How the Pandemic Will Change Technology

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As the world has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, technology companies have had to change with it. Many of the shifts could extend beyond the crisis, forcing tech companies and those who use their services to move in directions they may not have expected. 

Now, it’s hard to predict how we’ll all emerge from this pandemic but it’s highly likely that some of the changes we’ve made during it will stay with us for the long run. That may seem the case with technology, which will be deeply impacted by the crisis. Here are some of the ways that this is going to happen.


Acceleration of 5G

The pandemic has forced many to do online what they would normally do in the physical world, including working, grocery shopping, socializing, and going to the doctor. These critical activities require the fast, stable connections enabled by 5G, which is the 5th generation of wireless communication technology. 

A recent article published by Business Insider points out that telehealth and teleconferencing, in particular, are two areas people are coming to depend on more, providing a greater desire for 5G implementation. The article states, “Given the ability of 5G to expand the reach of expertise and services offered by hospitals in this time of increased need, we expect more hospitals will look to tap into 5G to take advantage of the benefits offered by the new standard.” 

Similarly, employers are becoming more dependent on teleconferencing tools to perform a wide variety of business functions, many of them from employees’ homes. Companies will likely retain their reliance on these tools even when workers return to their office environments and will champion the 5G implementation that could support it. 


Move to Cloud Services

Similar to healthcare providers becoming increasingly reliant on telehealth tools and businesses across industries becoming more dependent on teleconferencing, many enterprises are leaning on their cloud infrastructures more heavily now, for things like analytics, file storage, and product testing, and will likely continue to do so after the crisis has passed. 

Companies that operate mostly in traditional data centers are experiencing a real-life scenario in which this approach can become an obstacle to getting work done. A recent InfoWorld article states, “Traditional data centers…are run by human employees who have to deal with mandatory lockdowns or even self-quarantine and may not be able to operate remotely.” 

As a result, some businesses that use this model may not be able to survive the pandemic. Those that do will at least be exploring the possibility of moving to the cloud. 


The rise in Online Ordering

With more people spending more time at home, online ordering has increased. According to a New York Times article, “Amazon said it was hiring 100,000 warehouse workers to meet surging demand…[as shoppers] are turning to the e-commerce giant for a wider variety of goods,” such as over-the-counter drugs, paper towels, and pet food. 

The article quotes a former Amazon employee as saying, “As more customers try different Amazon services, they may create permanent shifts in buying habits.” 

One of these services is grocery ordering. The online giant purchased Whole Foods in 2017, and Amazon Prime members get free delivery of online Whole Foods orders. Yet many didn’t try the service until going to the grocery store went from being an unpleasant chore to being a potential health hazard. 

Amazon isn’t the only online grocery provider to benefit from the pandemic. According to The Atlantic, “Instacart, the biggest independent grocery-delivery service, had guessed that 20 percent of U.S. households would be shopping for groceries online in the next five years…. But over the past month, ‘everything changed.’ Its order volume is up 150 percent.” 


Evolution of Smart Cities

When you think of smart cities, you might think of convenience aspects, such as online government services, better traffic management, automated trash pickup, or smartphone alerts that inform you of nearby events. But smart city features can also help with public health. Business Insider states, “Cities around the world have utilized smart city technology in attempts to mitigate the impact of coronavirus.” 

Examples include the use of drones equipped with thermal sensors to identify people in public with a fever, an app that allows those who are quarantined to contact healthcare workers to help them, and a chatbot to address citizen questions. 

These technologies could be deployed for other uses, such as an app that allows those with other medical challenges to reach healthcare professionals or a chatbot that answers citizen questions about the local government. 


Suspended Privacy

As the pandemic continues, the world finds itself in a bind: with no vaccine available, and likely none forthcoming soon, the only ways to prevent the spread of the disease are behavioral, such as hand washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing. 

Many regions are under stay-at-home orders, but citizens want to return to work and to their normal outdoor activities. The requirements commonly recommended for lifting stay-at-home orders include widespread testing and contact tracing. Yet the availability of tests is limited, and contact tracing raises serious privacy concerns. The following Reuters video explains contact tracing:

While this method could be highly effective in identifying virus hotspots, it involves “following” citizens via their smartphones to determine who they’ve been in contact with and alerting those who have been in close contact with someone known to have the virus. 

A recent article, ZDNet states that there are “concerns that gathering information about people’s geolocation and other personal data to aid management of the pandemic risks infringing on our individual privacy more than ever before.” Still, such apps are currently being used in some parts of the world and may become part of a public health strategy in the U.S. as well. Some are concerned the privacy reduction will last well beyond the pandemic.


Virtual Tech Conferences

Due to the pandemic, the tech world has had to cancel or postpone several of its major conferences. Mobile World Congress, a major smartphone trade show that had been planned to take place February 24-27 in Barcelona, was canceled amid concerns about the coronavirus. 

Additionally, Facebook canceled its F8 Developer Conference, Google moved its Google Cloud Next event online, and IBM livestreamed its developer conference. As a result, according to Business Insider, “tech industries will likely … suffer a period of stifled innovation due to forgone in-person business opportunities.” 

ZDNet believes the shift of these events will have an even greater impact, stating, “Tech conferences, product launches, and IT education will go virtual as the novel coronavirus pandemic permanently changes the nature of tech events.” At least one move in this direction has already been seen in O’Reilly Media going permanently virtual for future events.


The Impact of Tech

The world changes according to new technology, but the opposite is also true: technology shifts according to the world’s needs. The coronavirus pandemic has changed much about how society operates, so it’s no surprise that it’s pushing the world of technology in interesting and important ways. 

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