“Wear a mask and save your life!”
“Epidemic closes schools, churches, theaters.”
“Stay at home; shop by phone.”
Sound familiar? These are public service announcements, not from the past year, but from over a century ago. Despite living in the digital age with technology advancing faster every day, the government regulation used to combat COVID-19, has barely changed since the 1918 Spanish Influenza.
The primary message has been, “Tie cloth to your faces and don’t go outside.”
The implementation of technology as a tool to combat COVID-19 played a pivotal role in a select group of advanced countries, yet the unprecedented level of technological know-how should have drastically mitigated the effects of the pandemic if only we had been ready. And the lagging healthcare sector is just the tip of the iceberg.
We are surrounded by revolutionary technologies that have changed the world, yet the implementation of these technologies in all industries is a slow and arduous process.
While we develop artificial intelligence (AI) powered drones, agriculture is still exceedingly reliant on physical laborers. 3D printed homes take mere hours to put together, yet manufacturers still rely heavily on inexpensive manual workforces overseas. Autonomous vehicles can navigate superhighways, yet carbon emissions are still rising. Despite the advancements, there are entire industries which are not benefitting from technological amelioration.
But perhaps humanity was just given a wakeup call.
The pandemic, which rapidly spread across the globe, forced nearly everyone to change various aspects of their lives, be it corporate culture, business models, or educational practices, to name a few. Life as we knew it underwent radical changes, which very well may be here to stay. But most importantly, technological advancements, reserved in the past for a select few industries, broke the floodgates and spilled over into more underdeveloped sectors.
Advanced security technologies were suddenly being used to track COVID patients. Algorithms were used to predict outbreaks within neighborhoods. AI was a key tool in classifying high risk individuals. Telehealth saw an unprecedented rise, with the formation of countless startups focused on helping people from the comfort of their homes. The healthcare sector was suddenly overrun with top-of-the-line tech being repurposed in light of a new and uncertain reality.
Lockdowns and quarantines, implemented almost worldwide, forced businesses to shutter as office buildings lay empty. But as WFH (work from home) became a globally recognized acronymic neologism, countless opportunities were created for the tech sector, improving the way people interact without going into the office.
Traditionally-run businesses had to speedily digitize and implement the vast array of tools that the growing e-commerce sector had to offer. Retailers moved their businesses online, while restaurants found innovative ways to reach customers through easy-to-use applications. After all, in these fields, it was either sink or swim.
Even the educational sector benefited from the pandemic. Students, fatigued from staring at a screen for hours every day, are now being offered virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) solutions to once again feel like they are back in an academic environment.
Flights, commuting, maritime trade, as well as many other pollutive practices, decreased exponentially over the past year, causing a regenerative effect on wildlife and the environment. Seeing how quickly Mother Nature can rebuild herself inspired numerous greentech companies to implement an array of technologies, such as internet of things (IoT) and advanced drones, to make the earth a cleaner place.
If there is one thing that we have learned throughout the past year, it is how adaptable we are as human beings. A few months of lockdowns had us shuddering at the very thought of human interaction. And now, after many countries have begun to open up again, it only took a couple of weeks for the restaurants and bars to fill up again with jubilant revelers. The shift was so sudden, it was as if there was no pandemic.
Yet our adaptability was not only expressed socially and psychologically. It penetrated almost every facet of our lives.
The pandemic has claimed the lives of millions and caused immeasurable suffering, however every cloud has a silver lining. Let us use this pivotal moment to usher in a new technological era. Let us continue advancing technologically while making sure that every sector reaps the benefits of these advancements.
Let us ensure that the next time humanity faces a global crisis, we won’t be forced to implement century-old antediluvian practices. Technology must drive us forward, supplying the solutions. We should not have to learn these lessons the hard way.