The defining moment of technology in the 21st Century: The coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has markets, companies, authorities, and the general public around the world in turmoil. The worst part of the crisis is yet to come, an economic recession is looming, and healthcare systems are collapsing.
Technology has improved our lives in the last few years. However, it seems that it has reached its defining moment: will it be able to allow us to overcome the potentially worse global crisis the world has faced in the 21st Century?
When the world saw the last significant similar pandemics (SARS and AH1N1), tech tools for teleworking were not as developed as today. When the SARS pandemic in 2003 rose, there was no social media, no apps, no smartphones. That meant no shopping, no online entertainment, and no work from home
The crisis has led many companies to send their employees to work from home. That has somewhat salvaged the impact of the crisis over the economy and allowed authorities to feel less pressured regarding the consequences of ordering temporary lockdowns. In this sense, the effect of technology has been felt and has been beneficial. Likewise, it is likely that after the crisis, more people will continue working from home.
What about the health crisis itself?
The coronavirus pandemic represents the first test of the role technology may have for preventing epidemics. China and other countries are using a wide array of AI-based technology to prevent and treat the disease.
As you may know, coronavirus is profoundly contagious and difficult to contain. That means that human interaction has to be reduced as much as possible. Hence, remote communication is the best way to go in many interactions. In Seattle, robots are being used to carry stethoscopes and helping patients to communicate with doctors, which limits their exposure to the disease. Likewise, Chinese hospitals are using robots to disinfect patient rooms emitting ultraviolet light throughout the room to kill viruses.
Likewise, AI is being deployed to study the spread of the pandemic and searching treatments. Metabiota and BlueDot are tracking the disease and forecasting its spread using machine learning algorithms. Also, many hospitals in China use AI-powered software that scans lungs CT images to look for signs of coronavirus and detect it way quicker than the human eye.
Drug companies are using drug discovery platforms powered by machine learning to find possible treatments. AI is used to find new molecules or mine through databases of already-existing drugs to see if they may work against coronavirus. This doesn’t necessarily mean the AI technology will find a cure itself, but it can speed up and crosscheck potential treatments.
The coronavirus has presented severe challenges for technology. It has been the first major global (in the most literal sense) crisis of the 21st Century and technology has been up to the task. It has helped many companies to survive during lockdowns thanks to technological tools that allow working from home. Similarly, it has also contributed to reducing human contact, which protects doctors and healthcare providers from infections. Lastly, it has also helped to speed up the process of finding potential treatments and identifying positive cases.