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7 kinds of tech that rose with COVID-19These technologies helped when the world had to adapt fast
– and they look ready to keep helping 29 May 2023
As the pandemic took off, certain tech seemingly custom-made for the quarantined masses appeared to be poised for greatness.
Zoom was booming. Pelaton was racing. Netflix was chill.
The promising early days, however, eventually turned into stock-market disappointment when those companies suffered reversals as stay-home orders were lifted.
But the pandemic did energize forms of tech that seem to be here to stay. They’re broader and less flashy than the former consumer-tech darlings listed above. But it looks like they’ll long be influencing the way we live, from how we feed ourselves to how we talk to our doctors.
Here’s a look at the tech winners.
More than 1.2 billion children exited classrooms during the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum.
As with the other technologies listed here, edtech was on the upswing well before the virus struck, with Market Insider reporting on U.S.$18.66 billion in investments in 2019 and U.S.$16.34 billion the year before. But the COVID-19 crisis put the need into overdrive as schools closed around the world and families struggled to adapt to at-home learning at an unprecedented scale.
Researchers are now getting a picture of the consequences of the disruption. In one study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the University of Oxford’s Per Engzell and his team found that students generally made little to no progress studying from home, and students from disadvantaged homes lost ground.
But some experts say e-learning will continue to gain strength in – and out of –classrooms.
Barbara B. Lockee of the Virginia Tech School of Education in commentary for Nature says the future is hybrid, with teachers supporting pedagogical approaches from a menu of options. Other changes she sees continuing: flexible assignment deadlines; more student choice about learning methods; and experiences that involve meaningful applications of new skills, such as collaborative projects that require creative and social-media tools.
Charlotte Coles, head of content for THE’s Digital Universities Series, which produces industry conferences on the subject around the world, is also bullish about e-learning’s future at the university level, but has a caveat.
“As technology continues to advance, e-learning has become an integral part of the higher education curriculum combining synchronous and asynchronous communication and supporting greater knowledge transfer,” she tells KUST Review.
“The benefits of e-learning are numerous and will allow institutions to build customizable learning environments that enable individual learning styles to flourish in a cost-effective way. However, concerns around student digital poverty and faculty digital skills are some of the barriers that must be addressed in order to guarantee widespread adoption.”
Food delivery was available before the pandemic, of course, but it’s getting harder to find restaurants that don’t list themselves on delivery apps now as more people consider meal delivery less treat and more daily necessity. Newfoodmagazine.com says the apps may well redefine the meaning of “restaurant,” with sit-down locations now operating like food trucks or delivery-only takeaway.
In a paper published by the European Journal of Management and Business Economics, researchers suggest that an increase in cheaper smart devices, rapidly improving telecommunications infrastructure, increased purchasing power and decreased personal time have combined to create the perfect conditions for the food-delivery boom.
German marketing company Statista says the UAE is the second largest market for food delivery in the MENA region, with an annual market size of U.S.$834 million. Meanwhile, IT service-management company Network International cites reports that GCC restaurants have begun using cloud kitchens – commercial kitchens that prepare food for delivery and takeaway only – and aggregator platforms to launch new brands.
But restaurant deliveries are just part of the picture. Grocery delivery also skyrocketed during the pandemic, with Amazon profits alone experiencing nearly 200 percent growth, mostly due to food purchases.
And a 2021 paper published in Current Developments in Nutrition cites a survey that found that 60 percent of those who ordered groceries during the pandemic intended to continue shopping that way.
People want their dinners delivered with a few keystrokes, and everything else, too.
A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development study titled “COVID-19 and E-Commerce” looked at the buying habits of nine nations during the pandemic and concluded that the changes are likely to linger for some time.
The study covered Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland and Turkey and found that more than half of respondents shop online more and look more often to the internet for their news, entertainment and health information.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a more digital world. The changes we make now will have lasting effects as the world economy begins to recover,” says UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
In the UAE, a 2022 Statista survey says 48 percent of respondents maintained their pre-COVID online-shopping habits, while 32 percent say they shopped more online after the pandemic.
As the world turned to online shopping, consumers also pivoted toward online channels to conduct daily business.
