Since Covid burst onto the scenes in late 2019/early 2020, life as we know it has changed. Just what does a pandemic mean for technology? And similarly what does technology mean for a pandemic? Here we will consider how science and technology are working to keep pace with the developments of covid, and how the technology industry is adapting and innovating to make sure it stays relevant in a world that has changed monumentally.
People are depending on technology more than ever to fill the void where face to face interaction is no longer possible. The way we work, study, travel, socialise, relax, exercise, shop — everything that until now has formed the pattern of our daily lives — has changed irrevocably. Covid has caused us to interact with each other and technology in very different ways than we had previously.
How has technology stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19?
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so they say, and everywhere we can see people trying to innovate us out of this crisis. In the short-term, smart devices are becoming tools in the fight against Covid. Smart health devices can help identify symptoms, monitor patients, and gather valuable health data that can help researchers and governments save lives. Governments have been using digital platforms and apps to spread information, collect data, notify people of risks in their area and attempt to ‘track and trace’ Covid within the community.
Technology is also advancing in terms of practical hands on applications, such as robots to attend to sick patients, smart wearables to detect changes in temperature and social distancing and 3D printing of valves and other mask components. Many robotic devices have been rapidly updated or repurposed for Covid, enforcing safe distancing in public spaces or dispensing hand sanitiser. They are now considered more critical than ever as businesses and governments search for new, ‘contactless’ solutions. This time of uncertainty is being taken as an opportunity by some businesses to be more experimental.
How is technology changing due to the way people are currently using it?
Prior to covid, Zoom was relatively unknown. Yet in March 2020 they announced they were hosting more than 200 million online meetings daily. With people confined to their homes, technology became more of a necessity than ever, to keep us connected and allow us to perform our various responsibilities ‘remotely’.
Now the lockdown has eased for many, but a lot of the online practises have continued. It’s becoming apparent that covid has changed the way that individuals and businesses interact and operate. The International Data Corporation (IDC) have referred to this new era as “extreme automation, remote everything, hyper connectivity, omni-experience, intelligent everywhere and full collaboration”. Demand is soaring for truly shared digital experiences and digital communities, and businesses are having to adapt their business models to meet new demands. In this new society, where direct contact between people is limited, digital, online and smart are the new face-to-face. Businesses are more reliant than ever on digital technology to communicate internally, manage teams, interact with customers and bring their products and services to market.
How the scientific community is responding
While we are looking to technology to save us, many of us are also looking to science. A vaccine seems like a possible miracle cure, the fix that could give us back our pre-covid lives. And as we read in the news headlines daily, scientists and researchers are working in teams around the clock, around the world.
Scientific research and studies into infectious disease are accelerating to keep pace with covid developments, now taking months, even days rather than years. Research is being shared more quickly and in greater volume and research grants are more quickly available, allowing treatments to get to patients rapidly.
Covid has provided a sense of urgency to the scientific world, that has seen greater sharing between different scientific disciplines. One of the reasons for this is preprints, a version of a scientific research paper or manuscript, that is published before it has been put up for peer review. Speeding up the process of publishing scientific findings and removing the paywall allows for greater content and greater readership, thus more robust quality control as findings are critiqued by a much wider audience in a much shorter space of time.
Technology and misinformation
Perhaps unsurprisingly, during this time of reduced face to face contact, social media sites have been the primary sources of many people’s Covid information. Of course, this means the proliferation of misinformation, out of date/discredited sources and covid related conspiracy theories.
To counter this, facebook have announced a new notification screen to highlight when and where the source originates from, as well as committing to promoting information from credible sources, like health organisations.
Journalists have been identified as another important tool in the fight against misinformation, with it being more vital than ever that sources are fact checked and verified before going to print. This is of course made more difficult with the extreme rate of development that we are seeing with Covid.
Where do we go from here?
Whilst many of us live in the hope that we will one day return to days out at the playground with our kids, a beer with friends after work, and physical contact with our nearest and dearest, there is no current indication when this will be. One thing that is certain is that coronavirus has brought about a plethora of changes that are here to stay. Many companies are rolling out working from home/remotely long term as they enjoy increased productivity and reduced running costs. The property market is changing as people realise they don’t need to be based in expensive, polluted cities. An office and a garden are high on people’s agendas.
Our ability to move internationally has been curtailed as well, new technologies such as invisible nano-dyes left by a vaccine have now been developed and there is talk of health passports for people who have been vaccinated. This of course opens the question of governmental controls on our rights to move freely within our environment and some have cautioned of a future world in which only those willing to comply with governmental instructions will be free to visit other nations. A more dystopian vision is one in which freedom to move itself is more strictly regulated (as we have seen recently) and with the emergence of facial recognition, biometric passports and a population that constantly carries a smart phone, it’s all too easy to imagine how this new world could become essentially house arrest for those not willing to follow new rules.
Adapting and evolving is a natural part of survival. We humans have proved ourselves to be wily and resourceful. It will be interesting to see what the future will look like post-pandemic