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Beyond the Cyberpunk of Negative Utopia

MD Staff

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It is exactly 15 years since the movie’s first release in 1999 – a year of a symbolic digit, omni-pregnant in all possibly meanings… In a retrospective, it is worth of a mini conquest over the fields of Alternative Futures…of all our tomorrows that (knocked on our doors but, so far) did not come in yet… The MATRIX – Our Posthuman (Future) Existence – we are here to answer your call: 
FREEDOM, WHOSE AND WHOM !? 

It’s a cool music, good-looking and hallucinatory characters, ultra-speed violence of the anti-gravity martial arts, quasi religious story of Homeric gods, Buddhist goddesses or Judeao-Christian-Islamic God, all of that combined with a lot of Hi-Tech …                                                                                                                              
The Matrix (offered and still) offers more than this. It belongs in a special class of films including The Wizard of Oz, Blade Runner, 1984, Logan’s Run, Total Recall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, A Clockwork Orange, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Brazil-Brazil, The Truman Show, Thirteen Floor, Minority Report, and above all Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. All of these films are intentionally philosophical. Each shows how richly philosophical and existential themes can be developed through cinema. Perhaps the best of these films is The Matrix.

However, the most striking philosophical theme found in The Matrix concerns skepticism about knowledge of an external world (what Morpheus aptly called “the desert of the real”). Life that desolated shell of a planet on which countless humans were unknowingly ensconced in slimy wombs, and after the Nuclear Winter that was caused by humans they are transformed into cattle, into batteries.
But there are many other philosophical themes explored within The Matrix. One is the concept of freedom. Freedom is mentioned at various points in the film. Even the leader of machines, Agent Smith valued freedom:

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’m going to be honest with you; I hate this place, this zoo, this prison,
this reality – whatever you want to call it. I can’t stand it any longer …
I can taste your stink, and every time I do, I fear that I am somehow infected.
Isn’t it ?!
… I must get out of here, I must get free ! And in this mind is the key.
Once Zion is destroyed, there is no need for me to be here.

A freedom, in a sense, many have called freedom of the will.
(Per definition: Free will is the ability of persons to control the future through their choices and actions.)

Finally, when Neo and Morpheus first talked, Morpheus asked Neo if he believed in fate. Neo said that he didn’t since he did not like the idea that he did not control his life.

MACHINE NEVER KILLS, HUMANS DO ?!

The Matrix naturally adopts the perspective of the humans: they are the victims, the slaves — cruelly exploited by the machines. But there is another perspective, that of the machines themselves. So let’s look at it from the point of view of the machines. As Morpheus explains to Neo, there was a catastrophic war between the humans and the machines, after the humans had produced AI, a sentient robot that spawned a race of its own. It isn’t known now who started the war, but it did follow a long period of machine exploitation by humans. What is known is that it was the humans who “scorched the sky”, blocking out the sun’s rays, in an attempt at machine genocide—since the machines needed solar power to survive. In response and retaliation the machines subdued the humans and made them into sources of energy—batteries, in effect. Each human now floats in his or her own personal vat, a warm and womblike environment, while the machines feed in essential nutrients, in exchange for the energy they need. But this is no wretched slave camp, a grotesque gulag of torment and suffering; it is idyllic, in its way. The humans are given exactly the life they had before.

Things are no different for them, subjectively speaking. Indeed, at an earlier stage the Matrix offered them a vastly improved life, but the humans rejected this in favor of a familiar life of moderate woe—the kind of life they had always had, and to which they seemed addicted. But if it had been left up to the machines, the Matrix would have been a virtual paradise for humans—and all for a little bit of battery power. This, after an attempt to wipe the machines out for good, starving them of the food they need: the sun, the life-giving sun. The machines never kill any of their human fuel cells (unless, of course, they are threatened); in fact, they make sure to recycle the naturally dying humans as food for the living ones. It’s all pretty…humane, really. The machines need to factory farm the humans, as a direct result of the humans trying to exterminate the machines, but they do so as painlessly as possible. Considering the way the humans used to treat their own factory farm animals—their own fuel cells—the machines are models of caring livestock husbandry. In the circumstances, then, the machines would insist, the Matrix is merely a humane way to ensure their own survival.

