As governments push forward to leverage technology to fight COVID-19, we should be fully aware that this integration can and probably will open the floodgates for technologies that will directly impact our society in ways that are much more profound than the pandemic.
AHA, facial recognition technology
These are systems that scan images and videos for people’s faces, and either attempt to classify them or make assessments of their character.
Recent updates from the world’s leading technology and surveillance firms enables the identification of people while they are wearing masks, and with high accuracy.
In parallel, thermal imaging tech is also being proposed to identify potential coronavirus carriers by measuring their temperature. Recently, London Heathrow Airport announced that it will be implementing this technology for large-scale passenger temperature checks.
Some governments (China, Russia, India, and South Korea) are taking it a step further and can now identify patients with higher temperatures, revisit their location history via automated analyses of CCTV footage, and can then directly identify and even notify people who might have been exposed to the virus. And yes, while all this does sound amazing and can be seen as a positive direction to rid societies of COVID-19, we must stop and ask ourselves – at what cost?
The enormous uptake and rapid adoption of contact tracing apps around the world is a sign that most of us seem willing to compromise our privacy in order to manage the pandemic.
The more serious concern here is the unanswered legal, democratic and constitutional questions that arise with this technology to fight COVID-19.
These new facial recognition technologies fail to realize the significant risk of discrimination and abuse, namely the probability of false positives.
False positives are more common than you might think, and they are due to several reasons. The imaging equipment could be damaged, broken, or used incorrectly. Human reviewers can misinterpret readings, or what is worse, an automated process can which one has no control over.
What else can facial recognition do?
The use of facial recognition systems as a technology to fight COVID-19 has other potential uses (and criticisms) as well.
Studies indicate that the practice of categorizing and classifying humans according to visible differences has a deeply troubled past with roots in eugenics – a set of beliefs that advocate notions like selective breeding. This movement and its ideology have proven to be very dangerous.
Where do we go from here?
The pandemic has clearly illustrated that we’re at a crossroads. On the one hand, technology to fight COVID-19 is being developed and used to fight and mitigate the spread of the disease. On the other hand, we might be digging our own graves by releasing oppressive systems into our society that are ultimately not in the best interest of public life.
The team at the Interaction Design Lab have developed Biometric Mirror, a speculative and deliberately controversial facial recognition technology designed to get people thinking about the ethics of new technologies and AI.
After thousands of people from all different walks of life tried their app, they found out there is a lack of widespread public understanding/awareness regarding the way facial recognition works, its limitations, and most importantly how it can be misused.
Worrying, don’t you think?
Robotics in the MENA region finds good footing amid virus
As the need for contactless health and safety solutions becomes ever-more essential, robotics in the MENA region is taking off. The forward-thinking startups, students, and entrepreneurial minds have stepped up to meet the growing demand by addressing a complex situation with hands-on solutions.
In the UAE, entrepreneur Aswin Sarang, understands that the demand for robotics in the MENA region is on the rise, and has developed several robots each capable of performing a certain task which include delivering food and medicine, sanitization services, and checking for fever.
“The idea is to sterilize infected areas and surfaces, such as hospitals, endemic neighborhoods and isolation rooms, to prevent doctors, health workers and volunteers from being infected.” Said Aswin Sarang – Head of Robotics & AI at Reliable Robotics.
The company supports healthcare authorities, airports, malls, as well as the private sector.
Recently, Reuters reported on an Egyptian engineer Mahmoud el-Komy who put his healthcare robot to the test with positive results. The robot was made to deliver routine healthcare duties such as taking temperature and testing for COVID-19 all via remote control.
The robot also delivers health information to the patients.
“There has been a positive response from patients. They saw the robot and weren’t afraid. On the contrary, there is more trust in this because the robot is more precise than humans.”
The drive to develop robotics in the MENA region seems to be sparking passion among the youth as well. In Lebanon, two engineering students created a cleaner bot of their own to sterilize indoor spaces like hospital rooms and offices. The cleaner bot costs $700/$800 to produce and can be rented out for cleaning at a fee of $50/$70 per session, depending on the size of the job arabnews.com reported.
