Ranga Yogeshwar: Stress Testing the System
When he expresses his opinion, it is somehow part of the social duty to listen. Not only because he has a talent for scientific chanting. But also because Ranga Yogeshwar, the physicist, never polarizes. He tries to scientifically unite all views. His listeners are therefore certain to gain knowledge. His attitude towards artificial intelligence (AI) is a nice example of his rare rhetorical stylistic ability.
He dared to look into the future on Swiss television in June 2019. He postulated AI as an incubator for a new coexistence: What will the future bring? This title merely referred to the role of the supposedly new technology called AI.
June — those were the days. Oh, what was the world like then? There was no virus in sight. Other topics dominated such as climate change, takeover by artificial super-intelligences or hurricanes over Germany. Today these are nice side issues. We would be happy if we had only these as impulses for some kind of public outrage.
Saying thanks, not consuming
Isn’t this mixture reason enough to reflect once again with Ranga Yogeshwar on where we stand today? The virus forces us to change our perspective. Is it rather the incubator for a different kind of collaboration and not technologies anymore, whatever they are called? At least, despite social distancing, it can already be seen that people are moving towards a closeness never imagined. The young are shopping for the old, balconies are becoming a DJ stage for entire neighbourhoods, philharmonic orchestras are giving free concerts over the Internet, commercials are calling for thanks and not for consumption, and employees are connecting digitally with their working peer group in their home offices. A feeling of togetherness never imagined is spreading everywhere. But philosophical thoughts also seem to be making their way through more profound discussions.
Ranga Yogeshwar, is a new system with a new style of collaboration about to come? “Would be nice if so. I think only a few people will reflect on perhaps doing things differently. I don’t consider this crisis as a big turning point. Crises are always a stress test for a system. It’s like kicking a cupboard. If the porcelain is not stable, many items will break.”
Do you see this in relation to enterprises? “Many of them operate at the critical end. In an allocation like this, they will collapse. We can see that now. If companies break their necks after only three weeks out of business, this does not indicate a stable structure. Yogeshwar himself is facing total failure, he says.
He is part of that group to which all this applies most. “My business plan is stable, I will survive these times.” That he is in such a good shape may be connected to his fame. One might think so if one didn’t know him very well. But the science journalist also questions himself very critically. He even compares himself to a production chain. “My equation is not: maximum efficiency at minimum cost. If you don’t have any more stock, you can’t produce from stock. We were proud of the global supply chains, and all just-in-time delivery findings were celebrated. This refers to a profound system, not when it is shaken. Markets answer extremely sensitive.
Nobody has yet got up from his deathbed and said if I only had a little more time to work even harder!
What are your conclusions? “In crises, we should sometimes re-prioritize. If you look at the headlines, what was supposedly so important then and you put it in today’s context, you can only shake your head. The media boiled up topics that now no longer exist. No one is interested in that anymore.”
Do you feel that we experience a shift of importance? “Covid-19 is a pandemic, which in the end makes it clear to everyone that we are finite. That we perhaps will die. Even if that is not the case for the vast majority of people. Nevertheless: Nobody has yet got up from his deathbed and said if only I had a little more time to work even harder! This is one of those winds of foreboding that we are experiencing now. Each of us should ask oneself: What are we actually doing here?
Consequently, our empathy for other countries could raise. And he refers to those 400,000 who have died of malaria. “We have simply ignored them. It’s time to put ourselves in their position: “Hey, are we doing enough for those who are suffering right now?”
What will remain? “I have experienced the initial hysteria or overreaction will very quickly turn into repression.” And at business? “Here I see vast opportunities, i.e. towards digitization in many fields such as (higher) education. You had to kiss people awake until something happened. And suddenly many realize various options.”
What do you hope to get out of this crisis, what would be your wish? “I hope that this crisis will be ended as gently as possible. Afterwards, I hope that we will think about the stability of our system. After all, if a virus causes the stock indices to plummet so suddenly, we have to look at the basis very critically. The next point is how we deal with fears. Fear is always dangerous, even when government measures are overdrawn. We still must not throw our civil rights overboard — that is not an option at all.”
Yogeshwar also took a look into the future during our conversation. He thinks that the so-called new technologies like AI are moving into a far distance. We all have other problems right now. Nevertheless, Yogeshwar is an advocate of everything new and inspiring. But now he is relying on the good old communication as a social stabilizer.
If Covid had happened 50 years ago, we would have a much more oppressive situation. But Covid is now. And now we communicate digitally via chats, facetime or whatever. We can continue to share our thoughts, we can look into the faces of our friends despite the isolation. It’s different than sitting at home and waiting for the black death like in the Middle Ages when he knocks on the door.
Thank you Ranga Yogeshwar for this inspiring conversation!