The new coronavirus infection (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world, and many people who have been forced to change their behaviors are having a difficult time. So, what is the impact of COVID-19 on information technology (IT) trends? NTT DATA Technology Foresight provides a perspective of IT’s important role at this time, including the need to accelerate use of the latest advanced technologies, its growing influence in society, and the amplification of issues with IT adoption and usage under these circumstances.
When looking at a pandemic world, we recognize that IT is at the center of our ability to analyze current situations and proceed with a viable and reliable response. We have seen the number of COVID-19 cases fluctuate around the world, and continue to see daily predictions for the future effect on our lives. Behind these numbers and the myriad of infographics that vividly show the projected impact of various measures is globally aggregated data and tireless mathematical processing by data scientists. In the early stages of this health crisis, IT services supported the swift identification of unexplained pneumonia cases as researchers identified COVID-19 as an infectious disease caused by a new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. IT continues to support the fight against this formidable enemy that humanity is confronting by deciphering genome sequences using metagenome sequencing, recognizing differences from past coronaviruses through database matching, simulating the three-dimensional structure of proteins, and searching for medicines to treat the disease—all of which are being achieved at record high speed, expanded upon daily and shared with the rest of the world.
As IT continues to support society during the pandemic, what was previously considered future technology has been deployed ahead of schedule and is being refined with real-world data. One example is near real-time human behavior analysis to provide input for predicting the spread of infectious diseases with data-driven approaches using various sensing and analysis techniques. The latest AI natural language processing is supporting medical researchers with a powerful search-and-summary engine specializing in COVID-19 related articles. This allows AI-supported image diagnosis that identifies the inference of pneumonia symptoms specific to COVID-19. Also, robots that have acquired AI vision and can operate autonomously are being used now in a wide variety of medical support and delivery uses for last-mile services, based on the appeal of non-contact technology, in addition to their inherent labor-saving advantages. AI call centers are also emerging as a viable workplace option for workforce safety and productivity, particularly for businesses where back-to-work restrictions are in effect. As these new technologies are introduced and used more widely, user feedback will be critical in increasing the speed of improvements and will further accelerate commercialization.
IT is not only supporting human-behavior changes forced by the impact of the pandemic but also is providing more control over data to individuals. The psychological and economic barriers to online access have been forcibly removed, immersing people‘s lives into internet activity more than ever before. The rapid shift to remote work, which has been described as "10 years of change in a matter of months," has become irreversible, even at major financial institutions. Also, the shift of our education system to online learning, which had been under consideration for some time, has rapidly taken shape. As a result, the amount of network traffic and cloud computation has increased, but the IT community has been able to support and secure it without major breakdowns. What's even more notable is the fact that online conferencing software, which has emerged as an alternative to all forms of communication, continues to improve and include new features. Even in a pandemic environment that constrains all production activities, service providers continue to increase competition and expand their user bases. Despite this challenging environment, IT will continue to identify and expand ways to take full advantage of software productivity and the flexibility of the cloud to deliver growth that supports business and society, improving people's lives even in difficult situations.
This pandemic has accelerated technological evolution and advanced IT services and its use, but it has also made the issues associated with the increased use of technology more visible. The world’s shift to online has resulted in a positive network effect, supporting the fight against COVID-19 and enriching the new normal for people's lives. The core enabler of this support is the services optimized for each individual based on information gathered and analyzed from vast amounts of individual data, however, there is an inescapable danger that such data can be used to identify and track infected individuals, as well as to restrict individual rights. There may be situations in which people will prioritize the rationality of AI outcomes and robotics in the face of concerns for future labor shortages and economic damages. The issues are amplified depending on the extent to which a company or individual moves forward with or expands the adoption of select technologies. As a community, we are in this together and should not forget the fact that this rapid penetration of technology associated with COVID-19 raises a variety of issues that have long required the exploration of norms and the embodiment and implementation of rules.
NTT DATA Technology Foresight continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on our world through ongoing analysis of society and advanced technology trends. To learn more about our research, visit NTT DATA Technology Foresight.