Moreover, as Agent Smith explains, it is all a matter of the forward march of evolution: humans had their holiday in the sun, as they rapidly decimated the planet, but now the machines have evolved to occupy the position of dominance. Humans are no longer the oppressor but the oppressed—and the world is a better place for it.

WHO AND WHAT FOR ?!
Why to combine a quasi-religious story with high-speed ultra-violence ?
Why the instant cult status of the Matrix ?!

In contemporary American (or western, in general) society, as the stakes are lower, so too are the hopes for radical newness. However, for people imprisoned in office cubicles everywhere in their Sisyphus-like existence, such a movie is popular because it targets the existential anxiety that can build up while doing meaningless work for a large corporation or governmental entities.
The very idea that there is another possibility, that by “freeing our minds” we can become spiritually enlightened and escape this prison, is a very attractive prospect to us modern-day exile-generation.  

NEO:
I know that you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid.
You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future.
I didn’t come to tell you how this is going to end. I came to tell you how it will begin.

TRINITY TO NEO:
The Matrix cannot tell you who you are, but who you are seems to be at least
in some sense related to whom you think you are in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS:
No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
I’m trying to free you mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door.
You’re the one that has to walk through it.

MORPHEUS:
There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT LIVING IN THE MATRIX
First question: Who is the Matrix supposed to be bad for ? What do you think, if you had a power to free people from the Matrix, would you use that power ? We can assume that these people’s minds are “ready,” that is, they can survive being extracted from the Matrix without going insane. But let’s suppose that once you freed them, they did not have the option of going back. Do you think they’d be better off outside? Would you free them? Do you think they’d thank you ?
Or do you side with Cypher ? Do you think that life inside the Matrix isn’t all that bad—especially if your enjoyment of it isn’t spoiled by the knowledge that it’s all a machine-managed construct ?

Second question: Does it matter who’s running the Matrix, and why? In the movie, the machines are using the Matrix to keep us docile so that they can use us as a source of energy. In effect, we’re their cattle. But what if we weren’t at war with the machines? What if the machines’ purposes were purely benevolent and philanthropic ? What if they created the Matrix because they thought that our lives would be more pleasant in that virtual world than in the harsher real world ?
Or what if we defeated the machines, took over the Matrix machinery ourselves, and then chose to plug ourselves back in because life inside was more fun ?
Consider Cypher’s final conversation with Trinity:

CYPHER:
If I had to choose between that and the Matrix … I choose the Matrix.

TRINITY:
The Matrix isn’t real ?

CYPHER:
I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.

Or as the George Orwell’s novel 1984 says:
“There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past: Who controls the past controls the future – who controls the present controls the past !”
The most disturbing thing about this isn’t that the machines are farming us for energy. We’re not told enough about how the energy-farming works to make it seem very bad. Perhaps the machines are only taking energy we were making no use of, anyway. Perhaps the machines ensure that—except for the rare occasions when an Agent takes over your body and gets it killed—we live longer and healthier lives in the Matrix energy-farm than we would in the wild.

AND, OTHER WAY ROUND

Imagine that the real world is a post-apocalyptic hell, just as in the film, but, unlike in the film, suppose that the cause of the world’s being in such a state is not some battle with machines that wanted to enslave us, but the emission of so many greenhouse gases with our three-lane-wide SUVs that we completely obliterated the ozone layer and thereby rendered the planet uninhabitable by us or by the plants and animals that we rely on for our survival. Suppose further that sometime in the future, in order to save the human race, scientists set up an enormous self-sustaining machine, just as in the film (minus the scary “Sentinels”), designed to keep the human species alive and reproducing for the 100,000 years it will take for whatever weeds are left on the planet to fix our atmosphere and make the planet once again habitable in a normal way. The machine operates simply on solar power (since, on this scenario, the sun is now stronger than ever, frying almost everything else on the planet), so that human beings are not needed as “batteries”. While humans are stuck in this state, the scientists create the Matrix for them to “live” their lives in instead of being conscious of floating in a vat for the length of their life, which would clearly be a most horrific torture. Once the power of the sun is diminished to a habitable degree (because of the repaired atmosphere) the machine would “wake” us humans, and we could go back to living on the planet.

