Technology: Providing Vital Components Influencing the Fight Against COVID-19

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency. This is post #17 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis” –

16 April 2020   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”

By Lama Alaraj – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute

As the tasks of our everyday world are put on hold, all around the world we are playing the waiting game, hoping for an end to this madness.

While at home, waiting for the world to be “normal” again, often our only source of communication with the outside is through our tech devices.

Without most people doing much to get ready for the unanticipated spread of the virus, technology for connecting with one another and the outside world was widely-available and already serving as our first source of comfort…and tech connectivity remains so during this crisis.

Where we stand today: Many sectors in our economies are muted and our reliance as a global society leaning on the digital world greater than ever.

What about after the crisis ebbs and then eventually passes? This is a survey of what is happening in the virus crisis and how tech companies are lending their support. And what developments during the crisis might be breakthroughs for future use.  Here is a round-up of what tech companies are doing in the virus crisis.

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Blue Dot
From the beginning of the crisis, this Canadian tech startup had caught on to the danger posed by virus even before the WHO released an official statement. Blue Dot used a cloud-based GIS platform that works to detect infectious disease outbreaks around the world. This sophisticated technology also uses AI to send alerts about diseases tailored to the affected region (source: Bluedot, 2020).

The power of knowledge enabled by these approaches to use of advanced technology is unrivaled. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the capability of harnessing a previously unthinkable amount of data to sift through, then applying results to an algorithm and calculating vital information that influences our responses (Source: Bowles, 2020).

Technology tools were not only able to detect the first few cases of COVID-19, but through this innovative software development, Blue Dot was able to predict the region the disease was going to spread to from the initial location at Wuhan.

The CBS Network program “60 Minutes” had a good look at the technology and approach behind the success of the Blue Dot detection capabilities.  The program:  ‘The Computer Algorithm That Was Among the First to Detect the Coronavirus Outbreak”.

Subtext:   On New Year’s Eve, a small company in Canada was among the first to raise the alarm about an infectious disease outbreak. Its computer algorithm calculated where the virus might spread next. The technology could change the way we fight another contagion.

You can see the segment here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak-computer-algorithm-artificial-intelligence/

We are seeing the global tech giants partnering with the American government to fight against the pandemic. Supercomputers and Artificial Intelligence are the key components in the battle.

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The IBM supercomputer (Watson) is built to analyze standard mathematical problems utilizing AI to generate algorithms based on various models.

In Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the IBM technology was used to look at 8000 different drug compounds – quickly narrowed down to 77 that are believed to be possible components of a future vaccine (Gil, 2020).

This supercomputing / processing power has helped in the current crisis by being able to conduct rapid research that otherwise would have taken years.

Although technology has not yet found a solution for our current dilemma, the foundations and resources these companies are providing are based on valuable insights — giving us relief from trying to understand this disease completely in the blind.

The relationship between health and technology — which has been going on for years —  is now leading the fight in the combat zone.  And there are many promising opportunities for society in the post-crisis, thanks to tech advances.

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Microsoft – another global tech giant — has introduced a Healthcare chatbot. The bot uses machine learning to quickly assess COVID-19 symptoms and provide a resolution of whether you should stay home or seek medical help. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently using this innovation.

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A statement from Alphabet’s Google Inc, and Apple Inc was released recently in regards to the latest development against the fight. The tech giants are now going to utilize AI through our smartphones in order to be able to track the movement of COVID-19.

The end result is that our smartphones will actually start sending us warnings when we have come into contact with a person who has tested positive with the deadly virus.

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Although this is an incredibly sophisticated innovation that can help us flatten the curve, where do we draw the line when it comes to AI and our morals and ethics?  And personal privacy?

There have been a lot of positive changes coming out from this sector that will aid the world’s health professionals with resources to speed up the process in finding a cure.

However, the concept of utilizing surveillance and accessing our private medical records is an area of concern for many. This exact turn in events is what makes humankind fear the coming of AI.

