Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

‘Shareholder value’ versus the public good: the case of Germany

Support for companies amid the pandemic must come with social and ecological strings attached.
By Emre Gömec and Mustafa Erdem Sakinç – With uncertainty around the world about how and when the coronavirus outbreak will decelerate, whole business sectors have been affected by lockdowns and are facing ruin. In Germany, more than 750,000 companies have put over 12 million employees on reduced working hours (Kurzarbeit), dwarfing the 3 million hit by the 2008 crisis.

Society’s loss goes beyond the toll on employment. As the crisis lengthens, innovative capabilities accumulated over years and even decades may atrophy and disappear, making it far more difficult to emerge from the pandemic with a healthy economy.

This ‘innovation drain’ can be avoided if, and only if, corporations devote every available resource to retaining, and reinvesting, in productive capacity. Implementation of the rescue packages adopted in Germany in March and June must thus fundamentally address future practices of corporate resource allocation.

Making government support conditional on replacing value-extractive practices, such as excessive dividend payments and executive compensation, is the most effective way to block damaging business decisions which undermine investment in productive capabilities and secure employment.

Germany’s case was, it’s true, not as dramatic as that of the US, where S&P 500 companies, having fallen victim to the American disease of corporate financialization, distributed 92 per cent of their net income between 2009 and 2018 in stock buybacks and dividends. Still, in the decade from 2010 to 2019, 65 German companies in the DAX 30 and MDAX 60 indices paid out a total of €338.8 billion, or 46 per cent of their combined profits, in dividends, in addition to €35.3 billion, or 5 per cent of profits, in stock buybacks. more>

Yes, someone is to blame

A pandemic may be represented as a ‘natural disaster’. A global depression is however the product of ideology and powerful political actors.
By James K Galbraith and Albena Azmanova – An unprecedented economic crisis is descending on Europe. It is, the president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, declared recently to the European Parliament, the worst in peacetime.

In the United States, the Federal Reserve Bank reports the worst decline in output and employment in 90 years. The World Bank warns that the world is on the precipice of the deepest slump since 1945—with up to 60 million people pauperized, many in countries already poor.

Lagarde hurried to clarify that this vast human tragedy was, in her view, ‘of no one’s fault or making’—as if a medical crisis could metamorphose into a social crisis all by itself. The catastrophe is however the work of ideas, of politics and of policies.

In the US, testing was botched, delayed and is still not available on demand. In France, vast stocks of personal protective equipment, accumulated for the H1N1 epidemic, had been sold off, stored badly and ruined. In the United Kingdom and Sweden, the authorities thought first to let the virus run free, seeking ‘herd immunity’ at the implicit price of many thousands dead.

These were not mere mistakes or simple accidents: they were political decisions. They were consequences of an ideology built over decades. There were sins of commission and sins of omission—to invoke a pair of concepts developed by Hannah Arendt—their result a fragile economic structure, marked by precarity and primed for collapse.

The sins of commission came first. From the late 1970s, political leaders throughout the west embarked on the formidable project which came to be known as neoliberal capitalism. Deregulation, decentralization, privatization, balanced budgets and tight money were key elements of the ‘Washington consensus’ advanced by national elites and the international financial institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund. Public services and welfare programs were slashed, including critical expenditures on public health.

The initial goals were to break trade unions and curtail inflation, albeit at the expense of core manufacturing capability. more>

The Chinese way

By Lena Deros – The Chinese as people have proven to be very creative and have given the world many things that we use today, including silk, gunpowder, porcelain, and other more specialized items were initially produced in China.

There is also a rumor in some theoretical historical and political analyses that the Chinese have never tried to conquer or take over other nations as other countries have done in the past.

But how true is that theory?

Our research, based on a comprehensive new data set, shows that China has extended many more loans to developing countries than previously known. This systematic underreporting of Chinese loans has created a “hidden debt” problem – meaning that debtor countries and international institutions alike have an incomplete picture on how much countries around the world owe to China and under which conditions.

In total, the Chinese state and its subsidiaries have lent about $1.5 trillion in direct loans and trade credits to more than 150 countries around the globe. This has turned China into the world’s largest official creditor — surpassing traditional, official lenders such as the World Bank, the IMF, or all OECD creditor governments combined.

