COVID-19: TECHNOLOGY IS FLATTENING THE ECONOMIC CURVE
By: Ivan Ferrari, Event Director Telecom, Media & Technology Events at Informa Markets
THE outbreak of the the Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the global economy, having engulfed countries around the world and sending many into recession, at least in the first half of the year. However, had this health crisis occurred even just a couple of decades ago, chances are it would have thrown the planet straight into a dark hole of economic depression, with bigger and bleaker consequences. Work from home, shop from home, learn from home would not have been conceivable – at least surely not on the current, hyper massive scale.
The impact of Covid-19 on our economies is all-encompassing and brutal. However, in the past few months, technology has stepped up to be the answer to the Covid-19 battle. In fact, this coronavirus has accelerated society’s transition to digitisation – probably by a decade – and this higher trajectory will continue unabated well beyond the end of the emergency.
THE C-WORLD BEFORE THE T-WORLD
The sputtering C-world we currently spin on will soon give way to the T-world. Change is occurring at an unadornedly fast, plain-spoken pace. The Tech-world will be very different from everything we have experienced before. There will not be a back to business as usual.
In the short term, the baton will be held by the Stay at Home players: Amazon, JD.com, Tencent, Peloton, Slack, Zoom, Netflix, Deliveroo, social media; and the whole telecom ecosystem that is under massive pressure to perform a vital role in keeping the pipes from bursting. Cybersecurity players have also joined the craze to stem the spike in attacks induced by the jump in home connectivity that work, study, entertainment and shopping from home have kindled.
According to recent government data analysed by Global Workplace Analytics, up until recently only 7 per cent of US companies offered remote work options and just 3.6 per cent of American workers spent at least half their labour hours at home. Now increasingly bandied about, the WFH (work from home) acronym has up till recently seen anaemic growth of about 10 per cent a year – until tens of millions of Americans were thrust overnight into configuring home offices. Needless to say in Singapore, because of the Covid-19 contagion, WFH is no longer a luxury but a necessity for businesses to keep their operations running.
What we will see next will be distributed management – a way to work together through online collaboration – on many more résumés, while many more companies will describe themselves as “fully distributed”, a neologism for “everyone works remotely most of the time”.
Similarly, while many countries are on lockdown, social gatherings are being shifted online. Trade shows, sport events, conferences, trainings, webinars, workshops – everything is at least temporarily taking place virtually – and organisers are running the extra mile to set up virtual events to keep the discourse going within the communities they serve.
For instance, NTT, a Japanese telecommunications company, offers live virtual events in 8K resolution, multi-angle viewing of J-League football matches, remote work assistance via virtual reality (VR) and facial recognition. This clearly shows that technology is vital to keep us united and interconnected during this social distancing chapter, ready to pat shoulders again as we overcome the pandemic.
Decisive leadership and nimble operating models matter too. While short-term unemployment increases throughout the world, crucially, tech companies are also working relentlessly to assess and re-route supply chains whenever needed. Globalisation, which was already receding, is accelerating the speed of its involution. The world will turn into a more decentralised, distributed place.
Emerging technologies are being introduced fast, some only partially tested: talking robots, disinfecting drones, enhanced mobile tracking systems, and a pervasive use of artificial intelligence (AI) that is wrapping all aspects of our world. For example, IBM is partnering with the White House to make a vast amount of supercomputing power available to help researchers stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Closer to home in Singapore, TraceTogether – the new app for contact tracing to help contain the spread of Covid-19 – leverages short-distance bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating TraceTogether users in close proximity, further aiding the contact tracing process. The imperative to tackle the Covid-19 contagion is trumping bureaucratic, financing and infrastructure constraints while putting new tech on test.
THE WILD TECH CARD: BITCOINS
The world must sustain the economy for however long it takes to kill the virus. In other words, this means massive fiscal stimulus spending – multiple trillions of dollars’ worth, resulting in a massive pile of debt. This might well induce a spike in inflation and a consequent devaluation of the currencies linked to the stimulus packages. There is one last technology designed to address that – bitcoin.
Bitcoin is a technology and a currency which was engineered to address exactly this scenario of hyper stimulus and massive quantitative easing. As one of its key features, it is designed to protect people – especially the most vulnerable – from currency manipulations, controls and devaluations.
Will this hold true after this emergency is over? So far, it hasn’t been annihilated in the market crash and run for liquidity, like what many had predicted. Bitcoins will be one of the most interesting experiments in technology and economic history to watch.
There are no winners in a global pandemic. Technology is helping in many ways, including in flattening its economic impact, which could otherwise have dire long-term implications, especially for the weakest segments of our societies.
The coronavirus will run its course. It may take a few more months, but soon enough, people will come out of their homes, businesses will reopen, and societies will find their footing again. However, the view on the other side will be quite different, with the role and place of technology more enhanced than ever.