Artur Olechowski, Managing Director at Codete, RYDE’s technology partner, discusses how the Internet, AI, and Big data can help the world during the coronavirus crisis.
The world has been through a few different pandemics across time, like the Spanish Flu in the 20th century or the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s. Back then, we did not have the technology we have now to support the world in the fighting against them. Nowadays, although no one is adequately prepared for a new one to arise, we know that we can count not only on the learnings from our ancestors but also on technology innovation to combat it.
During the coronavirus crisis, technology has been responsible for current researches and methods in fighting the disease’s symptoms, which the sharing of discoveries with the whole world in real-time is made possible by the internet. Alongside that, technology has eased the pain of social distancing by connecting us virtually during quarantines and lockdowns.
We had an insightful talk with Artur, Managing Director from our product development partner Codete, about how else technology can support the world in the fight against the COVID19. We focused on the internet, AI, and Big data, as well as how it will affect our lives relating to it post-pandemic.
With the quarantine overshadowing the entire globe, the importance of the internet has now been greater than ever. Do you believe the internet infrastructure we currently have is enough to support the demand now?
Well, since most of us have to stay at home because of the pandemic — and not only work from home but also remain there in our free time — we have moved many of our activities online. We don’t only use the internet for our work tasks or the usual leisure, like watching a few episodes of our favorite series per week. Now we communicate with our families and friends online, we shop online, we take e-courses and online fitness classes, we stream films and play games daily — and much, much more. Even schooling happens online right now. It’s obviously a great challenge for the internet infrastructure, as internet use is reaching new heights.
The existing infrastructure must operate in the state of a constant peak of activity, whereas until now, there were usually just a few peaks of activity during the day, and in the remaining time, the network could rest for a bit.
Many people seem to have experienced some kind of slowdown, but from what I’ve read, many internet providers are taking measures to support their customers’ needs by automatically upgrading their internet packages, lifting the broadband use limits, and increasing the bandwidth.
The entertainment industry is also adjusting to the situation. For example, Netflix and YouTube have decided to lower streaming quality in Europe to take some strain off the internet infrastructure. It seems that we’re doing alright (even though not without inconveniences), and the current global internet infrastructure is not going to crash anytime soon. And the world is already working on improving it anyway by introducing the 5G technology.
This current pandemic will, therefore, give rise and place more importance on the remote work environment, making sure every company in the world is ready for the same. What are the main changes and challenges you see coming to the internet industry?
Well, the pandemic won’t last forever (hopefully), so I’m not expecting any major changes. I think the internet industry will continue to evolve in the direction it has already been evolving in, meaning the 5G technology, better performance, greater accessibility, advanced cloud solutions, etc. We have noticed a decrease in speed and performance now, but for most of us — it’s just like going a few years back in time when this quality of the internet connection was the norm. The internet infrastructure can handle the situation relatively well, so can we.
We can only appreciate the fact that the internet allows us to stay at home, flatten the curve, and work in the safety of our houses. Even though not all businesses can be moved to the digital world, many companies have found creative ways to keep functioning by introducing e-services. Think of all the little groceries that deliver orders to your door, the restaurants, the flower shops even. Fitness trainers offer online classes, the same goes for tutors. They were forced to leave their comfort zones and do something they might not have done in different circumstances, but I believe that it can prove beneficial to them in the long run. Of course, the pandemic had a negative impact on many companies, on many people’s careers and lives, but probably — without the internet, it could have been even worse.
What worries me is the security or the potential lack of it. So many companies have switched to online work so quickly that they may not have followed the best security standards. Others may simply not know how to keep their company data and personal information safe, and they weren’t given enough time to acquire the necessary knowledge. Our internet infrastructure may be more or less ready for the situation, but do people know enough about cyber safety and protecting our privacy? I wouldn’t be so sure.
We are witnessing a growing number of cyberattacks, and even though it’s hard to say how many of them are successful right now, it’d be best if we all learned how to protect our data. The internet industry should take extra precautions to ensure the best security standards. To cut a long story short, I think the internet industry will continue to grow and the internet will become richer in services. It will help many companies survive and possibly even advance in the future. But we do have to stay cautious, and by “we” I mean the society in general.
AI and Big Data
There have been multiple discussions around Big Data and AI for a while now in the tech scene. What should we know about these technologies? How are they applied in our daily life?