While economies around the world are experiencing a global shutdown and many are suffering due to this, some tech companies have actually experienced new growth.

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Zoom, a video conferencing application, actually experienced a dramatic surge in the amount of users (10X user growth just in days!).

Many people in all walks of life had to adapt quickly to the new norm and Zoom presented its platform as the easy, available answer to be able to connect multiple users at once making meetings, interviews, school classes possible. (The company did experience problems and suffered wide public criticism in the rollout to a broader audience, with many new users mostly unfamiliar with the platform.)

As Zoom shows, the world as we know it every day can be completely transformed in the blink of an eye.

In a world that has just turned dark, our strength must not be divided. Zoom in its concern for society gave us the platform to jump back into our accustomed social constructs in order to hold onto some sense of normal — but for many, through a digitalized lens.

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Bloomberg LP reported that Samsung was experiencing growth in the crisis. The company released their results for the Q1 with an unexpected increase in sales by 5%.

The positive performance of some tech companies can be attributed to the economic shock we are in due to the pandemic. The instantaneous lock-downs across the world changed the consumer demand pattern, where the almost-complete transition to work from home and adaptation to social distancing spiked a demand in video gaming — and thus demand for semiconductors that Samsung provided (Kim, 2020).

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Cautionary Note
The growth the companies are currently experiencing may not be sustainable throughout the rest of the year due to the continuing, aggressive economic downturn and spreading of the virus.

With all these changes that we are seeing it is important to take into account the concern that some may not be able to take part in this ongoing transition. Many businesses have completely shut down for the time being without being able to continue production from home.

We are asking ourselves the questions: What will happen to these concerns when the virus crisis levels off and then subsides? What will happen to their workers?

Moreover, in areas where poverty is more prevalent, and rural regions, there is a real digital divide. This is becoming quite evident in the crisis.

Not every household has access to the internet (or can afford access) and therefore individuals and families cannot take part in the current state of daily life.

The opportunity to cling on to some piece of our world as we knew it is not available to all. For example, there are many school children who currently are not able to attend school, and without technology are missing out on continuing their education. Often, this is simply because they do not have adequate access to the internet or a machine to use for their class work.

We are seeing companies in the tech industry doing their part through the donation of large sums of money to various needy causes.  Examples:

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Google has stepped up and is donating US$800 million to help governmental institutions and small businesses through this pandemic and economic crisis. The money will be supplied through channels of advertising credits/grants and loans (Zakir, 2020). Although this does not “fix” the detrimental effects of COVID-19, the tech giant provides temporary relief in dire times.

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Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco released a statement that the company will be donating “$225 million in cash, in-kind and planned-giving” to support the cumbersome fight against the pandemic.

During times of crisis, of course we do need business leaders like this CEO to help to meet peoples’ needs in order to provide humanity with hope and comfort amid the chaos. That includes shifting from normal production to emergency supplies for the medical community.

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Honeywell has turned their operations over to producing N95 masks in their facilities, to help to address the global supply shortage. Efforts such as these are helping to make us more capable of coping through this crisis and the corporate contributions are helping buffer the severity of the pandemic.

The significance of the technology sector’s heavy involvement with the pandemic of today is no surprise. While many of us are sheltered at home, the internet has become our source of sanity. For many governments, artificial intelligence is their presumed knight in shining armor, ready to save the world.

I do believe that in the new normative we will not be shying away from our relationship with groundbreaking technology. However, there is much uncertainty in this transition.

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The Future Outlook
Our heavy dependence on the technology sector during this crisis is going to have dramatic impacts in our labor force, education and our various economic markets. Moreover, current global economies who do not have a developed technological sector may be left further behind and unable to reap benefits from the current against the pandemic.

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About the Author
Lama Alaraj
is a Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute. She graduated from Dalhousie University (Canada) with a double major in economics and international development studies. Over the years, she developed a growing interest in the power of technology and how it manages to integrate in every sector in our global community.

In addition to the G&A analyst-internship, Lama is currently working as a marketing consultant for Web.com, a company built on web development.