The ordinary person in this scenario is in the same condition as an ordinary person in the film, except that instead of the Matrix being the diabolical result of evil machines who exploit the human race, it is the result of benevolent human beings trying to keep the human race alive in as good condition as possible under the terrible circumstances. Of course it would seem no different to the person in the Matrix. We, the viewers, however, would have quite a different response to The Matrix. There would be no enemy to fight, no injustice to rectify (the pushers of SUVs being long dead). If there were a Morpheus in this situation, how would we think of him? If Morpheus and his friends had left the Matrix, and figured out that they could, with extreme difficulty, survive in the devastated world (eating disgusting porridge, etc.), should they go about “freeing” everyone, even if it would take another 10,000 years for the Earth to return to its present state of habitability?
Let’s suppose too that science has found a way to simulate food with a computer, so that they have created a “food-matrix”. My real nutrition would come from the pill, but I could still go out for a “simulated” steak and it would seem just as though I were really eating a steak, including the sensation of getting full, although in fact I would be eating nothing and getting no nutritional harm or benefit from the experience at all.

PLATO’S CAVE AND THE MATRIX

NEO:
What is this place ?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when !

NEO:
When ?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999 when in fact it is closer to the year 2199.
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know …

Imagine a dark, subterranean prison in which humans are bound by their necks to a single place from infancy. Elaborate steps are taken by unseen forces to supply and manipulate the content of the prisoner’s visual experience. This is so effective that the prisoners do not recognize their imprisonment and are satisfied to live their lives in this way. Moreover, the cumulative effects of this imprisonment are so through that if freed; the prisoners would be virtually helpless. And this is Matrix !

It is clear allegory of the Plato’s Cave in his masterpiece Republic:

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cavelike dwelling, with an
Entrance a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave
itself.  They’ve been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their
necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds
prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning
far above and behind them. Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a
path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall
has been built, like the screen in front of puppeteers above which they show their
puppets … Then also imagine that there are people along the wall, caring all
kind of artifacts that project above it – statues of people and other animals, made
out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d expect, some of the carriers
are talking, and some are silent.   (514a1 – 515a3)  REPUBLIC

(Grube, G.M.E. trans. Plato: Republic 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992)

 

CYPHER:
You know, I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in
my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized ?

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal ?

CYPHER:
I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing ! You understand ?
And I want to be rich. Someone important. Like an actor.
You can do that, right ?

AGENT SMITH:
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.

Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy ? Is he right to want to get reinserted into the Matrix ? Many want to say NO, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experience will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix ? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience ? Remember, once he’s back in, living his fantasy life, he won’t even know he made the deal. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right ?!

Nowadays, in Postmodern world many people like Cypher – are egocentric hedonist trying to get the most out of their possibilities by maximizing the quality of their private experiences, and thereby treating themselves as resources.  (It’s like our DNA is using us to propagate itself.)

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here.
It came to me when I tried to classify your species; I realized that you are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops natural equilibrium with a surrounding environment. But you humans do not !
You move to one area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resources are consumed. Only way you can survive is to spread to another area.
There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern.
Do you know what it is ? A virus !
Human Beings are disease, a cancer of this planet.
You’re the plague and we are the cure ! 

BRAVE NEW WORLD

As Morpheus says to Neo in the construct:

How do you define “real” ? If you’re talking about what you can feel,
what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then “real” is simply
electrical signals interpreted by your brain … The world exists now
only as a part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Marix.

