The Coronavirus pandemic wreaked chaos in the US in a matter of weeks. Governments of national and local levels are taking drastic measures to mitigate the spread which includes stay-at-home orders and social distancing – with adverse consequences for many American people and their businesses. However, for tech companies, the outbreak has prompted a huge reliance for automation, AI and virtual communication.
When the country emerges post pandemic, it looks likely that tech companies will be relatively unaffected.
There has been a substantial increase in tech reliance all over the world. Over a week ago, the majority of US citizens had probably never heard of video conferencing application, Zoom. In March the company’s stock rose 50% as institutions and companies raced to implement an operational long term remote infrastructure.
“Telemedicine” was also a relatively unheard of term. Now a new model of healthcare that startups like Oscar Health and Lemonaid championed, allows patients to receive virtual care via phone, text and video appointments. Telemedicine has seen a surge in usage as hospitals have reported bed shortages and staffing concerns.
At the beginning of the year, it was predicted that various technological advancements would be witnessed. However, the surprising thing here is that all of this has come about in a very short space of time – with the pandemic resulting in the rapid acceleration of tech trends. However, the issue is that the benefits predicted from such trends may now be overshadowed by possible drawbacks due to their speed and expedited adoption.
Google has apparently been in talks with the Trump administration of how to use location data to both track and manage the pandemic – a step many countries have already taken. YouTube is (temporarily) depending more on AI for the policing of its content after the company sent its workers home. Amazon is also hiring 100,000 more warehouse workers to manage the increasing demand for e-commerce. Netflix, has seen an additional 20 million subscriptions in the last month alone.
Data-driven surveillance, AI-powered content monitoring, e-commerce and streaming— are phenomena that have been well reported over the last 20 years. They have steadily become more ubiquitous, however as they have also received resistance and slower rates of adoption in the United States than other countries, especially China.
China overtook the US in terms of AI development and 5G, facial recognition-based security and mobile payment just a few years ago, however the US has been more reluctant to take hold of such technologies due to concerns of privacy and concentrated power.
In this pandemic, every limitation that Big Tech in the US has faced, has almost disappeared. Consumers are now ok with sacrificing individual liberties and freedoms in favor of more centralized action. The market seems more ready to take on new delivery, communication, and healthcare and payment technology.
Some limitations and barriers, like the reluctance to purchase food and groceries online, are virtually benign. The same could be said for concerns over data privacy. While each of these tech trends was probably going to end up here anyway, the expedited rate of adoption will leave many casualties in its wake.