The sudden widespread use of technology as a result of the pandemic may put us in a complicated situation later down the road. Countries with no prior infrastructure for certain technologies have had to adapt over a short time, causing both disruption and advancement. Could COVID-19 technology backfire on us?
Working from home, remote meetings, self-driving vehicles, data driven mass information systems. All of these technologies and much more have made their way into public consciousness and in some countries, into everyday life.
No one can deny the boost it has given to a society’s capabilities and efficiency when coupled with advanced communication technologies. Sudden changes and shifts in behavior like this however may have unforeseen consequences, and undesired results.
Take for example contact and location tracing apps that can reveal a person’s identity such as those used in China and South Korea, and to a lesser extent, in some western countries. These applications would have never been propagated in normal circumstances.
It is known that the pandemic has impacted employment on a scale and to an extent never seen before. Although the problem will most likely improve when things stabilize and a vaccine is created and distributed.
Those who have also been impacted, are the people whose professions were either partially or completely replaced by AI and automation. Technologies do erase jobs, but can create newer, better ones. In the advent of the pandemic, AI was used to brilliant effect when helping hospitals keep up with overwhelming demands.
Such major advancements cannot be understated, but we must not forget those who are left behind. Without the proper skills to survive in a technologically savvy world. Raj Koneru, CEO/Founder at Kore.ai, offers what could be a viable solution. “We cannot deny that certain jobs will definitely be fully replaced,” Koneru said, “In our view, companies should focus on reskilling their employees rather than replacing them. At times, it helps organizations to discover the hidden talents within the workforce… “
The future will see more of the same, and only time will tell if the employment landscape will change. What is certain is that all governments have big decisions to make in order to avoid a COVID-19 technology backfire that could destabilize nations.
Main source of information: Paul McNeil – TechTalks. Analysis by Adnan Kayali.
Impacts of the pandemic on SMEs: First in, first out
The pandemic sent shockwaves across the world with many SMEs bearing the brunt of the crisis due to the reduction in global demand for goods and services.
The worst effect of the pandemic on SMEs were the mass layoffs seen throughout all industries, although disproportionately. Disposable income that could have circulated in the economy became scarce, leaving many SMEs susceptible to permanent closure as people spend their money with greater caution. This was only a few weeks into the crisis, and prior to any government aid.
Business owners had very different predictions about the duration of the pandemic, leading them to make varied decisions on whether or not to keep their employees, cut their losses, or whether to save up or spend their stimulus checks. Many business owners were paying from their own pocket to stay afloat, and could not last more than a few weeks or few months, with layoffs.
A survey of more than 5,800 small businesses between March 28 and April 4, 2020 was conducted to determine how adaptable businesses were to the sudden change of the market and social landscape, and the impacts of the pandemic on SMEs.
According to the survey, 92% of SMEs changed at least one thing in their business model to adapt to COVID-19, most using some form of digital technology to bypass, adapt, or improve many traditional – potentially risky – ways of doing business.
Noting that some companies selected more than one option, the changes were listed as follows:
- 58% of businesses said that they had adopted a new online delivery channel
- 40% created new virtual services
- 36% listed the use of a new offline delivery channel, such as Uber Eats.
- 31% had released a new product.
- 19% new customers
Consequently, the survey also listed the 5 most commonly mentioned challenges that these businesses have experienced:
- 22% lack of employee skills
- 16% lack of adequate funds
- 14% setting up new online delivery channels
- 9% developing new products.
- 8% faced challenges adapting to the new health and safety standards
Top 3 digital health technologies post- pandemic
It’s certain that the current pandemic will eventually come to an end. However, some of the digital health technologies we’ve adopted along the way have proven to be indispensable, and some technologies may not be so prominent after the crisis.
Here are top 3 digital health technologies that are likely to stick around post- pandemic.