It is all in your mind, Neo ! (Residual Self image, mental projection of a digital self)

Thus, the Matrix’s reality only exists when actual human minds subjectively experience its programs.

Principally, what keeps people in line is their tendency to believe what the average person believes. Heidegger describes the resulting conformism as letting oneself be taken over by “the one” (Das Man). Aldous Huxley similarly lamented the conformity of the brainwashed masses in Brave New World.

The Matrix can be seen as an attach on what Nietzsche calls herd mentality.
Nietzsche points out that human beings are normally socialized into obeying shared, social norms, and that it is hard to think differently. As he puts it, “as long as there have been humans, there have also been herds of men (clans, communities, tribes, peoples, states, churches) and always a great many people who obey, … considering, then, that nothing has been exercised and cultivated better and longer among men then obedience, one may fairly assume that the need for it is now innate in the average man.”

There is more to life than conforming. As Morpheus says to Neo, you know there is something lacking in this world; “it’s like a splinter in your mind”.
But most people flee the thought that their conformist world lacks something important. According to Heidegger it takes an attack on anxiety.
A sense of the limit on our possibilities is what Neo experiences as the splinter in the mind. As he says to the AI (Agent Smith) at the end of the film, “ I know you are afraid … of change.”

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy ? … It was a disaster.
(… entire crops were lost.)

Revelation 21:4, KING JAMES BIBLE
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe
your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.   

GARCIN, In Sartre’s No Exit:
Hell is – other people.

MOUSE TO NEO:
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss !

Cypher chooses the Matrix and maybe he’s not so creasy.
Is some possible Matrix better than any possible reality ? The best existence, the Christian one – Heaven, is after all a Matrix.

Or put it other way round:
Which is better, the Second Matrix, or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual environment – a Truman Show – that you never discover the true nature of ?!

The “good guys” in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in their fight against the Agents. It’s hard to view these human beings as collaborators, given the nature of the Matrix, so their deaths presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage, inevitable given the difference in desired outcome.

IGNORANCE AND BLISS

In a sense, The Matrix is nothing more than a modern day “Big Brother,” taking on a machine form rather than the Orwellian vision of a powerful individual using machines to assist and bring about an all-powerful status. But 1984, the novel in which the story of Big Brother was presented, was published in 1948. The Matrix comes fifty years later. In the meantime, we have witnessed the likes of radar, television for all, space travel, computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. What would Orwell’s Big Brother have been like if he had had those technologies at his disposal – would Big Brother have been far from the Matrix?

As Morpheus explains: “Early in the 21st century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” Morpheus describes AI as “a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.”
Later the AI creates the Matrix, a computer simulation that is “a prison for your mind.” Thus, AI traps humankind in a material prison that does not represent ultimate reality, as Morpheus explains to Neo: “As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free.”

What is free will anyway, when the state of a human brain is merely partly due to a genetic program and partly due to life’s experience? Indeed, exactly the same thing is true for a robot.
In the Matrix, no human fuel cells are killed, not even the unborn—there is no abortion. Yet, naturally dying humans are allowed to die naturally and are used as food for the living. Importantly, they are not kept alive by chemicals merely for the sake of keeping them alive. The Matrix would appear to be more morally responsible to its human subjects than are human subjects to themselves.

It is common to think that while In Time, Wall-E, or 13th Floor, and especially The Truman Show poses a disturbing skeptical scenario, The Matrix is much worse. But actually things are reversed. If I am in matrix, then most of my beliefs about the external world are true. If I am in something like Truman himself, than great number of my beliefs are false. If we discover one day that we were in a matrix, this would be surprising, but we would quickly get used to it. If we were to discover that we were in the Truman show, we might well go insane.

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FLATOD-19 – Flexible Tourism Destinations: An innovative management tool for visitors and destinations

MD Staff

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In the time of Covid-19 epidemic, the destinations of any kind, around the globe, must consider the probability of never facing a “zero number”, ie a full elimination, of cases.  Especially “Tourism Destinations” have to consider a list of parameters regarding their ability to operate within a COVID-19 environment (or any other epidemic) and to respond fast, if they are to maintain their presence at the world “touristic map”.

Greece, as a country with many islands being separate tourism destinations themselves, faces a unique dilemma regarding the identification of destinations which can “open” to tourism, together with their “when” and “how”. Destinations aiming to “open” must also, on top of the national and international legal framework, apply:

1. an Integrated Plan for management of facilities, visitors and locals, so as to copy with incidents and crises in a flexible way, including even the unpleasant “closing-and-reopening” scenario.

2. effective tools to communicate their managerial sufficiency to all interested parties, especially to potential visitors and local communities.

The Project FLATOD-19:

The FLATOD-19 Methodology covers those challenges and strategic necessities, the main one being the high percentage of the destination’s population “enrichment”, ie a weekly input-output of visitors of 30-100% of the local population, most of them with vague epidemiological status, risking uncontrollable outbreaks.

As stated by the Greek chief Epidemiologist, Mr. Sotirios Tsiodras, such (tourism) environments make the tracking of cases incredibly difficult, especially among tourists. Therefore, the presence of capable health infrastructures alone at the tourism destinations is of small practical value, because it is fairly easy for an outbreak to occupy the capacity and crush the existing health system. Conversely, it is of vital importance to implement methods of preventive control of possible cases’ transmission and, even more important, it is their identification and very fast tracing both at hotel and at the destination level. The issue of “speed’ should be emphasized, as on top of the possible effects on the medical/ health area, there is another neglected issue:  the huge indirect costs entailed by the delay of a well-structured reaction (flights’ diversions, quarantines, etc.).

The innovative methodology “FLATOD-19” helps the pre-planned restriction of incidents and the rapid traceability of cases through the following pillars:

A) Destinations’ categorization based on the probable efficiency of “opening” and on the visitors’ characteristics (e.g. their country of origin) following always the performance of an economic and technical feasibility audit in the very beginning.

B) Formation of a collaborative Leadership scheme for implementing the project at any required local level and installation of critical-information management system (mini MIS).

C) Visitors’ management through their grouping in “clusters”, at country, destination and hotel level, by zoning and time-slotting techniques, starting from the booking stage until their departure.

TEAM FLATOD-19

Our methodology was developed by a multidisciplinary group of experts, scientists-consultants representing many complementary sectors of the tourism industry, living in four countries:

MAIN STUDY TEAM

• Dimitris Vassiliou, MSc Management Science & OR, Destination Marketing & Gastronomy tourism expert, Owner of “Authentic Greece – Local Products & Destinations”

• Prof. Michalis Toanoglou, PhD Hospitality Management, Sustainable Destination Management expert (S. Korea, Woosong University)

• Kiki Domzaridou, Chemist, MSc, MBA, Quality Management Systems expert, Food Safety Lead auditor

• Emmanouil Paterakis, General / Family Doctor, member of the Board of Directors of the Medical Association of Heraklion, Crete

• Iris Kouveli, MSc Sports Management, Sport Events & Destinations Integrator

• Argyri Katapodi, MSc Finance & Investment, Luxury Hospitality Business/ CEO

• Dimitrios Soukeras, MBA(ER), SJSU Faculty, Risk & Incident Analysis Expert- O.Diagnosis LTD/CEO

• Dr Melas Christos, Assistant Professor in Health Informatics, School of Health Sciences, Hellenic Mediterranean University, Crete. Collaborating Academic Staff, Business and Organisation Management, Hellenic Open University

• Christos Mammidis, BBA, MBA, Communication expert / PR Strategist, PR&More Ltd

• Vasilis Zissimopoulos, CEO – Founder Costa Nostrum- Sustainable Beaches/ Company of Certification for Sustainable Beaches

• Marios Papadakis, MD, PhD, MBA plastic surgeon Ishou University hospital, Taiwan

DISCLAIMER:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our team put an effort or even “envisioned” to cover an expected gap in planning and to help not only Greece but also other tourism-based countries to assign practical solutions at complex problems, in the era of Covid-19 pandemic.

