The novel coronavirus may drive new innovation in the workplace, healthcare and in the application of big data analytics and artificial intelligence, according to a new survey of technology executives by the Atlantic Council think-tank.

The Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center surveyed 100 tech experts about their expectations on the impacts of COVID-19 on technology development and innovation in five key fields: the future of work, data and artificial intelligence, trust and supply chains, space commercialization, and health and medicine. Space-related development was tagged as the only area that those surveyed didn’t think would see a significant impact on innovation, driven by the pandemic. Developed countries were seen as better-positioned to be at the forefront of those new innovations.

“As the virus imposes heavy demands on healthcare systems, strains international supply chains, and changes the way we work, it will spur innovation in those areas,” according to a blog post on the survey data. “Likewise, as cloud infrastructure is forced to cope with increased traffic and public health professionals strive to harness massive datasets to fight the pandemic, developments in the fields of data and AI will accelerate.”

There were regional variations in which countries that respondents preceived as likely to see innovation in specific areas. Overall, the countries pegged as most likely to see accelerations in innovation were Singapore, South Korea and Japan, followed by China and the United States. Western nations such as the U.S. and Canada, the European Union, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand were seen as more likely to the most innovation in healthcare, the supply chain and work-related technologies, while China —and to a lesser extent, Russia —were expected to see more development in the use of data and AI. “While more free-market countries will be forced to innovate their changing work practices in a turbulent labor market, government-controlled economies can always create employment on a whim,” author Stewart Scott posited. “Conversely, more autocratic governments will be less constrained by privacy regulations, popular opinion, and disconnected datasets, allowing them to innovate more efficiently and aggressively with regards to data and AI, and to integrate those technologies into society more rapidly.”

In the longer term,  the surveyed participants said that big data and AI and health technologies are likely to see the “most impactful innovations” over the next two to five years as a result of the pandemic.

Scott also called out the “overwhelming positivity” of the survey respondents, writing: “The experts rarely, if ever, indicated a belief that the virus would hinder innovation in any field, implying that they view innovation mainly as a response to crisis and challenge, and less as a function of resource allocation. However, handling the pandemic demands ever-increasing amounts of time, money, and manpower, some of which must be diverted away from fueling innovation. Importantly, the crisis is still ongoing which makes accurate predictions about recovery rather challenging.”


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