Retrospective Roundtable: THE GREAT DECENTRALIZATION OF 2020

Making of a Revolutionary Ruckus

April 1st, 2040 AD

By Ernest Prabhakar and Colin Keeler

INTRODUCTIONS

TIM:
Greetings, digital athletes! Today is April 1st, 2040 AD. I’m Tim O’Lee, normally host of D-Sports DeCenter on the Decentralized Sport Programming Network (DSPN). This week I am honored to moderate a Retrospective Roundtable for the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration of The Great Decentralization of 2020, the Annus Mirabilis which led to the futuristic world we live in today.
Our sponsor the JRE Foundation has assembled a blue-ribbon panel, live via hologram, to identify the key innovations that brought us to this place. Panelists, please introduce yourselves, starting with Flo on my virtual right.
FLO:
Hi everyone, my name is Flo Knight, CEO of Fly By Knight drone delivery services, and I will be speaking about Healthcare.
DEW:
I guess I’m next. I’m Dewey C. Howe, but my friends call me Dew. I used to be a Professor, but now I’m what they call a Mentor at the Muniversity of DeKalb’s Active Learning Service, so I’ll be discussing the changes in Education.
ABE:
Great to meet you, Dew! I’m a big fan of your sim on how to institutionalize a culture of perpetual transformation. This is Abe Wash here, and I’ll be talking Politics, probably because of my work as the federal Chief Resilience Officer during the Groening administration.
BEN:
Which leaves me to cover Business. Ben Bern, honored to serve as Chairman of the New York Stewardship Exchange.
TIM:
Thanks, everyone. For our first question, I want you to imagine you are speaking to a modern Rip van Winkle who had fallen asleep during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic two decades ago, and just woke up yesterday. What would you each say was the single most important tipping point that eventually led the total transformation of your discipline?

EDUCATION

DEW:
I’m happy to start. I would have to say the tipping point for higher education was when MIT, emboldened by the effectiveness of their remote learning programs during the pandemic, decided to expand a thousand-fold to become a fully distributed institution.
ABE:
That’s a great pick, Dew, especially since that led directly to Universal Transparent Admissions by Harvard and the entire Open Education Consortium. Kids today probably find it hard to imagine that our top universities once used ambiguous criteria to hand-pick only a few thousand students. They take it for granted that anyone who meets the published criteria is guaranteed a slot in some online or physical cohort, even if there’s a lottery for attending the mother campus.
FLO:
While I agree with your pick, Dew, I think MIT’s real innovation was not in admissions but in rewriting the rules for research funding. By being the first to push the US to double-blind peer review for grant proposal;, and enrolling hundreds of affiliates who knew how to play by the new rules, they both democratized access while increasing their overall prestige.
BEN:
Bah, humbug. I think you give them too much credit. The public was hungry for blood after the massive failures of public health research prior to the epidemic, and MIT just jumped in front of the bandwagon to save their bacon.

HEALTHCARE

TIM:
[Coughing uncomfortably] Ah… thank you, everyone. Flo, this takes us to your area of expertise. What would you say caused the biggest lasting impact in the field of health?
FLO:
Well, Tim, I think everyone would agree the most dramatic change was the “unbundling of the doctor” into a diversity of roles, services, and technologies. But while most people focus on smartphones and artificial intelligence, I believe the critical factor was the rise of Community Health Officers, or CHOs.
ABE:
Aren’t those what used to be called Community Health Workers?
FLO:
Sort of. Before COVID-19, though, health workers in the United States were primarily lay people with relatively little training; and to be honest, even less status or authority. That changed in April of 2020 when the Mayo Clinic teamed up with the Sheriff’s Office to formally deputize over a thousand CHOs, making each of them responsible for the health and safety of a cohort of around 150 people each.
BEN:
[snorting] Yup, a great way to fake employment for all those bartenders and personal trainers after the gyms and pubs closed down due to social distancing.
FLO:
[snidely] Too bad you weren’t in town, or you could have kept the bars in business all by yourself!
TIM:
[coughing again] Um, Flo, I believe you were saying something about CHOs…
FLO:
[primly] Yes, the CHOs were in regular contact with every member of their cohort, and were backed by a vast array of medical databases, health counselors, and artificial intelligence to help identify potential carriers. They were empowered to enforce quarantine, requisition food delivery, and even subpoena phone records to interview known contacts of confirmed cases.
Activists on both the left and right protested the extreme invasion of privacy, but the results speak for themselves. Because of CHOs and the reverse cordon sanitaire around the city, Rochester was able to reopen for business in only two weeks, with fewer total cases per capita than any city over 100,000 people. More importantly, the long-term improvements in overall health (and incarceration rates) of the population easily covered the cost of the program, making it the gold standard every community aspires toward today.
DEW:
Wasn’t that also the first mass deployment of Hippo Crates?
FLO:
Yes, Dew. COVID-19 finally gave Mayo the courage to publicly confront the secret shame of the medical profession: that a hospital is the most dangerous place for a sick person to go, because of all the infections that collect there. All clinics and hospitals were closed to walk-in traffic. Testing and screening was done at the patient’s home by CHOs using a HIPAA-compliant digital testing kit, which became affectionately known as the HIPAA Crate. Digital data was interpreted in real-time by an AI-augmented specialist, while biological samples were flown by drone to a central lab with no outside human contact.
BEN:
[sarcastically] Which just happens to be the same technology your company used to make your millions, at the taxpayer’s expense.
FLO:
[snapping back] Better than the millions you spent paying off your floozies so they wouldn’t testify at our divorce trial!
DEW:
Wait, you two were married?!