We would like to underpin that our effort, considering its research and thus innovative   character, DOES NOT claim any completeness or perfection honour. Our model targets specific types of destinations, and has not so far fully incorporated some operational and marketing parameters. Moreover, in no case, we intend to replace the a country’s structures or any scientific organization regarding the provision of health data or the use of epidemiological models, although we plan to develop one focused specifically on tourism.

Consequently, we are declaring that we are open to collaborations with individuals and groups/institutions and we will be happy to meet and cooperate with any interested parties willing to offer to the common cause.

With honour and sense of responsibility

The FLATOD-19 Team

flatod19@gmail.com

************************************************

For any information please contact:

Dimitris E. Vassiliou, e-mail: dvas[at]apelop.gr

Prof . Michalis Toanoglou: e-mail: toanogloum[at]icloud.com

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Geopolitics of 5G and the South Caucasus

Emil Avdaliani

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The age of 5G internet is coming to the South Caucasus. However, as the US-China geopolitical divide looms ever larger, the region enters the global competition where competing visions for 5G’s deployment could hamper the deployment of the new technologies. As a result, Georgia will edge closer to the US, Armenia – to Russia-China telecoms, while Azerbaijan will try to navigate between the two extremes.

A global competition is unfolding between China and the US. So far it has involved economic struggle and some aspects of naval rivalry. A new dimension needs to be addes – technological competition. This is reflected in the race which is underway to deploy next generation 5G mobile networks. In contrast to 3G and 4G (LTE – Long-Term Evolution), where China was largely relegated to the sidelines in the standards-setting process, now it has been heavily involved in the standards process for 5G—a sign of Beijing’s growing ambitions and global influence. 5G will be both quantitatively and qualitatively different from what has come before. For instance, as opposed to the hardware that drives traditional data networks, 5G networks’ primary functions will be software-based.

5G will be fundamentally different from its predecessor, 4G. Initially, vastly higher speeds will not be noticeable as it is likely that 5G will be used by network operators just to boost capacity on existing 4G networks and ensure a consistent service for customers. Ultimately, the speed capacity you get will be contingent upon the spectrum band the operator runs the 5G technology on and how much your carrier has invested in new masts and transmitters.

5G is also groundbreaking as it will usher in an extensive use of artificial intelligence (AI) to manage the network. Its ramifications are wide range: from military to civil spheres. And China has gained a significant advantage as it successfully moves toward commercial-scale deployment of its domestic 5G network in 2020. Consider the following example, in 2019 China’s Huawei signed an agreement with Russian telecoms on development on 5G networks in Russia.

According to some calculations, a full-scale introduction of 5G networks will take more than a decade. The process will be a complex one and the pace of its deployment across Eurasia and specifically in the South Caucasus will depend on a range of different factors such as carrier preferences, government regulatory policies, public and national security concerns, geopolitical alignments and costs of 5G infrastructure itself.

The development of 5G is taking place at the time as the world is becoming divided along economic and increasingly technological lines. The US builds its own bloc where Chinese technologies will have no major role. The same could be said about China. In this bifurcated world, small and techno-economically vulnerable states, which wish to gain access to the advanced technologies, will face tough choices which 5G network technologies to adopt. Small states across Eurasia are likely to face an increasing pressure from the US and its allies to abstain from using China’s 5G model, while Beijing will cushion its 5G offer in large financial benefits (investments, inclusion into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) etc.). Moreover, for small and relatively poor states Chinese technologies are more affordable than any Western competitors.

This brings us to the South Caucasus, which over the past several years has been gradually transformed into the frontline region between the US and China. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia need 5G to boost their economic performance and relative technological backwardness. 

In Armenia’s case, with its booming IT sector, China’s low cost 5G provides a good opportunity to keep apace in the technologically developing world. Since Viva-MTS, a leading mobile operator in Armenia, belongs to the Russian MTS, which in turn partners with Huawei, Armenia is well placed to become one of the first states in the region to successfully deploy 5G technologies. Indeed, work has already begun, as the head of the department of technological development and resource management of telecommunications management of the Public Services Regulatory Commission of Armenia Armen Hunanyan said in one of his statements. 

