WASHINGTON—As Congress considers a fourth economic relief package to address the COVID-19 crisis, a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s leading think tank for science and technology policy, argues that by strategically targeting federal investments to bolster the country’s digital preparedness for managing future pandemics, lawmakers also can seize the opportunity to tackle issues that, once fixed, would provide significant long-term social and economic advantages.
“While globalization and mass travel have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus, the progress of digital technology innovation has made it easier to more effectively maintain physical distance,” said ITIF President Rob Atkinson, who co-authored the report. “To maximize society’s long-term digital readiness, policymakers should support and spur technology-based automation to make our supply chains and transportation systems more resilient, support key technology platforms and targeted technological advancements, and enable greater digital technology use in key sectors.”
The ITIF report outlines 28 policy proposals, which it groups into key areas where policymakers have an opportunity to better support digital preparedness. Among the recommendations:
- Sweep away the regulatory underbrush that limits remote and automated digital functions in a wide array of industries, from health and retail to education and transportation.
- Support the development of foundational digital platforms, including universal broadband, 5G, digital IDs, electronic health records, big data systems, and mobile payments.
- Increase funding to spur development and adoption of key technologies to enable more efficient and flexible production, including robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, AI, blockchain, IOT, and facial recognition.
- Support digital transformation for remote activity in key sectors, including education, government, healthcare, transportation, retail, and manufacturing.
- Ensure a fourth stimulus package includes a major push to increase digital resiliency to better prepare for future pandemics.
“Whether pandemics will remain isolated events or become the new normal (which we hope won’t happen), policymakers should err on the side of caution and act as if sustained physical distancing will be a measure that countries will need to continue to implement on various occasions,” adds Atkinson. “The current exercise has exposed important gaps in society’s digital readiness. If policymakers seize the opportunity to address them, we can reap the benefits technology offers to enable remote activities, build resilience in supply chains, and reduce the trade-off between protecting health and the economy.”