slit. 

The above is an excerpt from the award-winning, ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’.

Have you read it yet?

www.shaktighosal.com

Does the Omicron variant herald the beginning of the end of the Pandemic?


The newly discovered Omicron variant of the original COVID 19 virus strain is under the microscope of genetic investigation. Initial studies indicate that the variant has a surprisingly high number of mutations ( about thirty) in the spike protein of the virus, allowing it to spread much more easily compared to the other variants. Field reports seem to substantiate this. 

The world is on the threshold of the third year of the pandemic. To try and understand what might happen going forward, we could draw some lessons from the past.

The last major pandemic of the Spanish flu of a century back waned in its third year. We might wonder as to how that happened.  There had been no vaccine then and consequently, the impact of the pandemic had been far more deadly in the initial years. Broad estimates indicate that 500 million people, which was a quarter of the world population at that time, had gotten infected as the virus spread around the globe through ships. Around one-tenth of those infected died which would work out to fifty million deaths! But by the third year of the pandemic, two shifts had taken place.  Mankind had naturally developed antibodies and had to cope with a milder infection with the virus mutating to a much less dangerous variant which has remained with us since.

Now let’s jump a hundred years into the future to the present. The virus keeps on mutating as is its wont. We have been witness to the Alpha, Beta, Delta and now the Omicron variants. To date, the Delta variant, which has been the most aggressively predominant form, accounts for 99% of recorded infections.

But now comes the Omicron. Barely a week has passed since researchers in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world about this new strain. But the variant is already seen in more than twenty countries around the globe. Omicron is seen to have an infection spreading capability of more than three to five times that of the Delta variant. There would be no place to hide from the Omicron.

Today I read in the papers of a doctor in Bangalore, one of the two known infected individuals in that city, saying that ‘apart from body ache and low fever, he felt absolutely fine’. South African doctors too have reported that though the Omicron variant has the capability to evade vaccine induced immunity and reinfect an individual, it creates mild illness symptoms with almost nil requirement of hospitalization.  Clearly, the Omicron is well on its way to displacing the Delta as the predominant COVID 19 spreader. And as it spreads and reinfects more and more of the world population, it also shows us the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Why do I say that?

More than one and a half centuries back, Charles Darwin expounded his theory of evolution by natural selection. In it, he said that organisms best adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and flourish. As organisms continue to mutate and have variations, there would be the inevitable selection of those which possess advantageous variations allowing them to multiply and survive.

So, it is in the case of virus strains. That variant which can spread the most and infect the host in a manner that the spread does not get restricted would take over. This is what happened in the Spanish flu pandemic. And my sense is this is what is now happening in the current pandemic with the Omicron taking center stage. Omicron impacts humans mildly allowing it to remain undetected and spread faster and faster. With new cycles of infections and reinfections along with natural as well as vaccine induced antibodies within the human population, the world would eventually reach a sustainable balance between the virus and its host.

If my above surmise is correct, the Omicron variant might just be heralding the beginning of the end of the current pandemic.

In learning…..

Shakti Ghosal

Ashtami


1947

‘The fire of communal violence was spreading. There existed enough baggage of distrust and enmity between two of the major communities in the country to fan it.

News trickled in about the incendiary speech made by the Bengal Chief Minister Shaheed Suhrawardy and the ensuing cycle of violence which would later come to be known as the Great Calcutta Killings. Since both their larger families were in Bengal, Sujit and Bina were concerned and sent postcards enquiring about the safety and health of everyone. They even offered family members to leave Calcutta for some time and come and stay with them in New Delhi. Mercifully, they got back replies by post that there was nothing to worry about at the moment and all were safe.

But the Calcutta killings and the subsequent incidents of communal violence that followed in several parts of North India were but a trailer of what was to come…………..’

The above is an excerpt from the story Ashtami, part of the Chronicler of the Hooghly.

Book of the Month, Nazm -e- Hayat literary award winner. Available worldwide on Amazon.

www.shaktighosal.com

An encounter with the witnessing tree


The Witnessing tree…..

I saw this tree standing forlornly in one corner of the Red fort complex in Delhi a couple of days back.

I asked, ‘ So, what have you been witness to?’

The tree replied, ‘ I was born to witness the stars above Shahjahanabad.

Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Audience) at the Red Fort in New Delhi, India.

But what I witnessed was the ebb and flow of the history of this land.

Of the ebbing of the Mughals as the blinded emperor Shah Alam II sat forlornly in his ravaged palace……

Of the ebbing of the Marathas after the defeat in the third battle of Panipat…..

The third battle of Panipat…..

Of the ebbing of the Jats in the late eighteenth-century……

Of the ebbing of the British empire with their departure from India in the twentieth century……

Indian Flag on the ramparts of Red Fort….

And with each such ebb, the plunder of this fort’s riches and the conscience of Man.’

Do homes speak?


“Hello!”

Jaya heard the voice but remained with her thoughts.

“Hello there”, the voice wafted in again.

Jaya looked around but failed to determine the source.

“Who is this?” she murmured.

“I am, or rather was, your home”.

“Do homes speak?’ Jaya asked with some incredulity.

“Yes they do, but in a different way. Who else brings the endless reservoir of peace and comfort into the lives of its occupants? Like I did for you”.

Excerpt from the story ‘Faultlines’.

Book of the Month, Nazm -e- Hayat literary award winner.

www.shaktighosal.com

Crossings


Crossings is a Journal of English Studies and is a crossover vehicle into the realms of contemporary English Literature.

I was delighted to see Mr. Rakesh Chandra’s review of the Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories published in the journal of literary studies ‘Crossings’ of the University of Liberal Arts ( ULAB) Bangla Desh.

I am posting below the very detailed review of the book that has been published.

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