In IT, they have indeed become buzzwords, but I think the general public is largely unaware of Big Data and AI applications in our daily lives. I don’t think the average person knows much about them, I’d say that for many people they’re still science fiction. But advanced technological solutions are the reality already.
Big Data is used in e-commerce and in the entertainment business to make our experience better, more personalized. That’s an everyday life example. But it also helps the police to keep us safe, it helps the hospitals to provide us with better care, it helps the cities to provide us with better public transportation, and the list goes on. Wherever massive amounts of data are collected, segmented, and processed to provide insights — there are Big Data technologies.
Artificial Intelligence is not as common in our daily lives as Big Data, I’d say Machine Learning technologies are more prominent. But Machine Learning solutions are often labeled AI, as they’re neighboring technologies, and people often confuse them. It’s especially confusing that both rely on Big Data.
Artificial Intelligence powers voice assistants, for example, the Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa. Thanks to AI, we can already see cars that can park by themselves, and likely in the future, the autonomous, self-driving vehicles will enter our streets too. Some cities are already testing autonomous buses. These are some examples from the top of my head. Some cities are already testing autonomous buses. These are some examples from the top of my head. Of course, AI is also present in science and in medicine. In many areas that are not “obvious” in daily life.
With the world going through the pandemic together, how can these three technologies help in the crisis?
I have already mentioned how the internet, remote work, and online services can help businesses. But they can help us as individuals, too. We can easily stay in touch with our family and friends, learn new things, seek advice (including medical advice, which is very important at this moment). We’re at home, but not cut off from the world — it’s much easier for us to stay sane. This is priceless.
As for Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, they have been definitely playing significant roles in monitoring and projecting the spread of the coronavirus, as well as in monitoring and predicting patients’ response to the disease. Big Data allows healthcare professionals to allocate necessary medical equipment, like ventilators.
Machine Learning helps in assessing risk factors and predicting patient outcomes. At this point, these technologies are more helpful in tracking, projecting, and predicting outcomes rather than in developing a cure for the disease, which is something many people would hope for. But all models and insights the technology provides are essential for containing and combating the disease. Based on them, not only doctors but also governments and authorities can make more conscious decisions and, as a result, save many lives while we wait for the cure or for the vaccine.
What are the best current examples you know of the use of these technologies to overcome the pandemic?
Of course, tracking the movement raises a number of questions concerning privacy. People are afraid of constant surveillance, and many ask what is more important: freedom or safety. But this is a whole different issue, and probably should be addressed by different specialists.
As for IT, Google and Facebook aim for transparency and assure that they take strong measures to protect people’s privacy and personally identifiable information. Big Data also serves research companies to measure the impact of the pandemic on the global economy and its influence on particular industries. This information will be valuable to economists and governments across the globe, and it will help them to aid businesses better.
Artificial Intelligence has already proved helpful in predicting which newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients would develop severe outcomes. The NYU researchers have applied an AI tool to analyze data from patients with mild symptoms and used predictive analysis to foresee which of them would develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The predictions were correct in 80% of the cases.
It’s much too early to say that AI can successfully diagnose patients, but it sure can help healthcare professionals in their difficult job. SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus. Even though it bears some similarities to other already known viruses, it’s still largely uncharted territory, and all insights and patterns are valued.
How do you see the technology world changing post coming out of the COVID19 crisis? How do you think this will impact the overall way the world functions — companies, governments, and individuals?
Who can tell? It’s really a new situation, a new kind of crisis that affects the world in so many ways at the same time. Nearly every area of life that I can think of is different now in one way or another — the pandemic has an impact on our health, our economy, our social relations. There are many more questions than answers.
I think that when it comes to technology, we will become more open to remote work. Many companies were forced by the situation to introduce it, and even though the first steps are never easy, people are learning to work from home and starting to see the benefits that it may bring. I’m not saying that we’ll have a remote work revolution or that there should be one, as meeting your colleagues face-to-face and collaborating in the office is very important for keeping the team together and feeling that everyone’s working towards the same goal, but companies should become more flexible in this matter.
In IT, we’ve been allowing employees to work remotely and in elastic timeframes for quite some time already, and people really appreciate it, as it helps them maintain their work-life balance. I also think that further development of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence solutions in healthcare is inevitable, technology can really improve medicine and healthcare systems around the globe — it’s already happening, and we can only hope it will speed up. Oh, and we’ll most likely have many more online shops to choose from. Many small businesses had to adapt to the e-reality, and hopefully, they can continue to grow by sustaining both the online and offline channels in the future.