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!

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