On demand sterilization service robotics in the MENA region and around the world may see a similar rise in demand post-pandemic. Performing routine tasks that limit human exposure can be safer and more efficient for consumers and businesses alike.
The multi-cloud adoption boom
As the rapid advancements in tech continue – fueled by the current pandemic – we find ourselves stretching our limits and breaking boundaries. An important area that has gained significant traction this year is cloud computing, and more specifically, multi-cloud adoption.
What is multi-cloud?
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a multi-cloud environment Is when an enterprise utilizes more than one cloud platform and delivers a specific function, application, or service. Multi-clouds can be made up of private, public, and edge clouds to achieve a datacenter’s end goals and objectives.
Multi-cloud adoption garnered a significant increase to 70 percent year-over-year in 2020, outpacing the previous year by a whopping 20 percent.
Current State of multi-cloud
The Continuous Intelligence Report The State of Modern applications, DevSecOps and the Impact of COVID-19 from Sumo Logic revealed that customers adopted 3 main vendors to meet their cloud needs; CloudTrail (60 percent), VPC Flow Logs (34 percent) and GuardDuty (22 percent) respectively.
The report is developed from data that is aggregated from more than 2100 Sumo Logic customers that run applications over several major cloud platforms as well as on-premises environments. The report highlighted the importance of securing cloud workloads via the adoption of both cloud-native security technologies and available cloud data sources.
Furthermore, the pandemic has highlighted how important remote work is – and that is where cloud-computing shines bright. The rise in multi-cloud adoption led enterprises to modern cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
It is noteworthy to mention that AWS regional centers in the EU and US were among the top targets for hackers, according to the Sumo Logic’s global intelligence.
What are the benefits of multi-cloud adoption?
- Flexibility: No single cloud can perform most business functions, or at least no single cloud can do everything well. Integrating multi-cloud can allocate the right cloud platform to the right business function
- Proximity: By hosting some workloads through regional cloud providers that operate closer to where the user is, the enterprise would be greatly enhancing a user’s experience
- Failover: As a failover solution, multi-cloud adoption can protect an enterprise from outages by providing readily available and highly scalable backup for data and workflows for systems
Why GovTech adoption during COVID-19 is a must
GovTech is a new term that refers to the modernization and/or digitization of government services for better accessibility and efficiency of public services. A mouth full, but this suggests a need for governments to do what the private sector has been doing from the start: embrace and incorporate industry 4.0 technology. However, to do so on a governmental level is complex.
The tech revolution occurring around the world, accelerated by the pandemic will not wait for governments to search their paper file cabinet for a solution. Citizens’ expectations of speed and efficiency are set higher by the private sector.
Too many authorities in developing nations, and many government-managed institutions in developed nations, are woefully behind on tech adoption within their systems.
According to the World Bank’s definition as stated in their brief, GovTech is essentially about putting people first.
“GovTech is a whole-of-government approach to public sector modernization that promotes simple, accessible, and efficient government”.
Governments who had already begun improving their digital infrastructure before the pandemic, had a better chance of curbing outbreaks after the initial wave with known exceptions. Namely the US and UK.
Examples of GovTech used well during the pandemic can be found more to the east, in Singapore and South Korea among others, where data-gathering and citizen compliance with safety measures worked well to begin with.
Still, in the United states we see examples of GovTech being implemented even before the pandemic.
In areas of infrastructure, 120 Water Audit was recently launched, a cloud-based water management software, that a government on any level and size can use to minimize water waste.
During the pandemic, we have seen companies like BlueDot develop early warning systems to predict outbreaks, allowing governments to react preemptively. These systems used data gathered from numerous data sets from news, medical records and airlines to detect certain trends using their algorithm.
In the future, we should expect better GovTech adoption in public health services. Governments must work with the private sector to secure the right systems and consolidate their systems for better data collection. Undoubtedly, this is a long-term process.
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