History has this interesting way of uncovering human race transformations from one type of organization to the next one. When you take the time to study it, it’s like a movie in which each scene blends into the next one in a very predictable way. It also shows us the upsides and the downsides of each slide. For instance, the World War II created, on the upside, a big surge in comfort and lifestyle for a big part of Western World, while another big part of the Eastern World plunged into the darkness of communism.
Alas, we can only see these transformations in hindsight.
What we’re experiencing now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, is one of those inflection points that will shift the world into a new era, with a very different structure. We’re right in the eye of the storm, so to speak, so it’s difficult to see which way we’re heading. Clarity will arise once the storm will pass and the chaos have settled.
Until then, we can only guess. But, last time I checked, guessing wasn’t forbidden yet, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this blog post. I’m going to start guessing what type of skills we need after Covid-19, as a result of a change that this crisis will induce, namely mass surveillance.
A Little Bit Of An Explanation
Surveillance is not something new. With the rise of the internet we’re all experiencing it to various levels, for quite some time now. The pre-internet and the during-internet concepts of privacy are very, very different. Especially in the last 10 years, since social media became prevalent in internet usage, surveillance peaked to levels hard to imagine just half a century ago.
But the type of surveillance we’re experiencing now is mostly vertical, and profit-oriented. It appears mostly in vertical businesses, when tracing one’s behavior could lead to a commercial transaction. Think Amazon, Facebook, Google Analytics and all the re-targetting that’s taking place between these verticals.
The type of surveillance induced by Covid-19 will be very different. I think it will be mainly horizontal, and society oriented. In the sense that it will be all-pervasive, accepted at the most basic level (not only when there’s a commercial transaction involved) and aiming at maintaining a certain social cohesion.
I’m not saying this in a bleak, gloomy way, although big parts of it will certainly be bleak and gloomy, at least in the beginning, until the right balance is found. There will also be useful parts, like tracing pandemics (the very reason this surveillance will be implemented in the first place), preventing sudden and disruptive social movements or improving education. Striking the right balance between usefulness and world-wide manipulation would probably be the biggest challenge of the next 2-3 decades.
Now, without further ado, let’s see what are my guesses about useful skills during this mass surveillance epoch.
Getting Around Without A Phone
The first insertion point of mass surveillance will probably be phones. Since this will be introduced as a shielding measure against spreading of a disease, the first thing that will be traced would probably be inter-personal contact. But once this becomes the norm, once it is integrated inside the operating systems of handheld devices, one could easily expect to implement this in other IoT devices. Having it on a wrist watch would be trivial, for instance.
So, getting around without a phone will become again, as surprisingly as it may sound right now, important. Planning correctly your in and out of the house times and spacial orientation (no GPs assisted rides, no share location tricks) will be important. Knowing your surroundings and moving around safely while relying only on your own knowledge, without any tech assistance will be seen as a top survival skill.
Last, but not least, trust building. And I’m talking about old school trust building, like the one we had to build before mobile phones, when we were planning a meeting. There was no way to announce if you’re late, back then. You had to trust that things will go smooth and you had to throughly plan for it.
Surviving Off The Grid
Like I said above, mass surveillance will slowly creep inside our houses too. IoT devices like Alexa or Google boxes will probably have it in some way or another, and so will be the case with your fridge, or any other “intelligent” home device. In this new context, learning to survive off the grid will become more and more important. Basic things like heating your home during winter, providing (or growing) food from socially disconnected places, producing your own electrical power, all these will be part of the arsenal of those “wanting to live freely”.
There will be survival kits made available from trusted sources and there will be coaches that will educate other people in this new lifestyle. I know this sounds strange now, but just 20 years ago, the entire idea of a personal coach sounded strange too. There will be a new breed of men and women, who will be more independent, less connected to the main surveillance grid and way more resilient.
Protective AI Management
As the mass surveillance is relying more and more on AI models, knowing how AI works and how to create personal shields against it will become more and more important. Data scrambling, identity protection and elusive activities will become part of a healthy lifestyle. As strange as this sounds now.
AI is based on crunching huge amounts of data so knowing how to scramble data that pertains to your own privacy, while letting out just enough to function normally will be a very sought after skill. It sounds like the most dystopian activity one could engage in, but in reality it would be much simpler.
Just one example: face recognition. AI face-recognition tech uses specific measurements between various parts of a human face, like eyes, nose and mouth (along with recognition of these shapes as being eyes, noses and mouths) all modeled on huge sets of face photos. An anti-face-recognition makeup will involve designing asymmetrical patterns one one’s face, to the point that the AI will not categorize that moving shape as a face. There will be probably kits sold on the black market with this type of make-up, all updated every once in a while, as the AI tech will adjust and adapt to these changes.
We’re still in the eye of the storm here, and what we perceive outside of these chaotic walls spinning around us is still elusive, blurred and confusing. But, as history showed us, those who survived bad times weren’t necessary the most intelligent ones, but those who took the time to prepare and adapt.