We sat down to interview Ido Fishman, an Entrepreneur and businessman, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the faces of technology.
Although the Coronavirus pandemic sort of rattled the world, there are a couple of positives we can take. With the consequent lockdowns, companies and entire sectors of the economy shut down, and even enter countries having to resort to social and physical distancing, as well as other necessary measures to curtail the spread, it is a simple life on Earth that’s completely evolved. And that includes technology.
As it is often said, “necessity is the mother of invention;” the social, economic, and health implications of the virus have forced us to develop new ways of doing things and continuing with our lives. Even though we are conscious of the ravaging virus, we know we have to keep the world from falling apart by continuing to work, school, meet, deliberate, lead, and govern with the aid of technology.
Consequently, we have had to resort to new and equally efficient methods of doing things that depend heavily on technology, especially in communication, education, health, commercial activities, and governance.
Since we couldn’t travel, open stores indiscriminately, open schools or keep any form of large gatherings, we’ve had to turn to technological tools to help us at least continue with our programs, events, and activities.
Two of the most digitally evolved spaces within this era are the workspace (9 to 5) and the education sectors. Most people have had to work from home, and education has been reduced to distance learning only. This means that companies, corporations, educational institutions, and governments have had to take another look at their business models, work hours, curriculum delivery, and entire staff structure. Businesses who could not adapt fast enough to the new technologically dependent realities either closed businesses temporarily or took huge losses at least.
Come to education, only the schools with children, parents, and teachers with digital skills and gadgets were able to continue with school. Most public schools all over the world have not been able to do much because most of their students and schools were not thoroughly or adequately equipped with internet facilities.
Two sides of the same coin
The impact of the Coronavirus on technological advancement can be categorized into two; the first is how technology is evolving to help us continue with the major parts of our daily lives; and reduce the effects of the abrupt lockdowns on economies, systems, families, and individuals. The second part is the development of technology to combat the spread of the virus, to develop a cure for the pandemic, and to develop a vaccine against this strain of the Coronavirus and other closely related ones.
Working from home
Ido Fishman, explains:
“As the new pandemic rattled the world, the term “working from home” was no longer a cliche; it became a sort of “New Normal” if the company or business must survive. According to Workhuman, only 1/3 of the American population could work from home during this pandemic. Many firms and companies had to adapt quickly and turn to technology such as zoom conferencing and the like to get work done. Large corporations such as Twitter encouraged their staff to work from home; this is because the work structure and culture could deal with the ups and downs of the transition from the traditional office hours to remote working.”
Not only are people working from home, says Fishman, “they are also learning from home”. Ido Fishman is right because Traditional education is one of the most affected sectors of the global economy, especially because the world could not risk exposing children to an unknown virus. Traditional schools almost all over the world were closed indefinitely. However, there has been a lot of innovation that helps to leverage the principles of remote learning to keep the students and pupils still learning. Again, teleconferencing is one of the tools of choice here, and zoom leads the pack. Tech giant Google’s Classroom has been the tool of choice for dropping assignments, instructions, and grading of students.
Food the tech way
With enforced lockdowns in most of the countries in the world, we have had to rely heavily on the existing food delivery system while working hard to come up with new ones in the shortest time possible. The innovation is geared towards helping farmers get foodstuff to the wholesaler or directly to the consumers, and helping grocery stores and food outlets deliver food items to their consumers using technology.
Ido Fishman explains: “We are seeing a sharp rise in funding, adoption, and use of mobile and web application-based startups and products in food item delivery services. We are seeing a rise in Uber-like agro-apps like Supermarcato24 and full online supermarkets like Mathem; the game has certainly changed. For fast-food franchises all over the world, the business never really stopped; the model was just adjusted to fit into the drive-in and pick-up model. Also, there are a lot of investments in online orders and home delivery services.”
“Technology, technology, technology…” says Fishman, and also here he has it right. Due to the pandemic, a new strain of smarter and safer technologies is beginning to emerge that could change the way we do things and forestall the emergence of another contagion like the Coronavirus. For example, the new robot models developed in China are now done with social distancing and hygiene as a priority.
