Management Information and Technology: Emerging technologies and COVID-19
Kit Kerr CA discusses how emerging technologies have helped the world to cope with COVID-19 and how the pandemic has accelerated the pace of technological change.
The importance of emerging technologies
Twenty years ago, the latest mobile phone was the Nokia 3310. This phone was a bestseller – its huge 459 character SMS text limit, the popular “snake” game and the ability to make your own ringtones, along with its handy size, meant it was suitable for business users, teens and adults alike.
Technology has moved on a lot. This blog, for example, can be read on a smartphone. Apps can keep you in contact with everyone on the go, and you can move easily between laptops, tablets, phones and now fully integrate them with your car. Many of these improvements came from a need for additional technologies to help within businesses – which still drives change to this day, including during the coronavirus pandemic.
Helping the world through COVID-19
Over the last 12 months, business has moved fully online. Instead of face-to-face meetings, Zoom, MS Teams, Skype and FaceTime have been the norm for discussions. International travel and large conferences have been replaced by drop-in sessions, online discussions and a plethora of emails. Even then, email has been overshadowed by instant messaging, and files are no longer printed and read before a meeting but shared using the cloud.
Emerging technologies have helped the world to continue to operate throughout the pandemic and those which are being created because of it could go on to make huge changes. One such example can be seen at a hotel in Tokyo which has installed a robot, called Pepper, who greets patients of the disease who are arriving to quarantine at the hotel – therefore reducing the need for staff to be there to check in ill guests.
Robot park patrol
Similarly, robots are being used by food delivery companies in America and even in the UK to allow more food deliveries to be made to a person’s front door whilst keeping the drivers of these robots safe in their car. There are even robots patrolling parks in Singapore and advising adults to stay 2m apart if its sensors detect there are groups potentially violating social-distancing rules. These inventions, whilst potentially seeming a bit silly now (is it totally necessary to have a robot patrolling a park?) could go on to be lifesaving – perhaps by delivering vital medical equipment to others or even using similar technologies to allow more visitors to hospitals or care-home settings whilst still maintaining social distancing.
There are also some technologies being created simply because people have more time on their hands. The popular game, Animal Crossing, has created “virtual holidays” where users can experience visits to a fake holiday destination, visit landmarks in that location and even spend some time sunbathing on the beach there. This isn’t an essential technology but it has given users a well-needed break.
These technologies have all been created, improved or found their market during the coronavirus pandemic. And we haven’t even touched the surface of discussing the increase in users of communication technologies – the writer of this blog never thought she would see the day when her 90-year-old grandad WhatsApped her to arrange a call on Facebook Messenger, but that’s the world we live in now.
The downsides of emerging technologies
Naturally, one of the big risks of using technology in any business context is that it often involves collecting and holding large volumes of data. This data must be stored securely and in line with GDPR regulations in the UK. Technology is not foolproof and can be susceptible to virus attacks, hackers, denial-of-service attacks and simple failures – sometimes the device just won’t turn on, or the Bluetooth doesn’t work and QR codes have been known to be occasionally unreliable – yet they are the means the majority of restaurants and cafes are relying on to collect details for Test and Trace.
Long Way Up
It must also be considered that technologies don’t always work as we expect them to. A recent example of this has been in the AppleTV series, Long Way Up, where actors and UNICEF ambassadors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman decided to drive electric motorbikes from the bottom of South America to Los Angeles. In advance of their travels, electric power supplies were built along the route to allow them to charge the vehicles. However, what they did not realise was that the cold weather at the start of their journey would almost half the range of the electric vehicles, meaning they were charging their bikes in hotel lobbies and using café power supplies along the way – not quite what they had intended. This just goes to show that technologies, even when made with the best intentions, don’t always operate as planned.
There is also, of course, the intrusion that technologies can cause in your life. The increase in at-home working and your laptop being so constantly close at hand has meant that many workers are reporting an increase in hours spent at work or are finding it harder to separate their work and home life. Perhaps the next technology created will help with this, help make vaccines faster or predict the spread of illness and track data more easily. Whatever it may be, there is no doubt that in 20 years’ time these technologies will be as commonplace as the smartphone is today.