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Why tech didn’t save us from covid-19

Dashed hopes: Technology has failed the US and much of the rest of the world in its most important role: keeping us alive and healthy, writes David Rotman. Our most effective response to the outbreak has been mass quarantines, a public health technique borrowed from the Middle Ages. Nowhere was the technology failure more obvious than in testing, amplified by a splintered and neglected system of collecting public health data.

Why?: The problem goes deeper than the current administration’s inaction. A once-healthy innovation ecosystem in the US, capable of identifying and creating technologies essential to the country’s welfare, has been eroding for decades. Much of the US’s manufacturing has gone overseas. Government-funded R&D in the US has dropped from 1.8% of GDP in the mid-1960s, when it was at its peak, to 0.7% now. And private innovation—which focuses on what’s lucrative rather than what’s groundbreaking or useful—hasn’t filled the gap.

What’s next: The test of the country’s innovation system will be whether over the coming months it can invent vaccines, treatments, and tests, and then produce them at the massive scale needed to defeat covid-19. Read the full story

Posted Friday, June 19, 2020