They are designed to collect waste, administer drugs, give meals, and collect bed sheets in the hospital. Smart helmets are being developed that will recognise someone with a fever almost six meters away while parcel dropping drones and robots may become the norm in the delivery sector. This is an opportunity to develop a whole new generation of smart machines that will monitor health status and promote social and physical distancing.
For example, in China, robots have been designed to deliver medicines and meals and collect bed sheets and rubbish in hospitals. E-commerce giant JD has developed a drone program to drop parcels and spray disinfectant. Smart helmets can identify anyone with fever within a five-meter radius.
Fighting the disease
One of the lessons this pandemic has reminded the medical society is the seriousness of infectious diseases. We have seen the unprecedented power of just one strain of a virus shutting down the world and posing a serious threat to lives, businesses, and entire economies. It also comes with the opportunity to help us see what needs to be done to protect our world against this kind of disease and how we need to strengthen our international and local public health setups.
Though the signs have been there for the past decade, our world was still not prepared for handling a major public health menace, such as the COVID-19. One positive from this is the tech-powered response that will change the health sector completely.
Our world has not been better connected than right now. In the face of this virus, there has been easy access to data from all over the modern world. Large tech companies like Facebook have provided maps that display demographics, at-risk population density, and even travel patterns that have enabled researchers to identify and track vulnerable populations, thereby mitigating against the spread of the virus.
Information powerhouses such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google are also working hard to stem the tide of fake news and misinformation by directing users to reliable information sources such as the CDC and the WHO websites. Also, most websites and mobile applications now have a simple banner directing their users and audience to reliable COVID-19 information websites.
Genome sequencing of new strains of viruses normally takes years. Still, with the tremendous growth in technology, the COVID-19 genome was sequenced within a month of the identification of the first case. The diagnostic kit was developed and made available soon afterward.
Now we have several drive-through and walk-in test centers worldwide where you can get tested and receive your results within the next 12-24 hours. Several biomedical startups are in a tight race to even improve on that fit by attempting to develop “Lab-on-strip” chips that can be used at home to test for three different strains of the Coronavirus within hours.
One of the technologies on the rise in this era is AI, and it has proven to be one of the frontline tools to fight the spread of the virus by giving more accurate and actionable predictions. Chatbot-based health applications are now able to screen subjects based on their reported symptoms and calculated potential exposure history. “This generation of applications includes Metabiota”, says Fishman. Metabiota predicted the spread of COVID-19 to other parts of Asia before the cases ever happened in those counties, and bluedot, which alerted its clients before the CDC or WHO had the opportunity to break the sad news.
Not only are we able to better track exposed people using improved technology. We can also now better equip our heroic frontline health workers with smart protective gear that monitors body temperature and alerts the entire team of potential exposure of a health worker. Also, technology is producing better protective gear for the everyday individual. These include the development of new and improved reusable face masks with antiviral protective agents. A breakthrough could be in sight when such tech hits the market.
While most sectors of the global economy are suffering under the debilitating effects of Coronavirus, the bigger tech companies of the world are experiencing some unprecedented growth. Among the top gainers of this pandemic era is Zoom and the entire teleconferencing market.
While the technology has stood the test of time, adoption has come to a stand-still until the world can no longer move around. With a surge of up to 300 million daily user participation, Zoom teleconferencing has had a ridiculous growth in the last six months. Tech giant Amazon announced that it was going to hire an additional 100,000 workers just to meet the demands of its customers, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg attested to the fact that the demand for video calling and messaging has risen to a new and almost incredible bar, while Microsoft’s software for online collaboration recorded over 40% increase in use within one week!
Another booming service right now is the video streaming service, where youtube and Netflix are leading adoption and audience retention, benefitting directly from the government restrictions placed on traditional movie theatres all over the world.
Despite the huge adoption and usage, it is not all sunshine for large tech companies such as Google and Facebook who depend on advertising for their major revenue as customers are not willing to spend so much, especially because of their dwindling markets suffering under the lockdown. It is sure they will emerge bigger and stronger after the pandemic is over, but short-term projections may be unfavourable right now since the stocks of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon collectively lost over $1 trillion even when the stock markets traded their best during the pandemic period.