BUSINESS

TIM:
[making strangling noises] So, Ben, I think this would be a great time for you to talk about the most momentous business decision of this era.
BEN:
[snapping into professional mode] Oh, that’s easy. The antitrust trial of 2021, when Facebook tried to buy Zoom for $100 billion. Not only was the acquisition blocked, but Facebook had to give competitors access to a zero-knowledge social graph. This made it possible for a host of competitors to bootstrap their own social networks, while still preserving the privacy of member’s personal information. Eventually Facebook realized it was in their own best interest to spin off their ad unit into a separate entity, to provide aggregation services to third-party advertisers across all the different social networks.
FLO:
[grudgingly] He’s right about that. In fact, that led directly to EPIC‘s famous pivot away from business sales of electronic health records to a consumer sales of the first “social health network,” where members and their CHOs created trusted circles for sharing and analyzing their health data. Their new interface is so easy and intuitive it has been called “Tinder for wellness.”

POLITICS

TIM:
[sighing in relief] Whew, that was easy. That just leaves you and politics, Abe. What do you see as the tipping point that led to our modern trans-national decentralized states?
ABE:
Well, obviously it took many treaties, several environmental and health crises, a handful of voting method reforms, and even a few revolutions to get us to where we are today. But the key enabler was the rise of digitally-enabled deliberative democracy, as exemplified by the first UnConvention of the American Resilience UnParty in the summer of 2020.
DEW:
That was modeled on technology unconferences such as FOO Camp and BAR Camp, right?
ABE:
Yes, that first UnConvention married unconference procedures with online meet-up technology to organize hundreds of ad-hoc groups that created Wikipedia-like position papers on how to best recover from the COVID-19 recession — and prevent the next pandemic. It ended with an Ethics Bowl tournament, where teams of policy wonks competed to demonstrate their ability to synthesize the best ideas from critics and competitors into broadly acceptable ideas for promoting individual, community, and societal resilience.
FLO:
But that was originally intended merely as a way to stimulate more informed public debate, right?
ABE:
Correct. However, when the two major party candidates become incapacitated due to COVID-related complications (from which they thankfully recovered), public attention shifted to a write-in unity ticket featuring the leaders of the top two UnConvention teams. The result was a landslide that ended the two-party system, eventually leading to the fractal federalism and data-driven democracy most of us enjoy today.

SPONSOR BREAK

TIM:
Thank you, Abe. And a huge thank you to all of our panelists. I and our audience now have a much clearer understanding of the critical turning points where a few courageous individuals helped birth something revolutionary at a time when many were paralyzed with fear and anxiety.
Before we continue, I would like to take a moment to also thank our sponsor, the JRE Foundation. Our younger viewers may not remember JR, but he was a famous podcaster and self-improvement guru in the era of the social media robber barons. When those empires collapsed, he took it in stride and devoted his remaining fortune to longshot scientific explorations, as well as studies of historic causality like this one.
In fact, I am pleased to announce that JR himself will be joining us for his first live appearance in nearly two decades. JR, do you have a few words of wisdom to share with our panelists and viewers?
JR:
[laughing maniacally] Fools! I will destroy you all! Bwah-hah-hah-hah.
TIM:
[nervously] Um, I beg your pardon. Did you just say you were going to destroy us?
JR:
Oh, Tim, my dear sweet Tim. I did not bring you here to praise this civilization, but to bury it. Did you not know that in the old world I was a god? I looked like a god, I was worshipped as a god, and I was richer than god. Social media was a well-tuned pipe, and I was a better pied piper than anyone.
But then your cursed revolution occurred, and your precious decentralized systems made human flourishing an everyday commodity. Nobody had any more time for gurus. Or heroes. They were too busy becoming the heroes of their own story.
I knew what I had to do. I used the last of my magical probiotic formula to create a temporal vortex. I will send my past self the secrets of modern vaccines, so I can end the COVID-19 pandemic before it teaches humanity to completely distrust centralized systems. I will also warn myself about these four tipping points you so kindly identified for me, so I can ensure they never occur. I will be hailed as a savior, preserving the comfortable world everyone wants to go back to, never suspecting the utopia they have already lost.
FLO:
Ben, honey, do something.
BEN:
I… I’m sorry. I’ve failed you again. I don’t know what to do.
FLO:
Hold me, Ben.
ABE:
Now see here, JR, you are not going to get away with this…
JR:
You are too late, my dear Abe. I already have! [crashing sounds.. then silence]

THE END…

OR IS IT?

CAST OF CHARACTERS

1. Host:
Tim O’Lee, DSPN
2. Healthcare:
Flo Knight, Fly By Knight
3. Education:
Dew C. Howe, Muniversity of DeKalb
4. Politics:
Abe Wash, former Chief Resilience Officer
5. Business:
Ben Bern, New York Stewardship Exchange
6. Sponsor:
JR, The JR Experience

CC BY 4.0

Copyright 2020 Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.



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