Global management-consulting firm McKinsey and Co. says the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the digitization of customer services by several years: by three years in North America and Europe and four years in the Asia-Pacific region. McKinsey also cites a survey that says respondents are three times as likely now as before the pandemic to say that 80 percent of their customer interactions occur in the digital space.
Research and advisory company Forrester says consumer attitudes toward digital channels are changing, with customers showing a marked preference for communicating with support teams via messaging.
Calabrio, which produces workplace software, however, says voice calls also increased during the pandemic, with customer-service agents taking 7.2 more calls a day. This takes a toll. A Cornell study says 87 percent of call center agents report high or very high levels of stress on the job.
But AI may be stepping up to help the embattled humans on the other side of the line.
Indian software company Mantra Labs says AI could be most useful providing services like answering FAQs and giving basic customer support. And unlike the old interactive voice response systems that had us shouting into our cellphones, modern AI systems will feel like you’re talking to a human.
AI technologies entering the customer-service ring include chatbots; agent assist to interpret what the customer wants, search relevant articles and display the information on the human agent’s screen; self-service functions that give customers the tools to solve their own issues; robotic process automation to automate simple tasks for agents; and machine learning to support agents with predictive analytics.
People are buying more online and looking for touch-free options when they shop at brick-and-mortar stores, so it stands to reason that digital payments are also seeing a boost.
The World Bank says the pandemic also spurred a wave of financial inclusion that fuels the trend. Among the reasons: In low- and middle-income economies (excluding China) more than 40 percent of adults who bought something in a store or online with a card, phone or the internet had never done so before the pandemic.
Two-thirds of the world’s adults now make or receive digital payments, the World Bank says.
The digital transition was coming well before the virus shut down the world, but lockdowns accelerated the process.
According to a 2021 Visa survey of business owners and customers in eight countries, 47 percent said they wouldn’t even shop at a store that didn’t offer contactless payment.
Customers might have come for the health protection, but it looks like they’ll stay for the convenience.
“As countries around the world continue to increase tap-to-pay transaction limits, contactless payments are here to stay and their adoption will accelerate,” Rajat Taneja, president of technology at Visa, tells CNBC.
Touchless digital transactions at first required a customer to tap their card, rather than swipe it through a reader. But many customers now use digital wallets on their phones or digital apps such as Apple Pay.
The skies are blue for cloud computing – using a network of remote servers hosted by the internet to store, manage and process data instead of using a local server or a personal computer.
Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft together have invested almost U.S.$120 billion recently in cloud computing, most of it spent on data centers and servers, the Economist reports.
Global sales for the cloud-computing industry were expected to exceed U.S.$495 billion in 2022, according to research firm Gartner.
Although many industries are embracing cloud computing, the industries investing the most in the technology are manufacturing, retail, government, health care and agriculture, according to Brazilian service and software provider Stefanini.
In 2019, 840,000 medical visits covered by the U.S. Medicare Part B program were televisits, patient-to-provider communications that include video and phone calls, chatbots and portal messages. In 2020 that number leaped to 52.7 million, according to researchers in the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation. Of these visits, 92 percent occurred in patients’ homes, which generally wasn’t allowed before the pandemic.
The American federal health-care system is tightening up rules for telehealth reimbursement, but Dr. Julia Shaver in a paper for Prim Health says that although future studies should be conducted to determine the best use for the technology, it will remain an integral part of medical care.
Like telehealth services, wearables also saw a boost of interest during the pandemic.
Researchers studying the issue in a paper for Sensors say it makes sense: Wearables are passive and practical, able to monitor patients continuously with little to no input from users; they can be used in remote or inpatient settings; and they provide objective measurements providing real-time feedback to patients and doctors.
Wearables encompass such tech as fitness trackers to biosensors in patches. Among COVID-specific projects, wearables were tapped to spot signs of infections when test kits were in short supply.
And GlobalData, a data analytics and consulting company based in London, projects the industry to boom, increasing from U.S.$59 billion in 2020 to $156 billion by 2024.
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Tech could someday let people even in dry climates
get clean water straight from the atmosphere›››
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