Coronavirus as progress catalyst

7 key technological leaps caused by coronavirus

Coronavirus as progress catalyst

Coronavirus became probably the most influential event of this year. The virus is an undoubted catastrophe that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and drove the world into a rapid economic crisis. Many analysed the influence of the virus on psyche, the economy, culture. In a column of Realnoe Vremya, Bulat Ganiyev, a manager partner of Technocracy GC, will have a look at what happened from a perspective of technology, talk about how the virus changed the technological industry and try to peer into the future.

1. Remote working technologies

The main idea I want to lay bare is that the virus didn’t become the reason for dramatically new changes but became a catalyst for the introduction of new technologies and consumption habits. Below, I will be talking about 7 most important, I think, technological leaps cause by coronavirus.

If somebody benefits from the pandemic, we can certainly say that it is ZOOM. The software for video conferences that confidently competed with Skype took the lead substituting the habitual “Let’s Skype” for “Let’s ZOOM” in the masses. I couldn’t imagine just yesterday my mom and grandma would be confident ZOOM users, while today it is their new reality. According to The Verge, in December 2019 it talked about 10 million daily meeting participants and 300 million in April 2020.

We can say that technically, ZOOM itself didn’t change much compared to its pre-COVID-19 version, however, from a perspective of its impact on everyday life, its influence is huge.

People who faced the necessity of video conferences for the first time began to hold briefings on ZOOM, organised parties, weddings and even funerals.

Leaders of the IT industry (for instance, Telemost by Yandex) immediately joined the race of video conference services. However, it isn’t easy to repeat the success of ZOOM because the high quality of video communication has years of work of talented engineers and mathematicians behind.

Many companies and employees reconsidered their attitude to remote work. The role of offices that will stop being rows of tables, chairs and computers and become a space for collective activity will likely change in the future.

Offices of the future will adopt the format of co-working with a lot of conference rooms and lectures. I wouldn’t claim that telecommuting is a new reality for everybody, but the virus certainly helped to make a notable leap in the perception of the normality of remote working.

2. Remote education technologies

Any product that became a legend once changed the consumption habit (Ford Model T, Walkman, iPhone). Any marketing manager will tell you that changing a habit is the most expensive and difficult thing. So the virus did all remote learning services favour by making online education a reality of every Russian schoolchild and teacher. Each of them had to get the experience of this process, which suddenly increased possibilities of growth of educational start-ups.

Considering that Russia has a shortage of staff in school education, this will probably push the state into resolving to make online education the norm for schoolchildren who are divested of a chance of learning from a good teacher.

I believe in the future when mass free education will be online, while offline education will be for elites. An average schoolchild will benefit from this because online learning from Russia’s best teacher’s video lectures is better than a meddling local and not always sober teacher who doesn’t have motivation.

3. Medical diagnostic technologies and telemedicine

Even tech sceptics admit that telemedicine is the future that is slowly approaching. But when health and life are at stake, ethical, cultural and even philosophic barriers to its introduction come about automatically. The idea of making a diagnosis in a chat seems very inhumane to somebody. Electronics and sensor devices that went down in price allow switching from the format of “to treat a patient” to the format “to monitor the state permanently and take measures predictably”.

Coronavirus facilitated this issue. Online diagnostic projects suddenly revived. I am sure that bills that will expand the capacities of remote diagnostics will become a factor of the appearance of new medical start-ups next year. They will replace traditional medicine chests, thermometers, blood pressure monitors and allow receiving primary advice without visiting the clinic.

The role of the therapist will reduce because algorithms will provide routing, while a digital medical profile with the history of disease and forecast of possible ailments will change the quality of life of millions of people. We will often think about not how to “repair” ourselves but how to make it better.

4. Fake news recognition technologies

A fake news recognition technology became another sphere that moved forward pushed by the coronavirus wave. After the scandals with Cambridge Analytics and Trump’s elections, the issue is in the limelight, but when massive provocations amid COVID-19 began, it became clear how dangerous this technology was. People treated themselves with doubtful medications that can harm their health, false information about measures taken by the state appeared, which caused a sudden negative outcry. Plus, millions of inexperienced users who had to go online were a soft target for swindlers.

Amid this, the biggest IT companies started to develop their algorithms that ought to help tell objectives news from fake. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Reddit created a group to solve the problem more effectively.

It is a “tectonic shift” that shouldn’t be underestimated. We will probably see the gestation of a new niche of projects in information verification. As you see, reality is subjective and everybody has one’s own reality, which means that competition for the “most objective” algorithms will be “fun”.

5. Big Data technologies in pharmaceutics

It can take from 3 to 15 years on average for a medication to enter the market. The situation is distressing when it is necessary to react to new viruses quickly.

Big Data and algorithms that can make highly accurate forecasts for medications’ efficiency without wasting years on clinical trials become one of the solutions. It goes without saying that this practice is in embryonic form yet, but taking into account how actively people do DNA tests (laboratories earn by selling this data to pharmaceutical companies), we can conclude that data set will grow, which means that algorithms will get more accurate.

It will perhaps take medications several hours to be created by algorithms in 10-15 years, while people will just conduct the final approval phase. This perspective uniting Bit Data and pharmaceutics has a market worth trillions of dollars somebody will just have to conquer.

6. Social distancing technologies

“Keep a distance” is a phrase became a slogan during the isolation period. States got it quite quickly: if they manage to monitor where the first infected person came from and how he began to communicate with others, they can build models of spread and “smartly” isolate separate groups and areas to impede the virus from infecting millions.

Here it is important to understand that the attitude to your location and mobility itself has changed. Under the guise of fighting the epidemic, states easily persuaded citizens to voluntarily put a tail on them. For instance, in Singapore, it is called TraceTogether, and Apple and Google create an algorithm that any developer can use thanks to open API.

I don’t think that somebody will build a new “rhino” with apps helping to keep a distance. But the very fact that the pandemic showed how people easily share private data if there is an occasion allows assuming that it will be easier for companies to persuade people to share data in the future and build more effective and personalised products.

7. Effective disinfection technologies

I read in August that half of the start-ups that went through the last selection process to Y Combinator are linked with the COVID-19 topic. The majority of them help protect oneself (for instance, different technological masks) or solve the disinfection problem more effectively. For example, the issue of certification of 222-nm UV lamps for mass disinfection is now actively discussed. Ultraviolet in this range is considered safe for humans but pitiless for the virus. Time will show how topical these issues will be in several years, but we will certainly get to the next virus in better technological shape.

Predicting is a thankless job, this is why I am asking to consider this text rather as my fantasy than an objective outlook. It will probably give you new ideas that will help react to pandemics better and know how to get out of them without a lot of victims. At last, our ability to exchange ideas and collectively win it is our main weapon the virus doesn’t possess.

By Bulat Ganiyev. Author’s photo courtesy
Tatarstan