Her personal goal is to take the knowledge she gains from this role and apply it extensively throughout any project or role she takes on.

Lama is very excited to be part of the G&A Institute community and to learn about how industries manage to adhere to their environmental responsibilities. Lama thinks that as the climate continues to change, the choices we make today are more vital than ever.

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G&A Institute Team Note

In this series we are bringing you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

New items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items posted today will move down the queue.

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts. Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Do send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share. Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!

We Are “Out” of the Paris Accord — Really? What a Year! Signs of Great Progress in the Trump Denial Era

June 1, 2018

By Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

It was just one year ago – ah,, but it seems much longer…

WASHINGTON — The New York Times – June 1, 2017: “President Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming and embracing isolationist voices in his White House who argued that the agreement was a pernicious threat to the economy and American sovereignty.

In a speech from the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said the landmark 2015 pact imposed wildly unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers. He vowed to stand with the people of the United States against what he called a “draconian” international deal.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said, drawing support from members of his Republican Party but widespread condemnation from political leaders, business executives and environmentalists around the globe.”

What was to follow?

A Year of Significant Progress!

Today — interesting perspectives are shared in The Washington Post on where we are one year after President Donald Trump “withdrew” from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States of America is the first – and perhaps will be the only – nation to join and then withdraw the Agreement. Sort of.

Participation in the agreement for the USA runs to year 2020 so we are “still in” (officially).  The withdrawal process will take the next three years.

By that time, there might be a new occupant in the White House. 

This nation is still in by examination of various other factors that are explained by writer Chris Mooney in the WaPo. (He covers climate change, energy and the environment, reported from the Paris negotiations in 2015, and has published four books on the the subjects he covers.)

The key points we took away from Mooney’s excellent wrap up today:

  • The Trump Administration still has no consistent message about climate change,  and no clear policy, except for the antics of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with his slash & burn attacks on environmental and climate-related regulations.
  • There is a positive development: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraced climate science.  (See notes at end.)
  • There has been unrelenting attack on President Barack Obama’s skilled moves to protect the country – and the planet! – such as the Clean Power Plan.
  • But, while the White House is the cheerleader for the coal industry, market forces reward renewable energy and natural gas as powerful drivers for change.
  • Other countries are sticking with the Paris Accord, but some of those countries may find it challenging to stay the course without U.S. leadership (says John Sterman of MIT).

BackgroundThe Obama Administration agreed in Paris with many other nations to the goals of a 26%-to-28% reduction of emissions below the 2005 levels — and today the U.S. and the whole world is off that metric, writes Chris Mooney.

Even if the commitments were realized, there would be a temperature rise of 3.3 degrees Celsius (almost 6% F) over time (according to MIT’s Sterman). So the USA would have to do even more than agreed-to in Paris. (The USA is the world’s second largest GhG emitter.)

Where are we? According to the Climate Action Tracker produced by NewClimate Institute and Ecofys, the USA is on track for an 11% to 13% decrease by year 2025, which is about halfway to the Obama Administration pledge.

What may interfere: the move to rollback auto fuel efficiency standards; an analysis by Rhodium Group projects adding 100 million tons (annually) by year 2035 for auto emissions alone if the rollbacks move forward.

The good news – from the “We Are Still In” front: the states of Virginia and New Jersey are making moves to cut emissions and the states of Colorado and California are developing new electric vehicle policies.

Vicky Arroyo (director of the Georgetown Climate Center is quoted:   At least we are not losing the momentum that was feared (one year ago today).

Kate Larsen, who directs climate change research at the Rhodium Group, thinks that the country is on track to meet or even exceed the Obama-era Clean Power Plan goals — thanks to the use of lower-cost renewable fuel sources and natural gas.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States are “hardly set to explode” and the country is moving toward lower GhG emissions over time, writes Mooney.

But. What the Trump announcement did last year on June 1 was to create fog about US national policy regarding climate change. The thing we all have to face: the slow progress exhibited and achieving climate change goals (those coming out of Paris) are not compatible.

