The best of times, the worst of times..?
As the approach of a complete global lockdown looms ever closer and gloom and despondency feature heavily across all types of media announcement, I am reminded of the quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
I type the complete quotation here as, without wishing to be flippant or facetious, it reminds me that even in the worst of times there is always a flip side.
In times of crisis, we see both the best and the worst of human behaviour – The greedy, pushing everybody aside to grab what’s left on the supermarket shelves, careless of others’ needs; those who make a fast buck at the expense of others’ happiness – or purses.
Then, there are those who go out of their way to shop for the elderly on their street or simply to check in that folks are ok. Simple acts of human kindness, that start as one action but can build to a crescendo if everybody gets on board.
The Role of the Software Sector
As organisations worldwide recognise the imperative for their employees to be able to work from home, they are scrambling to put in place the technology infrastructures to support this new regime.
The situation offers a multitude of opportunities for the software community to step into the breach and offer assistance. Indeed, Rand Fishkin , CEO of SparkToro, gives some great examples of how he thinks “big tech” could and should be helping out those less fortunate during the COVID-19 crisis.
Offers of Help from the Software Community
We have already seen some big-hearted offerings from software companies - @Qualtrics’ “Here to Help” initiative1 is offering both free Remote Work Pulse software and a COVID-19 Pre-Screen & Routing tool.
Effective immediately (2nd March 2020), Cisco issued a statement2 offering extra, free functionality in its Webex offering, while Google has rolled out free access3 to its Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities and Zoom has demonstrated its commitment4 to help during the Coronavirus outbreak by lifting the 40-minute limit from its free Basic plan for China, where doctors are making use of the technology for online consultations.
As of 17th March, Facebook launched a $100 million fund to help small businesses stay afloat5.
It is clear there is much the software sector can do to assist in these times of hardship.
Technology AI Solutions Deployed to Accelerate Medical Analysis
As COVID-19 has become an increasing threat to the health of our global population, so technology solutions are being used to accelerate diagnosis of the virus. One such technology was originally created for lung cancer detection but is now being used in the battle against COVID-19: Beijing-based, AI company, Infervision, is using its algorithm to rapidly identify COVID-19 lung infections on CT scans6. This takes just 10 seconds, versus 15 minutes for a manual interpretation of scan results.
Further, senior Trump aides and leading federal health authorities have met with representatives from top tech companies, seeking to leverage the tech industry’s powerful tools to connect workers and analyse data to combat the virus. US Chief Technology Officer said, “Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort.” He added, “Today’s meeting outlined an initial path forward and we intend to continue this important conversation.”7
Insights from Data Science
Data science from Social Media and Mobile ‘phone tracking is being assessed as ways of monitoring the spread of the virus and keeping the public safe. Professor of Communications & Media Studies, Mark Andejevic, and Professor of Education, Neil Selwyn, both of Monash University, recently published a paper8 demonstrating the depth of information digital technologies now have about our daily lives. They state, for example, that mobile phone companies have been “handing over detailed records of their customers’ movements, as well as informing users if they’ve been in any affected areas in the past several weeks.” And in Singapore, tracking the Coronavirus has relied heavily on data from ride-sharing apps.
Whilst there are clearly privacy issues associated with access to and use of such data, in the current, pandemic situation, it is evident that few would object if it is effective in slowing the spread of the disease.
Rapid Digital Transformation to Ensure Economic Survival
The spread of COVID-19 is imposing worldwide change and forcing us all to rethink the way we lead our daily lives. As remote working kicks in on a grand scale and we necessarily practice social distancing, it is true that life as we know it, is changing dramatically for all of us. It is this pressing necessity for rapid change that will drive innovation in the software sector and, with it, cross-industry, digital transformation.
As travel bans and lockdowns become progressively more widespread, so businesses will increasingly embrace any technology that enables their employees to continue working effectively. In order to survive, these businesses will look to transform the way they operate and, in the process, will create new business models to ensure they stay ahead of their competition.
Closing the Digital Divide
Those of us who are in the Information Technology and Software industry have become accustomed to both embracing and deploying these technologies. However, this is not necessarily the case for the elderly and vast swathes of the wider population. There still exists a significant “digital divide”. Employees of the more traditional ‘bricks & mortar companies’ will now, more than ever, need guidance on how to adapt to this digital age. Helping the elderly to adopt VoiP to stay connected with family and friends will become a key element for those working in the Social Care Services, where Telehealth has already made great strides.
This situation is, of course, a challenge but also, a great opportunity for all of us. It’s an unprecedented situation where we each have a choice to adopt attitudes of greater patience and kindness, especially towards those working tirelessly for us all in the public arena. It’s a time to focus on how we can help others. And, if we all do that, who knows what good may come out of the current challenges we all face.
The Tech Sector can Lead the Way
In the tech sector, we can all play our part in minimising the spread of this terrible virus and in innovating for future, safer ways of working, learning and socialising. From this ‘winter of despair’, we can create a ‘spring of hope’.
Inspiration: the beautiful poem attributed to Kitty O’Meara:
“And the People Stayed Home”