The way we live has changed immeasurably since the beginning of March when COVID-19 began spreading rapidly throughout the United States. Now, in mid-April, most of us are at home, using tools like Zoom, Teams, and Slack to stay in touch with colleagues. Other than groceries and prescriptions we’re buying almost everything online and having it shipped to our door. The importance of technology in our lives has never been more apparent.
The virus will have a tremendous long-term impact on the country and on our society. One area where we’re bound to see its effects is on the future of technology, which will inevitably be influenced by our current circumstances and by the lessons we’ve learned during an unprecedented and difficult period in our history.
In this article, we cover a few of the key ways COVID-19 is reshaping the future of technology.
Changes in human behavior
It seems likely that consumer sentiment and behavior will be shifted, at least temporarily, by the pandemic and its fallout. Even once the world moves past the peak of the epidemic, it’s unlikely that people will return to life as it was before the outbreak. Instead, there will likely be a new normal where awareness of germs and infections is higher, and uncertainty about financial outlooks lingers. Things may feel unstable for months to come, particularly if a second wave of infection hits in the winter as some have begun to predict.
These changes in sentiment and behavior will underpin the future of tech and human interaction with it. For example: in order to stem the tide of the pandemic arguments are already being made for using location data from smartphones to do contact tracing. As of mid-April Google and Apple have said they’re working together to use technology to track and limit the spread of the virus. This type of surveillance would have been inconceivable a few months ago, but it’s gaining greater buy-in during the pandemic. So far this type of initiative is voluntary in the U.S., but we may see adoption become fairly mainstream if doing so means returning to some semblance of normal.
Acceleration of AI in human jobs
The pandemic has demonstrated how reliance on human labor makes it impossible to keep the economy running during a viral outbreak. Because the best scientific predictions estimate that we may be dealing with this for another year or two, and because there’s no guarantee we won’t experience another pandemic five, ten, or twenty years down the line, we’re seeing an even greater degree of focus put on using AI to do jobs that are risky for humans under the circumstances.
Unlike humans, robots are not susceptible to the virus, and can continue working during a pandemic or other crisis without risk to health and safety. Increased use of AI in these high-risk jobs also limits corporate liability in terms of providing workers with a safe working environment.
More distance working
On a related note, the pandemic will likely have implications for how many of us are empowered to do distance work. If anything, so far the outbreak has shown that many more American workers are able to work from home effectively than we would have previously believed. We expect to see companies directing more investment toward powering distance working, including investment in things like cloud solutions and conferencing and communication tools.
Distance work will increasingly include medecine, with the greater availability of telehealth systems almost certain to come as a result of the pandemic. Telehealth options are key to slowing the spread of the virus and to ensuring healthcare systems can continue serving all patients while keeping them from crowding into waiting rooms. We expect an influx of investment in telehealth technology powering secure video appointments, secure messaging systems, online appointment scheduling systems, online prescribing, and online billing and payment systems.
Contactless interfaces become the norm
Once the pandemic is under control there is still bound to be a certain amount of fear and doubt that linger about infection from contact with surfaces. Though the risk of contracting COVID-19 from surfaces is lower than from direct contact with droplets from an infected person, people will want to limit risk as much as possible. We will begin to see far greater availability of contactless interfaces as a result.
Technology has one of the most important roles to play in enabling us to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic and to be better prepared for whatever comes next. COVID-19 will reshape tech priorities for corporations and governments, including greater investment in telehealth, cloud infrastructure, and contactless digital alternatives to touch interfaces.