Waze for our Pandemic Journey
Ramesh Raskar, an Associate Professor at MIT, argues that despite spending billions of dollars and creating vaccines in a record time, in western democracies we failed to tame the pandemic because we missed one critical element in the pandemic response: citizen engagement. Crowdsourced data is the most powerful tool in a pandemic to achieve self-orchestration and social behavior change. Waze navigation app is a great example of self-orchestration.Drivers share their GPS data and Waze servers analyze traffic density and calculate emerging hotspots. Waze app gently nudges every driver to avoid those hotspots, via highly personalized hyper-local information. How can we navigate the haze of confusing data about exposures, symptoms, shutdowns, treatments and vaccination guidance, with an app that looks like Waze for the pandemic journey? On the other hand, poor public healthdata has led to reactionary decisions and policies that often don’t play out and cause the public to lose trust. With citizen engagement missing, the classic loop of interventions, evidence-based predictions, and alerts completely falls apart thus eroding our confidence in public health and its officials. What will the future of public health look like when all citizens feel safe to be engaged and expressive without the fear of a 'surveillance state'? It will usher in an era of early warning and proactive nudges rather than the reactive policing and clumsy mandates. It is inevitable that there will be another ‘Disease X’ pandemic, but with the right technology combined with citizen engagement we’ll be able to navigate through it as easily as navigating through rush hour traffic.