The Coronavirus has turned our world upside down. And it happened extremely fast.
The restrictions worldwide have led to fast changes in human behavior and new digital initiatives and implementations that under normal circumstances would have taken years to implement.
We're witnessing the largest live experiment ever and digital technologies are playing a major and central role. This will have deep ramifications and consequences once we get to the other side of the crisis.
While these are definitely sad times, it still makes sense to begin to envision which breakthroughs and digital disruptions this crisis will lead to. Because the technologies that we all feared as the big disrupters and that have brought a lot of the old world to its knees are now what tie us all together and make it possible for most of us to continue working.
I have collected a series of areas that I think will be irreversibly changed forever and that will lead to new business opportunities. There is so much to talk about, so I have divided my article into two parts. Here is part one.
The more digital the better
In times of forced isolation, it really pays to have digitized as many processes as possible in society. Living in Denmark, you see the advantage of a nearly 100 percent digitized public sector, because pretty much every interaction and transaction between the public sector and citizens or companies are still possible. The important infrastructure components that make this happen in Denmark are:
- a unique and personal security number for identification — called CPR number
- a mandatory public mailbox for communication — called e-Boks
- a digital signature for authentication and approval — called NemID
- +2000 digital self-service solutions made available on one shared portal — called borger.dk
Other — less digitized — societies will look with envy towards the Danish model and, once we are on the other side, well-documented and tested digital public solutions will be in high demand, in order to prepare for either the next wave or the next virus.
Stress testing the cloud
When all students were grounded overnight, it put tremendous pressure on the various infrastructural educational elements. In Denmark, we have several: A Uni-login for all students to gain access to digital educational platforms and a communication platform called Aula for messages between teachers, students, and parents. Both broke down, and the same happened to several of the digital educational platforms. No big surprise there.
But a lot of cloud-based tools and platforms are being put to an extreme test these days. Microsoft Teams broke down in the middle of peak hours.
But at the same time, the average number of daily users rose to 44 million!
This situation means that all aspects of our shared digital infrastructure will go through a tremendous stress test and we will know where the weak points are in order to fix them fast and be better prepared for the future.
While we all practice social distancing, we learn that a lot can be done remotely, without us having to show up physically. And even though we all miss the personal contact, the hugs and the face-to-face time, we must also admit that a lot of time and energy is saved, and some meetings and processes become way more effective once we learn these new disciplines.
Teachers are streaming everything from history lessons to sports. And new solutions like Sofaskolen (the couch school) are popping up to become overnight successes.
Platforms like Duolingo and Twitch are joining forces to allow bilingual gamers to become language teachers.
Labster provides free access to their interactive 3D virtual learning simulations in areas like physics, chemistry, and math.
Remote healthcare consultation solutions have been underway for many years, with discussions going back and forth on whether this is a good idea. Now, within weeks, it has been put into practice and, of course, it works. No need to sit in a waiting room for 45 minutes. Instead, you get a call when it's your turn and you can talk to — and show — your doctor what the problem is.
Remote exercise is another new discipline that a lot of us are now practicing. Front-runner solutions like Peloton and Zwift are having a field day right now, but also remote yoga solutions like Down Dog or closed-down gyms that instead are streaming classes are experiencing huge interest.
But the biggest game-changer is our newly learned skills in remote working. Many of us have struggled with video meetings for years because it wasn't an everyday or even weekly event, so we forgot how to do it, and there were always one or two participants who couldn't get in or whose mic didn't work.
But now we are all becoming video meeting ninjas — shuffling between platforms like Zoom, Teams and Google hangout. We have learned to mute, to blur the background, to raise our laptop, so it doesn't film us from beneath and to set the lights right. We share documents and chat while the meeting is going on. And it works! Meetings tend to be shorter and it is ok to leave for another meeting. We even have virtual Friday bars online or perform morning singing rituals while being apart.
I have even begun to Facetime with my 80-year-old dad because we are not allowed to visit him. And we leave the camera on while working, to get that feeling of being together while apart.
These newly earned skills will change how we expect to interact with each other — and will continue to do so once the Corona crisis is over. So, if you haven'´t already started, now is your time to get your hands on tools like Slack, Teams and Google Docs.
My digital friend
For a lot of people, this period of isolation and uncertainty leads to a strong feeling of solitude — especially among elderly people who are not allowed visits of any kind. Several initiatives are being taken to mitigate this problem and come up with new solutions.
While services like Facetime and Skype allow relatives to see and talk to their isolated family members, they only work when there is someone at both ends. So, what do you do if you wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night?
New, digital solutions are therefore being tested across the world.
The Japanese robot company Lovot (Love x robot) has developed a small and lovely house robot to keep you company. I first got to play with it at SXSW in 2019, and immediately fell in love with it.
Paro — a therapeutic robot seal is another adoring example of an advanced, interactive therapeutic robot that can substitute for a live pet, which can be challenging for elderly people.
Unfortunately, these solutions are rather pricey.
So where are we with fully digital solutions?
Well, meet Replika, a bot that you train and build yourself by talking to it. Launched in March, more than 100,000 people are now using this service for deep and intimate conversations with an AI created persona which is the closest you get to a digital friend for the time being.
The testimonies from users are amazing. If you want to learn more, here’s a link to a 10-minute film from Quartz about the project.
We still have some way to go, before we enter a reality like in the movie Her or Westworld, but the basic technology is already here — just think about how we can now talk to Alexa or Siri, or how realistically a technology like Google Duplex can mimic people’s conversations. Or take a look at Samsung’s Artificial Humans — called Neon. They Look like us, behave like us, so much that it will be hard to tell the difference. Once this technology comes out of Beta, expect Neons to act as everything from anchors on TV, online sales clerks, fitness instructors, support agents, concierges, tutors to airplane agents.
And, in the meantime, if you feel lonely, have a chat with Woebot or start building your own replica through conversation.
Part two is coming up
In Part two I will be covering these four areas:
- Everyone becomes a channel
- Creativity unfolds
- Going places — while staying at home
- The final breakthrough for online commerce
Tim Frank Andersen