Despite the large size of China’s overseas lending boom, no official data exists on the resulting debt flows and stocks. China does not report on its international lending and Chinese loans literally fall through the cracks of traditional data-gathering institutions.

Credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s, or data providers, such as Bloomberg, focus on private creditors, but China’s lending is sponsored by the Communist Party, and therefore off their radar. Debtor countries themselves often do not collect data on debt owed by state-owned companies, which are the main recipients of Chinese loans. In addition, China is not a member of the Paris Club (an informal group of creditor nations) or the OECD, both of which collect data on lending by official creditors. more>

Updates from Ciena

How governments can solve layer 3 network complexity
What if government agencies could monitor and analyze their IP networks to ensure peak efficiency and service continuity—all while trying to modernize the network, balance cost, performance, and resiliency? Jim Westdorp, Ciena Government Solutions’ Chief Technologist, explains how this is possible.
By Jim Westdorp – Do you know what your layer 3 network is doing?

The dynamic nature of IP networking makes it virtually impossible to know at any point in time how traffic is traversing your networks. Troubleshooting problems by issuing pings and router CLI commands, scanning log files, and manually correlating the results is imprecise and inefficient. Many government networks disable services like Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), which makes these inefficient tasks impossible. The results can impact service delivery, the agility of the network, and mission.

Traditional management tools have several limitations. For example, they can’t:

  • Provide real-time visibility into routing paths across the network
  • Provide unique alerts for Layer 3 technologies related to: state changes, pathing, performance, and the availability of the network elements to route packets
  • Show and model how routing errors and changes impact service delivery
  • Understand the resiliency of the network
  • Correlate routing events with performance metrics of network services to assure service performance
  • Compute and provision transport paths to deploy new services
  • Provide unified visibility and analysis for multi-vendor, multi-layer networks

Think about all the things you’d like to be able to do with your network, and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What if you could get a graphical view of all the IP flows in your network and gain deeper insights into traffic patterns, flows, and congestion?
  • What if you could drill deep into specific flows to understand the detailed route and particular pieces of network equipment those flows traversed?
  • What if you could troubleshoot your network using DVR-like functionality to see the exact state of the network at the time of an event, even if it was days in the past?
  • What if you had automated analytics to help identify the best paths to route traffic through your network?
  • What if your cyber team could utilize the same platform to be alerted to conditions indicative of external interference with a government?

Often, “what-ifs” are hypotheticals. Not in this case, with Blue Planet’s Route Optimization and Analysis (ROA).  This technology has been field-proven for more than a decade with government entities that have strategic imperatives to monitor and analyze their IP Networks to ensure peak efficiency and service continuity—all while trying to modernize the network, balance cost, performance, and resiliency. more>

The Coming Post-COVID Anarchy

The Pandemic Bodes Ill for Both American and Chinese Power—and for the Global Order
By Kevin Rudd – In January and February of this year, there was audible popping of champagne corks in certain quarters of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. What some observers had long seen as this era’s giant geopolitical bubble had finally begun to deflate. China’s Communist Party leadership, the thinking went, was at last coming apart, a result of its obsession with official secrecy, its initial missteps in responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the unfolding economic carnage across the country.

Then, as China began to recover and the virus migrated to the West in March and April, irrational jubilation turned to irrational despair. The commentariat greeted with outrage any possibility that the pandemic might in fact help China emerge triumphant in the ongoing geopolitical contest with the United States. This concern was a product of China’s seemingly cunning remolding of the narrative on the origins of the virus, the brutal efficiency of the Chinese authoritarian model in containing it, and Beijing’s global COVID-aid campaign. China’s own nationalist commentariat happily piled on, delighting in the United States’ distress and noting the supposed contrast between Chinese largesse and American indifference: the “people’s war” against COVID-19 had been won, and the virtues of China’s political model had been vindicated.

Yet despite the best efforts of ideological warriors in Beijing and Washington, the uncomfortable truth is that China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished. Neither a new Pax Sinica nor a renewed Pax Americana will rise from the ruins. Rather, both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad. And the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy across everything from international security to trade to pandemic management. With nobody directing traffic, various forms of rampant nationalism are taking the place of order and cooperation. The chaotic nature of national and global responses to the pandemic thus stands as a warning of what could come on an even broader scale.

