How can tech help with Covid control and our return to normalcy?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems, and the work environment. Economic and social disruptions caused by the pandemic have been devastating – with tens of millions at risk of falling into extreme poverty. The number of undernourished people could increase by up to 132 million by the end of the year from an estimated 690 million.
Asked to consider what life will be like in 2025 in the wake of the outbreak and other crises in 2020, a group of 915 innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists responded similarly in a research conducted by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagine the Internet Center. These individuals are made up of those in technology, communications, and social change.
Their broad and nearly universal view is that people’s relationship with technology will deepen as larger segments of the population come to better rely on digital connections for work, education, health care, daily commercial transactions, and essential social interactions. Several of them described this as a “tele-everything” world.
The question is how tech will help with controlling COVID-19 and with the world returning to normal or rather the “new normal”?
The pandemic accelerated 10 key technology trends, including digital payments, telehealth, and robotics. These advancements could help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and help businesses stay open.
Below we list trends that can help build a resilient society in handling future pandemics and their effects on our lives be it work, trade, learn, and entertain ourselves.
- Remote Work
As more companies continue to have employees work from home, technology has been integrated for a seamless experience. 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. In addition to preventing the spread of viruses, remote work also saves commuting time and provides greater flexibility.
- Distance Learning
As of mid-April 2020, 191 countries announced or implemented school or university closures, impacting 1.57 billion students around the world. Many educational institutions started offering courses online to ensure education was not disrupted by quarantine and lockdown measures. Technology involved in distant learning is similar to that used for remote work, including virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing, and artificial-intelligence-enabled robot teachers. Note that even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology. Global edtech investments were US$18.66 billion in 2019 while the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025. There has been a significant surge in usage since the pandemic started for language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, and online learning software.
More than a hundred education technology and service companies worldwide have attracted venture capital, raising upwards of $1.9 billion in funding rounds as of April 23, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.
The U.S. accounted for the bulk of global venture capital poured into the edtech market accounting for $875.7 million, followed by the Asia-Pacific region at $528.3 million. Meanwhile, Europe and Emerging Markets respectively pulled in $342.3 million and $178.9 million each.
- 5G and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
At the heart of the aforementioned technology trends is stable, high-speed, and affordable internet. The adoption of 5G will increase the cost of compatible devices and the cost of data plans. Addressing these issues to ensure inclusive access to the internet will continue to be a challenge as the 5G network expands globally.
An example of the application of 5G technology is its use in the remote control of heavy machinery due to its low latency. In Wuhan, during the COVID-19 crisis, 5G-enabled robots checked patient temperatures, delivered drugs, guided routes, and cleaned and disinfected rooms. The robots were designed to help treat patients and reduce the risk of human exposure to coronavirus by minimising person-to-person contact.
- The Supply Chain
The COVID-19 pandemic created disruptions to the global supply chain. Factories were shut down because of distancing and quarantine orders. Heavy reliance on paper-based records and a lack of visibility on data highlighted how existing supply chains were vulnerable to any adverse shocks. Core technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – such as Big Data, cloud computing, Internet-of-Things (“IoT”) and blockchain – are the basis for a more resilient supply chain management system for the future by enhancing the accuracy of data and encouraging data sharing.
- Telehealth/ Healthtech
Here are four health-tech trends that are expected to boom post COVID-19:
- (i) Predictive analysis in healthcare. An example of this is the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers Covid-19 mortality risk calculator. The team developed it to estimate the potential of severe outcomes for individuals and to inform of vaccine rollouts.
- (ii) IoMT: Connected Medical Devices that support proactive healthcare. Applications have ranged from connected wearables that report critical patient data to the deployment of “smart beds” in hospital settings to improve patient comfort.
- (iii) New cybersecurity concerns increase cloud adoption in healthcare.
- In other words, simply deploying the scope and scale of cloud resources necessary to support tech-driven healthcare initiatives is not enough by itself. IT staff from healthtech companies must be prepared to address common challenges such as distributed denial of service attacks and ransomware, along with more targeted threat vectors such as COVID-19 vaccination scams.
- (iv) The future of telehealth will have to deliver the best of both worlds where the needle has moved towards a more patient-focused experience of healthcare delivery. This means combining low-tech solutions such as standard blood pressure cuffs with video tutorials, allowing patients to self-report key data. Such solutions will be essential for healthcare organizations serving distributed and disparate populations that may lack access to unlimited smartphone data or high-speed broadband internet.
It will be safe to say that the integration of technology into different businesses going beyond the 5 verticals stated above will be essential in controlling COVID and helping the world adapt to the “new normal”.