That the World Health Organisation has encouraged the use of digital currencies to control the spread of the new coronavirus speaks volumes for the use of emerging technologies in dealing with pandemics.
Cryptocurrencies will undoubtedly replace paper money in future, and the organisation sees cashless societies as a potential way of containing Covid-19.
Apart from decentralised finance, other technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, 5G networks and medical 3D printing of human organs have been in use for a while now.
BlueDot, a Canadian firm that specialises in infectious disease surveillance, predicted the outbreak of the coronavirus on December 31 last year using an AI-powered system.
The system combed through animal and plant disease networks and 10,000 news reports on 65 vernacular websites, and warned against travelling to cities like Wuhan way before governments started issuing travel advisories.
Metabiota, another health tech company, offered early and accurate analysis about the spread of Covid-19. It predicted that it would reach South Korea, Japan and Taiwan one week before it was reported inside their borders.
And now that deaths from the disease are approaching 6,000, AI has been used in manufacturing robots and drones that are now being used by developed economies to send medicines to quarantined areas.
This is becoming critical to the control of infections by keeping health workers out of such zones. Drones also move faster than ambulances in crowded urban areas.
China’s Alibaba is also tapping into AI and cloud computing to identify differences, from images, between highly suspected coronavirus-infected pneumonia, slightly suspected, and non-coronavirus-infected pneumonia within 20 seconds. This, with an accuracy rate up to 96 per cent.
The country’s search engine, Baidu, has also developed an AI algorithm it calls “LinerFold” to be used by gene-testing agencies, epidemic control centres and research institutions globally. The algorithm is able to help scientists understand the genetic make-up of the coronavirus in efforts to develop a vaccine.
Huawei has also developed a cloud tool that seeks to understand the genetic make-up of the virus.
Tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have advised their employees to work from home, underpinning the very need to have physical workplaces.
Covid-19 is gradually hammering a narrative into our brains — that the digital economy will be the only economy for the future, where only minimal contact with fellow beings will be witnessed.
Avoid contact, WHO is warning people across the world. But populations in less developed countries are wondering how that is possible when they still need to go to work, purchase items, go to church or mosque or connect with family and friends.
Well, the virus is teaching them the relevance of e-commerce, digital payments, cloud services as offices, video conferencing and live-streaming. Tech is our only way out of this virus.