As with other historical inflection points, three factors will shape the future of the global order: changes in the relative military and economic strength of the great powers, how those changes are perceived around the world, and what strategies the great powers deploy. Based on all three factors, China and the United States have reason to worry about their global influence in the post-pandemic world.

Contrary to the common trope, China’s national power has taken a hit from this crisis on multiple levels. The outbreak has opened up significant political dissension within the Chinese Communist Party, even prompting thinly veiled criticism of President Xi Jinping’s highly centralized leadership style. This has been reflected in a number of semiofficial commentaries that have mysteriously found their way into the public domain during April. Xi’s draconian lockdown of half the country for months to suppress the virus has been widely hailed, but he has not emerged unscathed. Internal debate rages on the precise number of the dead and the infected, on the risks of second-wave effects as the country slowly reopens, and on the future direction of economic and foreign policy.

The economic damage has been massive. Despite China’s published return-to-work rates, no amount of domestic stimulus in the second half of 2020 will make up for the loss in economic activity in the first and second quarters. Drastic economic retrenchment among China’s principal trading partners will further impede economic recovery plans, given that pre-crisis, the traded sector of the economy represented 38 percent of GDP. Overall, 2020 growth is likely to be around zero—the worst performance since the Cultural Revolution five decades ago. China’s debt-to-GDP ratio already stands at around 310 percent, acting as a drag on other Chinese spending priorities, including education, technology, defense, and foreign aid. And all of this comes on the eve of the party’s centenary celebrations in 2021, by which point the leadership had committed to double China’s GDP over a decade. The pandemic now makes that impossible.

As for the United States’ power, the Trump administration’s chaotic management has left an indelible impression around the world of a country incapable of handling its own crises, let alone anybody else’s. More important, the United States seems set to emerge from this period as a more divided polity rather than a more united one, as would normally be the case following a national crisis of this magnitude; this continued fracturing of the American political establishment adds a further constraint on U.S. global leadership.

Meanwhile, conservative estimates see the U.S. economy shrinking by between six and 14 percent in 2020, the largest single contraction since the demobilization at the end of World War II. Washington’s fiscal interventions meant to arrest the slide already amount to ten percent of GDP, pushing the United States’ ratio of public debt to GDP toward 100 percent—near the wartime record of 106 percent. The U.S. dollar’s global reserve currency status enables the government to continue selling U.S. treasuries to fund the deficit. Nonetheless, large-scale debt sooner or later will constrain post-recovery spending, including on the military. And there’s also risk that the current economic crisis will metastasize into a broader financial crisis, although the Federal Reserve, other G-20 central banks, and the International Monetary Fund have so far managed to mitigate that risk.

Chinese leaders have a simple Leninist view of the United States’ power. It rests on two fundamentals: the U.S. military and the U.S. dollar (including the depth and liquidity of the U.S. financial markets that underpin it). Everything else is detail.

All states are mindful of what Leninists call “objective power” and the willingness of the great powers to deploy it. But the perception of power is equally important. China is now working overtime to repair the enormous damage to its global standing that resulted from the geographical origin of the virus and Beijing’s failure to contain the epidemic in the critical early months. Whatever China’s new generation of “wolf-warrior” diplomats may report back to Beijing, the reality is that China’s standing has taken a huge hit (the irony is that these wolf-warriors are adding to this damage, not ameliorating it). Anti-Chinese reaction over the spread of the virus, often racially charged, has been seen in countries as disparate as India, Indonesia, and Iran. Chinese soft power runs the risk of being shredded.

For different reasons, the United States does not come out of the crisis much better. The world has watched in horror as an American president acts not as the leader of the free world but as a quack apothecary recommending unproven “treatments.” It has seen what “America First” means in practice: don’t look to the United States for help in a genuine global crisis, because it can’t even look after itself. Once there was the United States of the Berlin airlift. Now there is the image of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crippled by the virus, reports of the administration trying to take exclusive control of a vaccine being developed in Germany, and federal intervention to stop the commercial sale of personal protective equipment to Canada. The world has been turned on its head.