Parts of the economy, such as aviation, travel, and tourism, as well as traditional education, may have been hit hard, but stop wondering where the money is going. Ask zoom and Amazon.
In Africa, the panic created by the fear of the virus has been worse than the virus itself. Remember, this is a continent whose countries do not have a social security system that guarantees that the government will be able to provide for your needs if you need to be placed on lockdown, or isolation. With the fact that normal donor countries would not be able to give anything much in foreign aid or donations, the continent has had to depend on tech companies and startups to come up with home-grown and cheaper solutions to both mitigate against the virus and to be able to hold the economies and other parts of the society together while we wait out the storm of the pandemic.
At the peak of the onslaught of the virus on humanity, ventilators were as important as life itself. A lot of people died as a result of a lack of ventilators, while hospitals and medical boards had the unfortunate role of playing God by deciding who should get ventilators, and who should be left to their fate.
A certain Mr. Vincent Ssembatya, a professor at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda,
With the help of car manufacturers, Kiira Motors has developed an affordable prototype ventilator that is not only effective and cheap, but can also be manufactured with locally sourced materials, and in bulk on short notice. Auto manufacturer Innoson Motors, in Nigeria, stopped manufacturing cars to focus on the production of ventilators, while some faculty members at Academic City University College in Accra have been laboring on a new prototype that would achieve similar results.
Sometimes, when you know that help may not be coming, you get serious with your survival. Technology has helped Africa to know that it could take its place among the continents of the world if it wants to.
Mobile apps and web solutions
Not only did a team from Ghana win seed funds from the World Health organization, but they also developed a web-based application that helps to map test cases according to risk levels and risk factors with the possibility of an auto submission to different national agencies. Wellvis, an on-demand health information platform, developed an app that allows a person to check their Coronavirus risk category based on symptoms and potential exposure. This was named the COVID-19 triage tool. It is a free application that offers medical advice and points you to the nearest health care centre with testing capacity.
In South Africa, they were able to battle out two things through mobile and web applications; there is a government-controlled whatsapp chatbot that can answer general questions on the myths, treatment, vaccinations, and symptoms of the virus. They also used Coronapp to fight the panic caused by fake news about the virus. The app was developed by two former students from the University of Cape Town.
Mobile money transfer
With the total and partial lockdown of some of the continent’s largest economies, the movement of money was greatly impeded. Banks and their staff were at risk in the often crowded banking halls. Mobile money came to the rescue. While the technology is not new to Africa or the rest of the world, it has rapid user-adoption as a platform of choice to receive and send money all across the continent. To make it better, Kenya’s M-Pesa and telecoms giant Airtel both waived transaction charges for a period of time to enable people to send and receive their money at no cost.
Food delivery services
Lockdowns in Africa are a matter of survival because most of the households are subsistent in nature, and they live from day to day. Putting food on the tables became a big problem for families and individuals. It doesn’t end there, even if you have enough money to take to the market, there was a huge challenge of moving the food to the market in the middle of the necessary lockdowns; it was particularly challenging for the daily supplies and perishable goods. A Zimbabwean Startup named “Fresh in a Box” rose to the challenge and delivers fresh farm produce on a door-to-door basis. This is done with the aid of three client-based mobile applications and three-wheeled tricycles! This has helped people stay safe from the virus, and still have food on their tables.
The Market Garden App in Uganda helps vendors deliver fresh food greens from the farm right to their customers while observing all social and physical distancing procedures.
In Nigeria, Jumia food took the day by helping individuals and governments deliver food all around the country with its last-mile delivery network.
In conclusion, the world has risen to the challenge of the pandemic in a very positive way; however, tech has been the tool for renegotiation of relevance for brands and individuals, a revolution of ideas and tools, and evolution of the entire human race under pressure.
Necessity is the mother of invention!
This article is brought to you by Ido Fishman