The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down in the past few months. We have entered a new normal where many of our social and work activities have shifted online. We feel fortunate that global technology has developed rapidly in recent years so the world can continue its basic function under the current social distancing rules. Had the pandemic hit just 15 years ago, many of these technologies would not have been at our disposal. We believe that this pandemic is a wake-up call for the world to push the digital transformation of our economies – ahead of the next pandemic or man-made disaster. We are proud to be investors in the technology sector and to support engineers/entrepreneurs who work hard to create these innovations.
Here are the top 10 ways technological innovations have improve our lives under the current pandemic:
- Virus diagnostics and vaccine development – Back in the days of SARS virus in 2003, it took a few months after an outbreak to sequence and identify the new SARS virus. For Covid-19, it only takes Chinese scientists less than one month to completely sequence the new virus after the first case. Thanks to advances in AI, biotechnology and genetic engineering, we have already developed low-cost rapid antigen screening test with >95% accuracy on patients with symptoms (BinaxNow). A working coronavirus vaccine based on genetic engineering innovation will likely be available in the market sometime in 2021.
- Virus spread monitoring – Artificial intelligence and data visualization software are helping researchers, clinicians, and governments to trace the spread of the virus and to try to foresee where new clusters may show up next. John Hopkin University Coronavirus Map (here) is one example.
- Telemedicine – The coronavirus pandemic forced healthcare institutions and regulatory bodies to turn to alternative ways of providing healthcare while limiting exposure to the virus. Telemedicine is presenting itself as the ideal solution to these woes by limiting patient displacement to hospitals, allocating hospital capacity to important cases, all while curbing the disease’s spread.
- Robots as medical assistants – Across the globe, robots are being deployed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Robots are used to disinfect whole hospitals, decontaminate entire sites, handle biohazardous waste or deliver food and medication, take patients’ temperatures. These robots are invaluable tools to relieve our medical professionals from routine and hazardous tasks in a health care setting.
- Meeting and collaboration – Many businesses are allowing their employees to work 100% from home to comply with local government guidelines for social distancing. Other businesses are asking their employees to check in to the office 1-2 days per week for face-to-face meetings so the office can be maintained at 25% occupancy at all times. Such arrangements would not be possible without the availability of low-cost video conferencing, team collaboration software, laptop/mobile phone hardware and broadband internet connections.
- Work anytime and anywhere – We used to buy software on a optical disc as an one-off purchase, then install and run it on a single computer. Today, most cloud software is delivered to us as a subscription service through the web browser or smartphone app. The innovation allows us to perform most of our office work anywhere we have internet access. We no longer need to go to our office physically to perform our job duties. We have also saved time and money commuting to/from the office allowing more time to spend with family and on hobbies.
Reduced traffic and improved air quality – By using video conferencing software and traveling less, we burn less fossil fuel and release less greenhouse gases and pollutants to the atmosphere. Reduced commuting in cars and airplanes is leading to decreased air pollution, improved air quality, and more money for food and other necessities.
Play and Communicate
- On-demand entertainment & real time communication – Video streaming platforms have become an essential source of news, information and entertainment when households need to be isolated from one another. People no longer need to go to the theater, arena, or ball park to view a live event or watch a first run movie. Similarly, online video games, virtual reality, social media platforms offer a safe social experience in a time of quarantine. People can hang out with their real life friends or meet new ones in virtual concerts, workshops, parties and even weddings just like in the physical world. These platform operators use AI to help detect and filter out bad actors, misinformation and banned content.
Shopping and Banking
- Shopping – Online shopping and food delivery boomed during the pandemic as it is deemed risky by many people to be touching various surfaces and products in a physical store or dining with many others in an indoor restaurant. Today, you can get almost anything delivered directly to your door without having to interact with people. In fact, for many of these services, you don’t even have to make contact with the delivery driver. They will just leave the product at your door or front desk.
- Electronic Cash and Online Banking – We know that cash (bills and coins) are pretty filthy as it has been touched by hundreds of people and is rarely disinfected. Touchless payment technologies like NFC used in smartphones and credit cards let customers checkout without touching any surface and without handling any physical cash. With the latest cybersecurity technology, most people now feel safe making banking transactions and applying for loans online without having to visit a branch or touch the buttons of an ATM machine.
We feel grateful just how much new technological developments have improved our lives in meaningful ways both before and during this coronavirus crisis. It is no wonder to us that the technology sector has outperformed and dominated the S&P 500 index in recent years over traditional sectors like banks, industrials, energy or retail. In today’s information age, value creation is increasingly driven by human creativity and innovation, and less by owning certain physical assets like a large store network, manufacturing capacity, oil & gas reserve and real estate. Stock valuation is also increasingly determined by 1) how much a company’s customers are dependent on its goods/services and 2) how much innovation a company is generating for the future, and less by how much accounting profits a company is showing today.
Despite their contributions, the internet, social media, and digital platforms have also created new societal problems and have exacerbated some old ones, such as hate speech and harassment. Overall, we believe these new technologies have given us more good than bad. One has to recognize that while new technologies like robotics and AI software are very powerful tools, they are not that different from our older tools like fire or knife. Tools can be used by both good people to improve lives and by bad people to commit crime. It is up to our government and legislators to create new laws to regulate their use and to ensure that these new tools offer more benefits than harm/risks to the society.