The Pandemic and Technology
The global COVID-19 pandemic has created huge problems for the world, beyond the immediate and obvious health effects. It’s also had a deep impact on technology and the way we work
The Pandemic and Online Technology
Those into history will be acutely aware that while the COVID-19 global pandemic has affected the health and economy of the entire world in negative ways, technological possibilities have made this much easier to bear than in the past. Even a few decades ago, online working would have been impossible, and medicines could not have been created to allow vaccination programmes so rapidly. However, the technology sector itself has also been dramatically affected by the pandemic in a multitude of ways.
The use of modern technology has significantly reduced the still large and negative effect of COVID-19 on the economy, as many workers have been able to move to online activity. However, this has not only been a contributing factor in chip shortages but it’s also created a potential security risk. Fortunately, workers have various means to keep safe online. Nevertheless, there have been far more hacking and scamming incidents due to the sudden rise in people working online who normally have real-world jobs.
iGaming and eGaming
Video games are now a huge part of the entertainment sector, with a total value exceeding that of Hollywood. Running the gamut from bright and cheery games for kids through to grim and gritty stories with all the acting, plot, and musical accomplishments of blockbuster movies, video games have had a very mixed time during the pandemic. On the one hand, they’ve proven to be something of a huge boon as a distraction, particularly during initial lockdowns which saw a combination of disrupted sporting schedules and a large proportion of the workforce stuck at home. However, the healthcare crisis has also coincided with the launch of a new console generation for both Playstation and Xbox, which has been less than ideal and made game development far trickier. Limited supplies of both new consoles coupled with widespread scalping have created significant shortages both at launch and months down the line, driving up second-hand prices and denying many gamers the chance to get their hands on the latest tech.
Businesses that are strictly land-based and offline including casinos have been dramatically affected, particularly when online casino alternatives exist. In much the same way, while traditional sports had their schedules hugely disturbed, eSports (competitive video games) have seen a surge in interest.
Rising Robotics and Chip Shortages
This double-edged sword has been reflected more broadly in the way technology has been utilized to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the general economy, according to Professor Phillip Brown of Cardiff University. Increasing demand for robotics has been seen with companies that produce so-called cobots (collaborative robots), such as Cardiff’s X-STK. Robots need not worry about social distancing or self-isolating, but there is a chance that this boom in robotics might strip away jobs from people on a permanent basis, as has happened in the past.
Working from home through the internet, whether that’s simply sending work in via e-mail or conducting meetings via Zoom, has enabled many to work who would otherwise have been confined at home and unable to earn. However, there have been some knock-on effects, beyond the psychological stress that many have felt. The surge in working from home has put pressure on the supply of laptops, driving up prices. At the same time, there’s been a shortage of computer chips, making it difficult for people to upgrade or replace their existing hardware. Three-quarters of semi-conductors come from sources in East Asia, with many made in Taiwan. Given an increasingly bellicose Chinese approach to the island, this has increased fears the supply could end up being subject to disruption in the future, whether due to blockade or outright war. Although firms are doing their best to ramp up supplies, this shortage is expected to continue throughout most of 2021 and perhaps into 2022 as well.
A Mixed Picture for the Future
The world of work has been significantly shaken up by the effects of both the pandemic and countermeasures (particularly lockdowns). This has led to an unusual divergence in economic activity, with some sectors practically on ice for prolonged periods (hospitality especially) and others entering a boom period (manufacturers of PPE). Those able to work from home have done so, with commuting off the table, and this may have long-term implications for the world of work that lasts beyond the pandemic. In cases where work cannot simply be shifted from offline to online, many workers have been forced to explore new employment options
Experts in technology, social change, and communications were canvassed by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center with a view to understanding what the prolonged impact of the pandemic might be on society and the way we work. One serious negative aspect that was predicted by many respondents was increasing divergence between a smaller number of well-connected and technologically astute individuals who will do better, and a larger number of people who have less technological proficiency and may find it difficult to compete for jobs as increasing numbers of employment opportunities are lost to robots, AI, or otherwise eliminated by progress in technology. Alarmingly, the spread of misinformation was another commonly held and negative prediction, which is not helped by the rising power of large firms due to the increasing potential of AI.
However, it’s not all bad news. Increased flexibility through more remote working can improve the balance between work and life for many. Of those queried, 47% of experts said life would be worse for most people in 2025 compared to pre-pandemic, but 39% said it would be better for most people.
Technology has allowed us to collectively weather the pandemic storm far better than we would have in the past but at the cost of reducing chip availability and seeing some jobs be lost to advancing AI and robotics. Looking to the future, with or without a pandemic technology will continue to dramatically alter the shape of the economy, to the benefit of some and the detriment of others.