WHO declared COVID-19 pandemic on 11th March 2020. At the time of writing, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus are 620,938 and the reported deaths are 28,653 (recovered cases are 137,363). Older people are especially at risk. More than 140 countries and territories have reported cases; more than 80 have confirmed local transmission. Even as the numbers tend to decline in China, the numbers are increasing exponentially in Italy as per the latest data United States of America as well. China’s share of cases has dropped drastically from 90% a month ago to less than 1% today. In these times the economy is certainly taking a hit as consumers and workers cannot leave homes. For certain industries COVID-19 is proving to be devastating, however, for some, it’s a booming period and one of the examples could be technology industry let us try to analyse the impact of COVID-19 on the technology industry.
Technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is helping track the outbreak, clean hospitals, deliver supplies and develop vaccines, with Asian governments encouraging universities and corporations to expedite innovations.
Development of technology across the globe: In Singapore, open government data has enabled the detailed mapping of the outbreak, robots are delivering meals and medication to patients (some of the AI technology can interact as well).
In China whose archetype has been considered to be the most stringent till now, with the lockdown of 60 million people and use of technology has enabled the control of pandemic. Alibaba’s DAMO is proving that it’s following that path and providing relief by speeding up the diagnosis of suspected coronavirus cases. In early February, DAMO Academy developed an AI-enabled system that could diagnose COVID-19 in 20 seconds with 96% accuracy based on 5,000 CT scans of patients. DAMO’s AI-algorithm expert Xu Minfeng said, “A CT machine typically has to produce 300 to 400 chest scans per patient to start the diagnosis of COVID-19. It would take even a very experienced doctor 10-15 minutes to go through such massive amounts of information, but trained AI systems can go through the scans in 20 to 30 seconds.”
During a viral outbreak, when healthcare workers are already pushed to exhaustion, the AI system is the perfect analytical, second opinion for doctors. According to a March 10, 2020 note, the system is being used by 26 hospitals in China and has helped diagnose over 30,000 cases. Further, together with Aliyun, DAMO Academy is helping doctors with their diagnosis through an algorithm that uses patients’ symptoms, medical histories and test results.
To relieve hospital pressure amid the novel coronavirus spread, Alibaba launched free online medical consultation services in January. It allows users to access the consultation service and view real-time epidemic data nationwide from the National Health Commission on Alibaba’s online shopping platform Taobao or mobile payment app Alipay. In addition, Alibaba Health and on-demand delivery service unit, Ele.me, worked together to deliver over-the-counter drugs in half an hour, around the clock in the Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen regions. Certainly, it’s a lot of business for one company and in general for the technology industry.
Even a smart app is developed by Alibaba and Tencent which colour codes the public tracking millions of people daily. It assigns three colours to people — green, yellow or red — on the basis of their travel and medical histories. In the industrial hub Shenzhen, similar software was created by Tencent.
Whether a person should be quarantined or allowed in public spaces is decided based on the colour code. Citizens have to mandatorily log in to the app using pay wallet services like Alibaba’s Alipay, Ant’s wallet etc. Only those people who have been given a green colour code are allowed in public spheres after using the designated QR code at metro stations, offices, stations. There are checkpoints at most public places where the code and person’s body temperature is checked. More than 200 Chinese cities are using this system, and soon it will be extended nationwide. In many hospitals, robots are also performing diagnosis and conducting thermal imaging. Shenzhen based company Multicopter is using robots to transport medical samples. As per a Reuters report, a small robot called Little Peanut is delivering food to Passengers who were on a flight from Singapore to Hangzhou, China, and are currently being quarantined in a hotel.
There have been several developments, drones, for example, are being used for transporting medicines and patient samples creating ample business opportunities for the aeronautical engineering industry. Drones are also flying with QR code placards that can be scanned to register health information. There are also agricultural drones that are spraying disinfectants in the countryside. Drones, powered with facial recognition, are also being used to broadcast warnings to the citizens to not step out of their homes and chide them for not wearing facemasks. Baidu, a Chinese technology giant has created a logarithm for fighting the virus outbreak as per MIT technological review. Baidu has also made tools to build effectively screen large populations. It has also built Ai-powered infrared system that can detect a change in a person’s body temperature. It is currently being used in Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station to identify passengers who are potentially infected where it can examine up to 200 people in one minute without disrupting passenger flow, says the MIT Review.
China’s rigorous use of technology to combat the virus should soon be employed by other countries as well as creating more demand for this industry. Many of the health industries are collaborating with the technology industry to prevent the spread of this virus. Apollo, which is Baidu’s autonomous vehicle platform, has joined hands with self-driving startup Neolix to deliver supplies and food to a big hospital in Beijing. Baidu Apollo has also made its micro-car kits and autonomous driving cloud services available for free to companies fighting the virus.
Development of technology in India: the task force of Department of Science and Technology is mapping out technologies from research and development labs, academic institutions, start-ups, and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Some of these solutions are masks and other protective gear, sanitizers and affordable kits for screening for the coronavirus. Ventilators, oxygenators, data analytics for tracking, monitoring and controlling the spread of the virus through artificial intelligence are also being mapped. It also has a representative from the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Start-up India and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The task force will identify the most promising start-ups that are close to scale up their production in these areas. This also opens up avenues for various technology start-ups.
The NIV and 52 other laboratories under the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR), viral research and diagnostic labs are equipped to test samples. The National Institute of Virology lab in Pune is serving as the nodal lab for coronavirus testing in India. The Pune lab has facilities for COVID-19 molecular diagnosis and next-generation sequencing. The labs are equipped with reagents to test up to 25,000 samples. The Indian government is in the process of adding more coronavirus testing laboratories in the country. While the technology industry seems to be growing on the whole, however, there are problems that they have to face due to the pandemic. According to CNBC, in Indian IT companies, it is confirmed that new contracts worth up to $3 billion have been postponed by clients due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus fears. IT companies may even have to cut jobs in April May due to the impact on revenues and delays in projects. However, this disruption is predicted to last only for a short while for the IT sector. India is also set to launch an app that will tell users if they came in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19, as reported by ET on March 26. The app will be based on location data obtained from the infected person’s smartphone. It will also use short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones, like Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which helps authorities trace contacts of a patient
Researchers, businesses and innovators around the world are putting technology to work to alleviate the effects of the global health crisis. From applications that collect data to track the spread of the virus to 3D printed ventilators for hospitals, video chats and social media keeping people connected in times of lockdown. Century’s old debate of whether technology is good or bad for humanity will continue for more decades to come but certainly, this pandemic makes a point in favour of technology.