The crisis also appears to have shredded much of what was left of the U.S.-Chinese relationship. In Washington, any return to a pre-2017 world of “strategic engagement” with Beijing is no longer politically tenable. A second Trump term will mean greater decoupling and possibly attempted containment, driven by Trump’s base and widespread national anger over the origins of the virus, although this strategy will be rendered incoherent at times by the president’s personal interventions. In a Biden administration, strategic competition (and decoupling in some areas) will continue, likely to be executed on a more systematic basis and leaving some scope for cooperation in defined areas, such as climate, pandemics, and global financial stability. On balance, Beijing would prefer Trump’s reelection over the alternative, because it sees value in his tendency to fracture traditional alliances, to withdraw from multilateral leadership, and episodically to derail the United States’ China strategy. Either way, the U.S. relationship with Beijing will become more confrontational.

In Beijing, China’s response to the United States’ ever-hardening posture is now under intense review. This process began in 2018, during the first full year of the U.S.-Chinese trade war. It has now been intensified, because of the pandemic and its international consequences. The review is part of a broader internal debate in Beijing about whether China’s national strategy, at this stage of its economic and military development, has in recent years become insufficiently reformist at home and excessively assertive abroad.

Prior to Xi, the strategy was to wait until the correlation of economic and military forces shifted in China’s favor before seeking any major adjustments to the regional and international order—including on Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the U.S. presence in Asia. Under Xi, Beijing has become significantly more assertive, taking calculated—and so far successful—risks to bring about changes on the ground, as demonstrated by island reclamation in the South China Sea and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The United States’ reaction to this approach has been deemed to be manageable, but that calculation could change in a post-trade war, post-pandemic world. Xi could seek to ameliorate tensions with the United States until the pandemic is lost to political memory; or facing internal challenges, he could take a more nationalist approach abroad. Both of these tendencies will likely appear in Chinese policy behavior until China’s internal policy review process concludes, which may not happen until shortly before the 20th Communist Party Congress in 2022. But if Xi’s style thus far is any indication, he is likely to double down in the face of any internal dissent.

That would mean hardening China’s posture toward the United States, including on issues such as Taiwan, the single most destabilizing element in the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Beijing is likely to sharpen its strategy of shrinking Taiwan’s international space, even as U.S. efforts to secure Taiwan’s readmission to the World Health Organization intensify. Given that this comes on the heels of other recent U.S. efforts to upgrade official-level engagement between Washington and Taipei, the understandings of the “one China policy” that underpinned the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations in 1979 could begin to unravel. If these understandings collapse, the prospect of some form of military confrontation over Taiwan, even as the inadvertent result of failed crisis management, suddenly moves from abstraction to reality.

Prior to the current crisis, the postwar liberal international order was already beginning to fragment. The United States’ military and economic power, the geopolitical fulcrum on which the order rested, was being challenged by China, first regionally and more recently, globally. The Trump administration was adding to the order’s problems by weakening the U.S. alliance structure (which in conventional strategic logic would have been central to maintaining a balance of power against Beijing) and systematically delegitimizing multilateral institutions (effectively creating a political and diplomatic vacuum for China to fill). The result has been an increasingly dysfunctional and chaotic world.

The current crisis is likely to reinforce such trends. Strategic rivalry will now define the entire spectrum of the U.S.-Chinese relationship—military, economic, financial, technological, ideological—and increasingly shape Beijing’s and Washington’s relationships with third countries. Until the current crisis, the notion that the world had entered a new Cold War, or Cold War 2.0, seemed premature at best; the two countries’ financial systems were so intertwined that true decoupling was unlikely, and there seemed to be little prospect of geopolitical or ideological proxy wars in third countries, a defining feature of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry.

But the new threats that both sides are making as COVID-related tensions grow could change all that. A decision in Washington to end U.S. pension-fund investments in China, restrict future Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds, or start a new currency war (exacerbated by the recent launch of China’s new digital currency) would quickly remove the financial glue that has held the two economies together; a decision in Beijing to increasingly militarize the BRI would raise the risk of proxy wars. Moreover, as U.S.-Chinese confrontation grows, the multilateral system and the norms and institutions underpinning it are beginning to falter. Many institutions are themselves becoming arenas for rivalry. And with a damaged United States and a damaged China, there is no “system manager,” to borrow Joseph Nye’s phrase, to keep the international system in functioning order. It may not yet be Cold War 2.0, but it is starting to look like Cold War 1.5.

