The current pandemic creates new challenges and opportunities as it tests Tech’s vision of the … [+]
For over four decades, many tech companies have been preparing for something like a pandemic. A time when people would be forced to work from home, attend their classes virtually, and be able to even entertain themselves via online video games, streaming movies, and music.
One of the goals of the creators of the Internet was to deliver a medium for communications in times of catastrophe. At that time, they were anticipating a nuclear war that could wipe-out buildings, people and much more. The Internet was to be a means for distributed communications via servers placed all over America and the world. If one area affected by a nuclear bomb, the servers in other regions of the US and world would still be able to deliver communications with political, military, banking, and business leaders.
As we start the hunkering down process to help control the spread of Covid-19, technology suppliers were more than ready to meet the needs of assisting people in working, learning, and playing from home in isolated or confined situations.
The tech tools at people’s disposal include smartphones, social media, webinars, webconferencing, e-commerce, streaming entertainment, VR, telework, telehealth, telestudy, and anything done remotely. The Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war, but pandemics look like its ultimate global stress test.
One by-product of this push for isolation is that harried workers and people always on the go might rediscover things like reading, home cooking, arts, and crafts and pick up new hobbies. People could still do outdoor activities if they are healthy. They could garden, take long walks, jog, bike, hike or surf, etc, where social distancing is part of that activity.
There is even a sport that people could play that has social distancing at its heart. That sport is golf.
In the case of my friends and me, who are all duffers, once we hit the ball off the tee, our balls go in four different directions, and we separate our distances between ourselves, sometimes by hundreds of yards. Once we get on the green our balls are all over the place, and we putt one at a time and don’t meet up accept to walk to the next hole.
One of my friends suggested to me that perhaps, during this slowdown, hopefully, we will become smarter, healthier, fitter, wiser, saner, and closer to our loved ones.
While tech has provided the backbone and thousands of applications that make a virtual world possible, there is still room for innovation around combating and monitoring symptoms of any viral infection.
For example, perhaps Apple and other smartwatch makers can add sensors that can monitor our temperatures 24/7. Or a motion feature that stops you from touching your face. Give Siri, Alexa, and Hey Google the ability to analyze a cough for any link to an infectious disease.
Apple already has a breathing reminder in the Apple watch, what about adding an app that reminds you to wash your hands or apply Purel as often as you can.
This virtual experiment could also have some other consequences for the tech world.
Tech companies, as well as many other companies, are going to use this period to test the potential long term value of working from home. They have resisted allowing much of their staff from working at home, arguing that people need to be together to get things done.
If this work at home is successful, many companies will consider this type of move and could cause them to evaluate how many workers they need. One untended consequence is that even large companies may find downsizing their real estate footprint, and demand for new office facilities could decline.
Automation could get a boost, as well. Not just in manufacturing but also in services. Online education now has a global beta test that is showing it is effective at K-12 and University level. And, it could drive greater interest in home schooling if kids show they can adapt to learning virtually during this period of schools’ closing.
The worldwide Covid-19 virus is creating an opportunity to examine elements of employment, education, and automation that could have taken much longer to happen without COVID-19.
With that in mind, we should use this time to understand the tremendous virtual technology and tools the tech world has created. Beyond testing them now, we need to take an in-depth look at how working in virtual environments and virtual worlds may impact our future.
This time in our history is going to be an important one for tech in that they have created the tools to keep us connected, able to work, learn, and even play from home.
While never anticipating something like a total world pandemic that could force billions into isolation and quarantine, tech’s vision of a virtual world that began four decades ago will have a live, real-world beta test. It will also help underscore that, while tech can be used for evil, it also can be used to the good of humanity.
It is clear now to many of us in tech that all of the tools that allow us to have virtual access that will enable us to work, learn and play will become even more valuable and important in the future.