Will Open Source Save The World?

The technocratic response to the global pandemic

The West Coast was one of the first areas hit by COVID-19, and the response from the tech world, accustomed to exponential growth and network effects, quickly understood the ramifications of the disease. And while the CDC, decimated by Trump’s cuts and sycophantic staffing decisions, was unable and unwilling to prepare American’s for the reality of what was to come, the tech world acted quickly, cancelling conferences and gatherings to help slow the spread. Now, a week after President Trump has been forced to acknowledge the threat, as colleges, public schools, and states have begun shutting down operations, the tech world has come together to fill the role that the Federal government is unable to do.

Telework/Distance Learning

As soon as conferences were cancelled they began moving online, and many companies immediately began stepping up to offer services. Discord upped the caps on their new video streaming services from ten user to fifty. LogMeIn offered free licenses to education and non-profits. And many flocked to Zoom, which was able to stay up and running despite the rush of traffic to it.

Class Dojo and Khans Academy have been waiting for this moment for some time. My daughter’s public school system is using Class Dojo for their lesson planning, and while I’ve used Khans Academy both for myself and my oldest, their kids app, geared toward two to five year-old children, really shines. Both are free.

One college administrator noted that well over a dozen remote education companies reached out to him for assistance transitioning their curriculum over to the internet. While he noted that this showed that capitalism was “alive and well”, I couldn’t help but note that it smacked of opportunism. No doubt many vendors are falling all over themselves right now, trying to position themselves as the trusted partner for these schools for whatever comes after the pandemic.

EndCoronavirus.com

Information coming from medical professionals in hard-hit countries like Italy are exposing the unpreparedness of facilities over there. American experts are likewise looking at our capacity and warning that hospitals will be overrun unless we take steps to distance ourselves and slow the spread of the disease. Besides the lack of ICU beds available, the one piece of equipment most needed to save lives are ventilators.

Bruce Fenton put the call a few days ago for engineers and other medical professionals to come together with the goal of designing a ventilator that can be created from off the shelf or 3D printed parts. The goal here being to build a design that can be ramped up and quickly deployed outside the existing supply chain. It got my attention, and I joined their Slack last night. I was amazed at what I saw.

At EndCoronaVirus.org, over eighteen hundred volunteers have joined and are quickly ramping up projects to help with dozens of projects to help with the COVID-19 response. There are number of infection trackers and best practice information sites being spun up, with web developers, cloud infrastructure and network security engineers coordinating. They’re having daily stand up calls across continents to for communications. Social media teams are springing up to help spread the word. There are outreach channels for certain regions, and fundraising efforts. It is quickly becoming a valuable source for information during this crisis, and watching the conversation going on there happen in real time is fascinating.

Helpful-Engineers

This group predates the pandemic, and has quickly pivoted to help with the response. There’s ventilator work happening here through Project Open Air, and there’s already some coordination between this group and the EndCoronavirus teams. There’s over seven thousand people in their Slack. This Github repo has a list of project proposals they’re trying to get off the ground if you would like to get involved.

The technocratic solution to governmental failure

Now I am the last person that would parrot the line that private enterprise, or markets, are best handled to respond to any societal need. That said, I do think that our government bureaucracy is ill suited to dealing with the challenges that we face as a global society. The American legislative system, which is in dire need of an update from its eighteenth-century origins, has proven inadequate for twenty-first-century problems. Some state legislatures are even worse. As someone who is intimately familiar with the inability of laws to keep pace with technology, I have long wondered whether to give up on the political process altogether and focus on tech and entrepreneurial efforts to enact change.

As someone whose livelihood depends on tech, and keeping ahead of trends in the market, I keep a close eye on what technologists and futurists predict. I’m currently reading The Future is Faster Than You Think from Singularity University co-founder Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Several of the industries that they look at in the book include the education and healthcare systems, and the role of remote work and telepresence weighs is a prominent one in these changes. The Coronavirus has accelerated this process, and is forcing organizations to deploy this technology, quickly.

The type of rapid organizational response being deployed by the EndCoronaVirus team right now, however, showcases the type of rapid response that tech can deploy, that government can only dream about. This deployment of engineers and other professionals from across the globe, coming together to help fight this global health crisis, is inspiring, and I encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest in getting involved to join them and figure out how you can get involved.

It’s too early to tell whether EndCoronaVirus will save the world, but they’re already proving that the tech world is ready to help.

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