There are better alternatives to this scenario. They depend, however, on significant political and policy change in Washington; a reformist and internationalist readjustment in Beijing; the development of a new architecture of détente between the United States and China (drawing on the U.S.-Soviet experience), which places clear parameters around competition in order to avoid military disaster; and efforts by other countries to pool political and financial resources to preserve the essential multilateral institutions of the current system as a form of institutional triage until there is a return to geopolitical stability. History is not predetermined. But none of this will come about unless political leaders in multiple capitals decide to change course. With the wrong decisions, the 2020s will look like a mindless rerun of the 1930s; the right decisions, however, could pull us back from the abyss. more>

China in the Firing Line

By Clare Goldsberry – A two-hour webinar held by the Alliance of American Manufacturing last Thursday provided a forum for four members of Congress along with a business owner, a representative from the United Steelworkers, and the President and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations to talk about bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

“Crisis Brings Consensus: Prioritizing U.S. Industrial Policy in a COVID-19 World” began with a Q&A moderated by Josh Rogin featuring Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO). Rubio noted that the increased push to bring back manufacturing and the need to change U.S. policies regarding trade with China is not “unique to a pandemic,” which has exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain across several industries.

“This issue needs more than anger at China,” said Rubio. “While the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to dominate the world in key sectors are evident, we’ve allowed them to do this. We need a strategy, then tactics to put in place the strategy to bring back U.S. manufacturing.” That would include developing incentives for companies to return their manufacturing to the United States.

Hawley began his remarks by noting that we live in a very different world today than we did after WWII. “The economic order is very different, and we need to address the rise of imperialist China,” he said. “We need very serious reform to address this different world and different [economic] system.” Hawley is not in favor of abolishing the WTO, while that issue has been raised by some. “I would rather ‘fix’ it than ‘nix’ it,” he added.

Hawley, who said he’s heard more about bringing U.S. manufacturing back home in the past four months than in the 14 months he’s been in Congress, does not approve of isolationism. “We are a trading nation and will continue to be, but we need reforms such as dispute resolution, which is a mess,” he stated. “We need an American economy that is strong and a strong American worker. Manufacturing is vitally important to the future of the United States. We need to bring back our supply chains.” more>

Could “banksters” become bankers again?

By Lena Deros – The term “bankster” has become trendy recently due to the various financial problems governments and economies are facing. Problems arise and somehow get resolved, but only through financial ruses.

In the 1980s, I was working with one of the world top Investment Banks in Europe. At that time hedge funds, derivatives and all kind of paper products were traded through the capital markets and were the top theme for any sophisticated investor.

One of the most legendary traders in the bank at that time was recruiting the best minds in math and physics from the top schools in the UK to train them and create financial products (derivatives).

The profits that the boys were accumulating were out of proportion to what a normal business person or executive could earn in a normal business, especially as they were just coming out of the university.

Of course, they were all ecstatic. The simplified procedure was based on the real economy. They were creating products 3 or 4 levels over the real assets and these were bought and traded by hedge and pension funds. Since trading was done in big amounts, and on a daily basis, the profits were excellent, but the result when viewed from the perspective of the economy, was that strong minds were deprived from producing real services and products. Instead, profit was created through paper trading. This generated claims to real wealth without creating one potato.

This enhanced inflation and created bubbles. Of course, no banker, financial consultant, or investor wanted to use their logic at the time as they were all plunging into the flood of increased profits without thinking of the immediate future.

It took some years until the surprised sector began to see what it knew all-to-well to be wrong as it was going bankrupt. Everyone was looking for a scapegoat, and most of the solutions were, again, based on 2+2=5 logic. more>

Challenges for international institutions during COVID 19

By Erol User – International institutions still represent a compromise between the power capabilities of their participants and the need for relative civilizational interaction between them. Institutions cannot be effective or on their own. It always depends on the ability of states to agree and the presence of objective structural prerequisites.

In the latter half of April, disputes between China and the United States led to the disruption of a tele-meeting by the G20 countries.

Due to the fact that this grouping is considered the most representative and, at the same time, the least binding in terms of decision-making, until recently it was considered the most promising in the context of a crumbling world order and the growth of national egoism.

