A.I. in the Time of COVID-19

The coming age of medical surveillance

It doesn’t take a crystal ball, or even the powers of the imagination to divine an ever-present pandemic future.  It’s all unfolding now as Silicon Valley forges long-anticipated partnerships with the government to provide the “solutions” that will eventually replace it.   Just as the ‘gig economy’ reduced dependence on employers, freeing them of their responsibilities in terms of healthcare coverage and benefits, a tech-based brain trust is poised to revolutionize all aspects of life with the instruments of “applied utopics”.  Already former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been put in charge of dismantling New York City’s existing institutions for public health and education, while New York Governor Cuomo has struck a similar deal with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to implement “smarter” systems - or rather, replace the ‘dumb’ ones with education software helpfully provided by Microsoft, and medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies the billionaire couple have a stake in.

By now, we should be able to see where this is going while markets are rallying even as unemployment figures surpass the Great Depression’s.  As unhoused populations overwhelm New York City’s subways and San Francisco’s streets, their numbers rising in rhythm to the steady uptick of Amazon stocks hitting another all-time high.  As Wall Street celebrates what should be a funeral for global capitalism, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that an engineered demolition of the ‘old’ economy is already underway.   Arguably, this risky maneuver was meant to stave off the inevitable and more unpredictable collapse that was coming down the pipeline, and hastened into its present implementation phase when a mysterious Coronavirus of disputed origin first hit the headlines.  You only have to look deep within your own black heart, (to paraphrase Gore Vidal describing the process he used to divine what the ruling class was up to) to envision the “new normal” that pandemic will necessitate maximizing its potential as both a social and economic force.

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Jennifer Matsui is a writer living in Tokyo and a columnist for the print edition of CounterPunch magazine.

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