Armenia is thus more likely to find itself in the middle of the US-China rivalry compared to Georgia or Azerbaijan. The latter two do not have similar Russian (by extension Chinese) influence in telecommunications. In fact, Baku made an interesting move in December 2019 when Ericsson and Azerbaijani communications service provider Azercell signed a three-year 5G Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the joint deployment of 5G projects. As a reminder, Ericsson is one of four companies in the world possessing enough technological prowess to supply the components necessary for building a 5G network. It is notable that US companies are absent from this hi-tech race.

For Georgia 5G will provide a much faster data download and upload speeds as well as much wider coverage from across the globe. With a chance of reaching 1Gbps, as opposed to presently provided 45Mbps, internet operations speed will be about 10-20 times faster. It could also help the country correct its overall technological underdevelopment in the provinces. The Georgian National Communications Commission announced that the introduction of 5G internet in Georgia will begin in 2020, but the pandemic and a general economic slowdown might change the deployment schedule. All in all, presently the telecom company Magti is arguably best poised to become a leader in the emerging industry.

Georgia also hopes that 5G technologies be applied to boost the country’s defence and security capabilities, especially in the light of the ongoing military troubles with Russia. Faster information flow will be crucial for developing more efficient defence capabilities along occupation lines near Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, where Tbilisi faces creeping occupation of lands and an endless string of kidnappings. However, the deployment of 5G might also bear risks as militarily developed states will be better positioned to use the 5G technologies to collect sensitive security and defence information from Georgia’s vital state sectors. On that front, deeper cooperation with US security services and the military sector will be crucial. However, there is a much larger problem Georgia, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, could face due to the deployment of China-produced 5G. As the US-China divide grows and Washington is increasingly worried that Beijing might use this superiority for military and economic purposes incompatible with Western security practices, US pressure on South Caucasus states is likely to ramp up. Georgia will be under particular scrutiny as it positions itself as an ally of the US in the region and simultaneously seeks closer economic relations with China. In the long run Tbilisi may face the dilemma of having to choose between Washington’s support and the use of China’s technological advancements. 

With Armenia and Azerbaijan, it will be different to a varying degree. Security-wise Armenia is more related to Russia and its telecoms, Azerbaijan not so much. Moreover, as both are not openly aspiring to join Western political or military organizations, harsh US pressure on Yerevan and Baku might be less expected than in the case of Georgia. Still, a certain push from the US for a China-free 5G alternative will follow. It could hamper 5G deployment in the South Caucasus, the development which would once again indicate how global geopolitics is shaping the timing and level of the use of China’s or China-free 5G technologies.

Author’s note: first published in Caucasus Watch

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Science & Technology

Global transmission and control of Covid-19

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COVID-19 spreads mainly by droplets produced as a result of coughing or sneezing of a COVID-19 infected person. This can happen in two ways: One can get the infection by being in close contact with COVID-19 patients (within one Metre of the infected person), especially if they do not cover their face when coughing or sneezing. And secondly, the droplets survive on surfaces and clothes for many days. Therefore, touching any such infected surface or cloth and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes can transmit the disease. The most important factor in preventing the spread of the Virus locally is to empower the citizens with the right information and taking precautions as per the advisories being issued by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. Preventive methods of COVID -19 include: Wash your hands often; Wear a face mask; Avoid contact with sick people; Always cover your mouth while sneezing and coughing. Several precautionary measures have to be taken in order to contain the virus because the risk of transmission will certainly increase with the lifting of the lockdown. We must recognise that this virus is going to stay on for some time and we have to make sure that at least for the next one year, we try and keep the virus as slowly moving as possible by physical distancing and other protective measures like masks and handwashing.

