I have written and spoken a lot about how technological progress is incompatible with privacy. One example I have used is someone bioengineering a virus in their basement. It turns out a much simpler example is what we are seeing today: a new virus that’s spreading. We cannot both have fast, easy international travel and also have privacy of travelers. If you travel and later come down with the coronavirus, we need to know where you went and who else may have been exposed. At a minimum society needs to be able to notify fellow travelers. Obviously in a situation like this we should also much more rapidly restrict travel than we have done.
At the same time the new coronavirus also perfectly illustrates why technological progress means we need well functioning democracies more than ever. Authoritarian governments always will suppress news that doesn’t fit with their preferred narrative, even when that news could save thousands or even millions of lives. The initial reporting of the new coronavirus by Li Wenliang was suppressed by the local government. Sadly, yesterday he himself passed away from the disease. Because of much improved internal travel within China the outbreak was able to spread further and faster than it would have in the past. The initial suppression of the news may well be the reason for why this outbreak potentially cannot be contained at all.
Here is a talk I gave at Blockstack Berlin a couple of years back that lays out some of these ideas: