It is hard to imagine how the world would have coped with the Covid-19 pandemic if science and technology had not come to the rescue.
From the onset of the pandemic, different technologies and innovative solutions have been deployed to help people navigate through life and work. Monitoring social distancing and isolation, managing testing and vaccinations, facilitating remote work, keeping people connected, and keeping children in school, are some of the areas where technology has come to the rescue. The impact of this will continue to be felt even in the post-pandemic world.
We look at how the pandemic has shaped technology and innovations and how this will look like in the future.
The global ventilator shortage meant that even those who had resources could not access the crucial equipment that was needed to treat Covid-19 patients. This extended to other equipment for medical care both at the hospitals and home-based care use.
The result of this was that people started making their own ventilators and other tools that were necessary. Cloth manufacturers like KICOTEC in Kenya quickly switched to manufacturing masks and other PPEs. University students designed ventilators to help cope with the shortage. Some local artisans started to make hospital beds. There were numerous cases of innovative hand washing stations popping out in different places.
In the ICT sector, different solutions made it possible to social distance, track people in self-isolation, manage vaccine rollout, or even help people shop remotely.
This spike in innovation is something that will continue even in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic gave rise to entrepreneurs and innovators who found a market for their novel inventions. The wave of this new breed of innovators will continue to be felt even in the future.
Many people find it hard to believe that Zoom existed before the pandemic. The option to work remotely was not available in many organizations. Running whole conferences virtually was a rare thing. Paying for groceries using mobile money was not a very common thing.
During the pandemic, so much has changed within a short period of time. Technologies that were largely ignored became a lifeline. People learnt that they can work remotely and deliver just like in-person jobs. The need to travel around the world to attend a conference that can be attended virtually is no longer there.
This changing world is making it easy for people to adopt new technologies and creating a market for the same. Remote collaboration tools now have a wider market, and more people are investing in them. The access control system that also take temperature measurements are now in use, and more manufacturers are focusing on them. The preference for cashless payment systems is giving a lifeline to Fintechs that are innovating in this area.
The pandemic will continue to be a catalyst for increased technology use and innovations.
Resilience in Design
Perhaps, one technology that was designed to scale and grow with demand is the internet itself. During the pandemic, we saw internet traffic increase significantly, but the systems that make it work were able to cope with the huge demand.
Behind the screens, internet pathways allow a great amount of information to be transferred and even accommodate the spike in traffic. There are redundant paths for internet traffic. There are cache servers that bring content closer to people who are accessing it. Net neutrality means that all traffic is treated equally, giving every resource that is in high demand unthrottled access. This characteristic of the internet made it possible for people to be online without needing to scale up equipment such as routers, optical fibers and other internet gateways.
The pandemic experience showed the need for systems that can scale quickly and this is going to be a standard good practice in the future. For any technology to be future-proof, it needs to be built in a way that it can handle any black swan like the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid has made this obvious.
The problem of digital divide was hugely felt when learning was taken online. Many platforms could be used to keep children learning while schools were closed, but serious bottlenecks arose. Connectivity became a problem in many places. In other places, gadgets were not available. In most cases, there was limited or no internet connectivity.
This problem has found a solution in the way new technologies are helping overcome these problems. We now have solutions that are not dependent on full-time internet connection and that can work in places without access to mains electricity. Innovators have also come up with learning tools that can work in feature phones, thus allowing students from resource-constrained environments to keep learning.
The pandemic highlighted the need to have technologies that can cater to a diverse group of people who have different needs and resources. At the same time, the need to bridge the digital divide has seen more resources being allocated to undeserved communities, and we will see more innovations in this area.
In the post-pandemic world, we expect to see the world moving at a faster pace in terms of technology and innovation. We have already seen barriers being broken and what would be considered bleeding technologies being normalized. A world that has been exposed to new technologies will see more tech solutions at all levels, and from different innovators. The world will also need to be ready for the next pandemic and here again, technology takes a leading role.