By: Jubril Gbolahan Adigun
The COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us that we may be some years behind from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations; some of which include access to good health care system and sustainable economies – increasingly more than two and a half million people infected in a pandemic that was long sung to be imminent. Sources claim that in this era of compulsory social distancing that technology has become one of biggest allies in the fight against the coronavirus. It is hard to validate this claim, bearing the number of lives that have been lost, people infected and how the virus had spread across our planet.
As a Hult Prize ambassador, this is of real concern to me – it underscores some of the issues the United Nations had set out to conquer in their 2015 Sustainable Development Goals against 2030; those which the Hult Prize Foundation stands for as well.
In this article, we emphasize and encourage the inculcation of automation in our daily lives and also slightly criticize some other technological advancements. It recognizes some important factors in the light of current situation but what do we take out of it?
For many years, global leaders, scientists, researchers and theorists have postulated that a pandemic may hit the world that would hold us all in our crotches. Little did we know that it would happen in the year 2020 – it would hit us so bad that economic activities would be crippled, lives lost, borders closed, lockdown orders enforced and health care systems challenged. Suddenly, people from town and gown began to speak of an imminent Armageddon. We witnessed the most sophisticated living creatures on the planet fighting over nose masks and toiletries – such a pity. It appeared we had lost our sense of reasoning.
While we didn’t pay too much attention to those postulations, we were witnessing the technology space buzzing with words like automation, IoT, self-driving cars, drones, fin-tech and many more. We believed we had it all covered. According to an automation report in 2017 by McKinsey titled “Harnessing automation for a future that works”, it was said that automation will bring significant benefits to businesses and economies worldwide, although it won’t happen overnight. In another report, the Institute postulated that realizing full automation would require people and technology to work hand in hand.
Where we think we are, that we aren’t
Apparently, our promulgation of tech advancements hadn’t really been as we had thought. This drive for automation is to be backed by huge data manipulations, data transfer, backup, processing, analysis and visualizations. We have therefore in more recent times, sung the hymns of data backed applications and systems – giving birth to concepts like Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. On another front, for about 2 decades, we have heard about the internet of things (IoT) and machine learning and what not. For all intent and purposes, it would seem as though a child born since the millennium would not have known a world without these big words.
Yet, we were flawed. You know what really happened? You know, we thought fin-tech and cross-border accounts and we believed business was done; we thought automation and robotics and we thought our industries were in place; we thought mobility and ride hailing, and we assumed transportation was settled; we thought drones and delivery robots and we entrusted logistics to them. We just didn’t have it all covered – we had put in good effort but COVID-19 really took us by surprise. It would take only some club-shaped spikes of protein one droplet a time, traveling from candidate to candidate to shatter all the euphoria.
Oguzhan Gencoglu, Co-founder and Head of AI at Top Data Science, in a post on LinkedIn headlined “RIP most #machinelearning models in production” mourned the failure of historical data and predictive models in helping us during this time of pandemic. He however, lauded some technologies that are less affected by social instabilities like Computer Vision and IndustrialIOT. Yet, we didn’t feel the effect of any of these as much as we would have wanted to. A commentator on Oguzhan’s post wrote (no changes made) – “If anything C-19 has stress tested heavy industry like never before. With reduced availability of manpower on some sites, it only emphasizes the importance of automating the integration of critical data, and the delivery of recommended actions.”
With all above said, what could we have done better? What should we continue to do? An article by BBC connects that the income and dividends of this pandemic will be a change in consumer preference. We will begin to see the nature of work changing very drastically. I add that two of the UN’s SDGs would be at the frontlines – 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and 17. Partnerships for the goals. There would be an increase in opportunities for automation across different sectors. We would more speedily, see roll outs of solutions in hitherto celebrated technologies like AI, AR, VR, robotics, autonomous systems, Big data, drones and many others.
While we do not underestimate the important of data analytics, we should do more than use historical trends to make inferences; we should make early prediction of outliers and disruptors a thing so that we do not receive such blow as we just have. As humans, we should begin to support one another as individuals and nations through information sharing and active collaborations to move humanity forward. We did see how negligence on part almost led us into extinction. Just as had been indicated by McKinsey in the report I earlier quoted, it is up to us now in the light of this pandemic and many others that may surface to determine how we want technology to be a part of our world.