The coronavirus pandemic has brought many changes. It has forced us all to find new ways of working, interacting and living. It has raised questions about how our societies are ordered, and about where we want and need to invest for the future. It has shown us our strengths and highlighted our weaknesses. It has set us new challenges, not the least of which is to try to find a cure. Digital technology is a key component of our collective effort to tackle the virus and support our new ways of living and working reality during this exceptional time.
The effects of COVID-19 are having a significant impact on the technology sector, affecting raw materials supply, disrupting the electronics value chain, and causing an inflationary risk on products. More positively, the disruption has caused an acceleration of remote working, and a rapid focus on evaluating and de-risking the end-to-end value chain. In addition, potential carbon emission reductions could result in renewed focus on sustainability practices.
Here are some technology trends that can help build a resilient society, as well as considerations about their effects on how we do business, how we trade, how we work, how we produce goods, how we learn, how we seek medical services and how we entertain ourselves.
Cash might carry the virus, so central banks in China, South Korea and US have implemented various measures to ensure banknotes are clean before they go into circulation. Now, contactless digital payments, either in the form of cards or e-wallets, are the recommended payment method to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Although quarantine measures have reduced in-person interactions significantly, human creativity has brought the party online. Cloud raves and online streaming of concerts have gain traction around the world. Museums and international heritage sites offer virtual tours.
At the same time, it’s difficult to say what the long-term impacts of coronavirus will be on the media industry because nobody knows exactly when things will return to normal. The extent of the disruption will likely depend on the type of content that media companies produce and distribute.
Many companies have asked employees to work from home. Remote work is enabled by technologies including virtual private networks (VPNs), voice over internet protocols (VoIPs), virtual meetings, cloud technology, work collaboration tools and even facial recognition technologies that enable a person to appear before a virtual background to preserve the privacy of the home.
Telemedicine (or telehealth) can be an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19 while still providing essential primary care. Wearable personal IoT devices can track vital signs. Chatbots can make initial diagnoses based on symptoms identified by patients. The digital future comes so fast!
As always when it comes to digital technology there are two sides to every coin. We may not yet be ready for AI to make life or death decisions about who gets a hospital bed. Some of the innovations here are only possible because of levels of state surveillance or that citizens living in democracies may not tolerate. One such example being the censorship of Wechat for criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the outbreak. I’m not suggesting those of us living in democracies should trade away our freedoms but the dilemma posed by technologies which offer greater efficiency at the cost of reduced privacy is not going to disappear.
In the years ahead, we will need to strike new social contracts between governments, citizens and technology companies that earn the informed consent of citizens and maximise the public good that comes with modern digital capabilities. If a coronavirus pandemic kickstarts those conversations then we may have something to look back and be thankful for.
It’s definitely a brave new world, guys!