The WaPo commentary is at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/06/01/trump-withdrew-from-the-paris-climate-plan-a-year-ago-heres-what-has-changed/?utm_term=.782d3cb38b3f&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Counterpoint!

The EDF – a/k/a Environmental Defense Fund – today trumpeted the Year of Climate Progress (since June 1 2018).

EDF members and environmentalists immediately began the counter-attack in June 2017 and in EDF’s words, that led to a year of extraordinary climate progress. The organization presents a timeline on line.  Highlights:

  • June 5, 2018 – EDF helps launch a coalition of organizations, businesses and state and local civic and political leaders to pledge “We Are Still In!” – today there are 2,700 leaders participating.
  • On to July 2017 – California Governor Jerry Brown signs into law an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program out to 2030.  The state is the sixth largest economy in all of the world!
  • September – North of the border, Ontario Province links its cap-and-trade program to the California-Quebec carbon market, creating a huge market covering 580 million tons of emissions. Sister province British Columbia intends to increase its carbon tax for April 2018 through 2021.
  • Nine Northeastern US States in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative complete their second program review and agree to reduce emissions by 30% from 2020 to 2030.
  • Halfway around the world in December 2017 China announced its national carbon market (to be largest in the world); this will start with electric power and expand to seven other industrial sectors. (So much for the Trumpian claim China is doing nothing to meet Paris Accord conditions.)
  • We move further into 2018 and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejects the DOE coal and nuclear proposal.
  • Despite shouts and threats and Trumpian boasting, the U.S. Congress adopts the 2018 budget in March 2018 that leaves the EPA budget mostly intact (EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to cut the agency’s budget by 30%. Other environmental / energy agencies see budget increases.)
  • April – the UN’s International Maritime Organization adopts a climate plan to lower emissions from container ships, bulk and oil carriers, by at least 50% below 2008 levels by 2050.
  • Also in April — In the key industrial State of Ohio, the Public Utilities Commission approves AEP’s Electric Security Plan – this, EDF points out, will enhance and diversify the state economy, unlock millions in funding, provide customers with clean energy options and overall, will reduce pollution.
  • Next door, in April, the Illinois Commerce Commission approves the state’s Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan to have a pathway for electric utilities to produce 25% of power from renewable sources by 2025 and put incentives in play for development of wind and power.
  • April — EDF President Fred Krupp gives a TED Talk, outlining the plan to launch methane-detecting satellites in orbit above Earth to map and measure oil and gas methane emissions. The data and information gathered will help countries and companies spot problems, identify savings opportunities and measure progress.
  • April sure was a busy month – Canada issued policies to cut oil and gas emissions by 40% to 45% at new and existing facilities. This was part of a pledge made in 2016 (when President Obama was in office) for the USA, Canada and Mexico to decreased such emissions in North America by that amount by 2025.
  • On to May – and recently-elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – a former Goldman Sachs exec – signed into law the plan to cut GhG emissions by almost half by 2030 (hey, that’s twice what the Clean Power Plan would have required!). The Garden State will require 50% of NJ electric needs to be met from renewable sources.
  • And on to May – ExxonMobil announced plans to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 15% and flared gas volume by 25% — worldwide – by 2020.

Yes – a remarkable year, kicked off on June 1st 2017 by a vindictive head of state set on reversing the significant progress made under his predecessors.

But many individuals, companies, investors, civic organizations, NGOs proclaimed: We are still in.  The movement represents city halls, board room, college campuses, investors, and more…interests representing US$6.2 trillion (one-sixth of the entire American economy) have signed on to the We Are Still In declaration — https://www.wearestillin.com/we-are-still-declaration

Have you?

Notes:

The New York Times story by Michael Shear, June 1 2017 is at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html

The American Institute of Physics info on NASA, embrace of climate change consensus: https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/bridenstine-embraces-nasa-science-climate-change-consensus

We Are Still In information at: https://www.wearestillin.com/