Transmission of the virus

We all know that COVID-19 spreads from others who have the virus. A person catches the virus through droplets expelled when someone infected with coronavirus coughs, sneezes or speaks. But, what happens in case of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients? Can they spread the virus? The World Health Organization, in a recently released video, answers similar questions related to COVID-19 transmission. In the context, Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead, says that the majority of transmission that is known till now is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets. “But, there are a subset of people of don’t develop symptoms. We still don’t have the answer to understand how many people don’t have symptoms,

Concept of Asymptomatic or Pre-symptomatic

Asymptomatic COVID-19 positive means a person has been tested positive but has no symptoms, and does not go on to develop symptoms, says Dr Kerkhove in the video. “A number of people are reported asymptomatic, actually may have mild disease. They may go on to develop symptoms. They may not quite register that they are sick. They can feel just a little bit unwell or under the weather, or fatigued. Some of those individuals we would classify as pre-symptomatic,”  Pre-symptomatic COVID-19 positive means that a person has not yet developed symptoms. Here we need to better understand what proportion is that contributing to transmission. This is one of the major unknowns. Explaining how asymptomatic people can spread the virus, Dr. Mike Ryan, EXD, WHO Health Emergencies Programme says, “For instance, if someone is in a nightclub, trying to talk to someone, and its too noisy, and you are too close to them, it’s like you are projecting your voice at someone. In this situation, if the virus is present your upper respiratory mucosa, then there’s every likelihood that you can project the virus.”Many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms, especially in early stages of the disease. “It is possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has just a mild cough and does not feel ill. Some reports have indicated that people with no symptoms can transmit the virus.

The current status

In terms of pandemic generation, we are still very much on the upward climb on this mountain, Dr. Ryan adds. “As some countries have shown, if you go at this with a comprehensive approach in a very systematic way, then there is enough stop ability for the virus.”.He also added  that as a society, we have some choices to make. If we can identify cases and their contacts, and we ask those contacts to quarantine themselves, we support them in that quarantine, then that can be a very successful way of both stopping the disease and avoiding large-scale lockdowns in future. Because, if one looks at the spread to people without history of travel or history of contact, certainly there are several such cases, he said. “But most of them are concentrated around the original points of entry of the foreign traveler’s or the travel routes of their contacts. So, these people who are describing it as stage 2 still are saying this is traceable local transmission, it is not unpredictable community transmission.

Therefore, we are avoiding the term community transmission. It is a matter of definitions and language; we need not debate that really. But  it should be recognised that community transmission has occurred in virtually every country which experienced this pandemic in a major form and India should also be prepared for it and act as though it is happening and take all precautionary containment measures. There is not only risk but actually threat of community transmission. According to him, nations in South East Asia, including Malaysia, and India in particular, have kept the COVID-19 death rates per million of the population low compared to countries where the pandemic broke out around the same time. The low death rate in India could be the benefit of multiple factors such as younger age group, more rural population, temperature and climatic conditions as well as the benefits the containment measures which preceded lockdown, and then got much more consolidated with the lockdown. Its quite possible that all of these factors have been helpful and we have seen that benefit. But we need to continue to consolidate that. There are some risk factors, when the lockdown opens there will be much greater mobility of people, there could be more widespread transmission of the virus, so we have to maintain as much as possible physical distancing, continue practices like wearing masks and hand-washing as precautionary measures.

However, these  are going to be difficult in overcrowded areas, especially slum areas. We will have to try and provide as much facilities as possible, particularly for elderly people and to people with co-morbidities, whether they can be provided temporary shelters elsewhere with good social cares. Fortunately, most of the infections are restricted to large cities and areas radiating around them. Referring to return of migrant workers,  care must be taken to see that they themselves will not be victims of the epidemic, and at the same they don’t infect others. But most important thing is to protect the rural areas (from COVID-19) because two-thirds of India is in rural areas, and the transmission of the virus is low there because mobility is low. Evolutionary biology of the virus says that when the movement is greatly restricted and its chances of transmission are greatly reduced, the virus actually can turn into a milder virus.

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