All the way back in January (… a different time!) we shared what we thought were going to be the stand-out technologies of the next decade. We certainly didn’t expect to be back so soon but, as 2020 continues to race past us before our very own eyes, we decided it’s the ideal time to reflect on what’s been an unprecedented rate of technical change throughout this year so far.
While the Covid-19 pandemic turned any sort of predictions for the year 2020 on their head, certain technologies have never been in such demand due to seismic changes in the public’s lifestyles and habits during lockdown. From Edtech and remote learning, the surge in videoconferencing tools, online shopping and deliveries, contact tracing apps, telemedicine and online consultations… we could go on!
The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of change, highlighting the importance of digital readiness for many going forward. We’re going to revisit our predictions from January and see the extent to which some of them have come true.
Virtual & Augmented Reality
One industry that unlocked an opportunity with AR is retail. When lockdown forced thousands of retailers to shut for months, retailers had to think on their feet and use innovative ways of persuading customers to shop with them again. For instance, using AR product visualisation so customers can “try before they buy” something online, replacing the need to go into the store and see it in person. Where customers may have previously found AR unnecessary, they are now more open to trying it if it means they won’t have to go through the bother of returning items after purchase. Similarly, since fewer people are allowed in a store at the one time, AR could have the potential to reduce footfall in physical stores (which would undoubtedly cause further disruption in an already struggling high street). However, there are large percentages of us consumers who are still adamant in visiting a bricks-and-mortar store to see products in person before eventually purchasing online.
Yet it’s not only retail who have expanded their use of AR & VR. From virtual conferences, tradeshows, and events, to immersive training for the NHS whereby hospital environments are recreated with interactive patient cases. Even services such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have benefited where patients are treated for anxiety and phobias.
We aren’t always overtly aware of AI impacting our lives, but it’s already engrained in many ways with the help of several start-up enterprises. According to Science Mag, a website called HealthMap, which uses AI to scan news reports and social media to search for early signs of disease outbreaks, was what initially sounded the alarm over the COVID-19 pandemic on 30th December 2019. 8 months later and tech companies are building automated systems to mine through similar data sources, on a massive scale, to track down further outbreaks. Although it can be argued that AI could never substitute public health monitoring, it has been described as “one tool in the toolbox”.
Another example of AI’s value is found in France, where chatbots have even been used to help answer the public’s questions about newly implemented government policies. They also assist in providing real-time information from the World Health Organisation to ensure only accurate information is distributed. The chatbots, created by start-up Clevy.io, can even assess the user’s symptoms.
Furthermore, Mantle Labs have created an AI-driven solution to monitor crops and the food supply chain, by assessing satellite images of crops. By flagging potential issues in advance to farmers, their cutting-edge technology helps to prevent disruption in the supply chain by providing real-time updates on agricultural conditions.
It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has introduced a whole new level of concern about germ transmission. One particular area that’s been affected by this is touchscreens, and the increasing volume of them that are used day-to-day, more than ever before. Contact technologies such as fingerprint biometrics were surging in popularity before the COVID-19 pandemic, however there is now an increasing weariness of them as we become more aware of the transmission of germs in public places and close-proximity interactions.
However, thinking beyond fingerprint technologies, biometric systems also include facial and iris recognition, and in particular thermal body temperature sensors, which have been since thrust further into the spotlight. Now facial recognition systems with algorithms can identify users wearing a facemask, and fever detection scanners have been implemented at border control. While it has its clear advantages during these unprecedented times, there still exist the same concerns and tensions between biometric technologies and privacy. But the question is, has the COVID-19 crisis changed the public’s attitude?
While 2020 has taught us many things so far, and in an exceptionally short space of time, digital readiness is one thing that has proved to be imperative – especially as society potentially faces the prospect of further disruptive changes to come.