However, the first round of the most important interstate confrontation of the new era already called into question the very possibility of discussions between the leaders of the 20 most economically and politically important countries of the world. Somewhat earlier, the US government announced that it plans to stop funding the World Health Organisation, where it is the main donor. Washington does not like much at the WHO. But the main thing is that China has so far been able to exert more influence on its work than the United States itself. Donald Trump is trying to correct this imbalance in the ways characteristic of his policymaking. The result is not yet obvious.

Such course of events makes more than relevant the question of the future of international institutions, the most important achievement of international politics in the 20th century.

Mankind went without constant norms and rules for most of its political history. Since the formation of the first states, collectives of individuals have reflected nothing but their own conscience and the strength of other collectives in their actions. In Europe, the role of arbiter was for a short time, less than 1,000 years, played by the Catholic potentate in Rome. The church did not have its own armies, but it did have moral authority. Moreover, the popes’ lack of their own military power, as well as their claim to the universality of spiritual power, did not allow the Holy See to become one of the ordinary states.

Accordingly, the values ​​and rules that Rome tried to impose during the Middle Ages did not directly express anyone’s values ​​or interests. Therefore, they were relatively fair, for the most part. At the beginning of the 16th century, European states became so strong that they became nonplussed with the power of Rome. Over the next 400 years, they lived practically without any institutions embodying the need to follow the rules. As a result of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618 – 1648, at least general rules of conduct appeared, therefore Kissinger in his book World Order defined the Westphalian system as “having not a substantive, but a procedural character.” This was a great achievement for its time, but it was far from an attempt to establish genuine, civilized relations between peoples. more>

Updates from McKinsey

To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now
Adapting employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working will be crucial to building operating-model resilience.
By Sapana Agrawal, Aaron De Smet, Sébastien Lacroix, and Angelika Reich – Imagine a crisis that forces your company’s employees to change the way they work almost overnight. Despite initial fears that the pressure would be too great, you discover that this new way of working could be a blueprint for the long term. That’s what leaders of many companies around the globe are finding as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Consider the experience of one pharma company with more than 10,000 sales reps. In February, it switched from an offline model to a 100 percent remote-working one. As the containment phase of the crisis gradually recedes, you might expect remote working to fade as well. However, the company now plans to make a 30 percent-online–70 percent-offline working model permanent, thus leveraging the freshly developed skills of its sales reps.

Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them. In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers—or 14 percent of the global workforce—would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem.

The coronavirus pandemic has made this question more urgent. Workers across industries must figure out how they can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and companies have to learn how to match those workers to new roles and activities. This dynamic is about more than remote working—or the role of automation and AI. It’s about how leaders can reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era.

To meet this challenge, companies should craft a talent strategy that develops employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, their social and emotional skills, and their adaptability and resilience. Now is the time for companies to double down on their learning budgets and commit to reskilling. Developing this muscle will also strengthen companies for future disruptions.

In this article, we offer six steps leaders can take to ensure that their employees are equipped with the skills critical to their recovery business models. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Interactive Tool Helps People See Why Staying Home Matters During a Pandemic
By Brittany Aiello – Social distancing has become one of the most impactful strategies in the battle to contain the spread of COVID-19, and a new interactive modeling tool can help people understand why it is so important to “flatten the curve.” Known as VERA, the artificial intelligence (AI) application was developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to raise awareness about why it matters that individuals distance themselves during an infectious disease outbreak.

Led by College of Computing faculty members Ashok Goel and Spencer Rugaber, and Design & Intelligence Laboratory graduate researchers William Broniec and Sungeun An, the VERA Epidemiology project uses AI techniques to empower users to build their own visual models that simulate the impact of social distancing. The project evolved from earlier National Science Foundation-supported research on a virtual ecological research assistant that enables researchers to explore “what if” experiments about complex ecological phenomena.

The beauty of VERA is that users do not need a background in complex mathematical equations or computer programming to explore it. A high school student interested in finding out what it looks like to “flatten the curve” can log in to VERA and investigate. A parent handling middle school science lessons from home can log in to VERA and demonstrate the reason that it is important that they do lessons from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. more>

Related>