1. Disinfectant robots
Ultraviolet (UV) lights, more specifically UV-C is a well-established digital disinfecting method that is commonly used in the healthcare world. It works by altering the virus’ genetic material, that way UV lights make sure that virus doesn’t replicate. However, if exposed to human skin, it can lead to sunburns, irritations, and in the worst case, skin cancer.
All that aside, the benefits of UV-C in effectively disinfecting hospitals is seriously attracting robotics engineers and healthcare workers alike. Companies such as YouiBot are reimagining and redesigning their current robots into UV disinfectant ones. Danish company UVD Robots has shipped hundreds of their existing disinfectant robots around the world during the pandemic.
In addition to saving valuable time and decreasing the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, these robots will also prevent hospitals from getting infections.
2. AI for predicting future pandemics
In an ideal tech world, AI can predict a viral outbreak weeks, if not months in advance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal tech world, but the good news is that we can work towards forecasting such a system with the help of current technologies.
AI company BlueDot has issued early first warnings, after scrutinizing massive data sets from news, airlines, and animal disease outbreaks. Their algorithim managed to detect a certain trend which Epidemiologists later analyzed further to confirm an outbreak.
But BlueDot is the exception and not the rule, so we must reverse the situation in order to better handle the next public health crisis. Given the massive predictive power that AI brings to the healthcare sector, the proper authorities should utilize its full potential and help in making it more commonplace in hospital settings.
3. Remote care via smartphones
It’s a sad reality that the pandemic kick-started telemedicine for mainstream adoption. Before the crisis, only 1 in 10 US patients used telemedicine services, the number has now increased up to 158% in the same country.
With lockdowns enforced globally, people are utilizing the power of their smartphones for their mental and physical wellbeing. These new digital health technologies greatly reduce the risk of cross infection all while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their own homes
These solutions greatly reduce the risk of cross-infection while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their homes. What’s more, they prove that face-to-face doctor-patient visits are unnecessary. A Global Markets Insights report from April this year, projects that the telemedicine market value will reach $175.5 billion by 2026, indicating the need for remote care in the coming years.
The glaring problem with COVID-19 vaccine deployment
As most of us already know, creating a vaccine is only half the challenge of beating the pandemic. Getting 7 billion people vaccinated is a colossal undertaking, the scale of which has never been seen in history. How will the world manage and sustain COVID-19 vaccine deployment, and ensure equitable access to everyone?
It is not an easy task, and many people in positions of responsibility may have to make some difficult decisions. In short, we will not have enough vaccines for everyone by the end of this year, even if a particular vaccine candidate is deemed adequate.
In a document by the CDC published as a rough skeletal guideline, four categories of people were prioritized with newly produced or procured vaccine doses. This is to strategically use the scarce resources available to minimize the loss of life and maximize equity.
The document classified four categories of people that would receive the vaccine at different times according to a number of factors:
– High risk healthcare workers. First responders
– High risk older adults in congregate or crowded settings
Workers in critical industries and those living in an environment of high risk such as prison.
Young adults and children, and workers of essential industries that were not included in phase 2.
In an Audio Interview “Guidelines for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment”, Eric J. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. concurred. “We do this in medicine all the time”, he said “in that we plan to treat everybody but those who get sicker are the ones who need the treatment first, while we are scaling up or making any assessment of deploying a treatment”.
This task becomes more difficult in areas were the data on who needs what is scarce. Numerous collectives and institutions however are finding ways to guide their communities using localized data tracking, remote monitoring and some forms of contact tracing. They will be able to identify where and how many people require vaccination, how many vaccines are available for the taking, when more is coming, etc.
Having a clear picture is essential for any major endeavor to succeed, and a type of “communal immunity” can be achieved, to break the back of community transmission” as Rubin put it.
The issue of Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment isn’t when the vaccine is coming, but “who gets it first”. The answer given by the CDC seems to be a good one, from the perspective of the scientist, who have accepted the reality that vaccine equity is no easy task, and hard decisions must be made.
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