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Digitally Infected: Coronavirus driving people away but us closer to tech

Apps and software solutions are innovating and coming up with customized plans and free offerings.

Technology is booming, and the virtual is rapidly becoming real Prices of software vendors offering remote conferencing features have been witnessing a dramatic climb Apps such as Periscope and Live Stream are gaining significant traction

The whole world is suddenly online. What with the Coronavirus scare driving everyone indoors, even the most technologically challenged person has begun to take a keen interest in the virtual world. Online meetings, online classes, online games and movies, online events, online matches and races-everything has moved away from the physical. Cashing in on this demand, apps and software solutions are innovating and coming up with customized plans and free offerings. Even new business models have sprung up, capitalizing on the heightened fears of contagion. Indeed, ever since lockdowns and quarantines have been in effect, brick-and-mortar businesses have all been on the losing side. Technology is booming, and the virtual is rapidly becoming real for everyone. 

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Meetings, classrooms go online

With more and more offices allowing their employees to work from home, apps that offer online conference facilities are experiencing a surge in demand. Teachers too, are making good use of these apps to beam lessons right into their students’ homes, with regular classes put on hold. As a result, while the share prices of pretty much everything else continues to plummet, those of software vendors that offer remote conferencing features have been witnessing a dramatic climb. Last week, tech giants such as Google, Cisco and Microsoft began to offer some of their remote conferencing services free. Microsoft is offering the premium version of its Teams collaboration application free as part of a six-month trail offer for its Office365 E1 payment plan.Zoom Video Communications, a web conferencing company, is offering free video conferencing options for its customers in China. 

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“Given this coronavirus, I think overnight, almost every business really understands they needed a tool like this,” CNN Business quotes Zoom CEO Eric Yuan as saying. “This will dramatically change the landscape. I truly believe in the future, every business would turn to video for remote workers for the collaboration.”

Cisco has expanded the features available for its free Webex offer in all countries where it is available. The new features include support for up to 100 people and unlimited usage. Those who sign up for the first time can avail of a free 90-day licence. Google is providing its Hangouts Meet Video Conferencing features to all its G Suite and G Suite education customers at no extra cost until July 1, 2020, allowing students to stay in touch with their teachers and schools. 

A true spectacle

Online meetings and lessons we get, but what if we told you events are going online too? Take the case of Bahrain, which has opted to avoid spectators for its Grand Prix scheduled for later this month, and proceed with it as a participant-only, televised event. Elsewhere, the Adobe Annual Live Summit will also be held online later this year, as a digital experience. “We have made the difficult but important decision to make Summit/Imagine 2020 an online event this year and cancel the live event in Las Vegas,” a statement on its website said. “While we are disappointed that we will not be together in-person with our community this year, we are excited to host Adobe Summit as an online experience.”  The Shanghai Fashion Week, a much-anticipated event, will also be streamed live. Apps such as Periscope and Live Stream are gaining significant traction, as even the not-so-tech-savvy have started logging into the online world. 

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Health goes virtual too

When everything is online, why shouldn’t health be, too? Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu have all launched health apps in recent weeks, that use cloud and AI to keep its subscribers alert and aware about their health, especially the coronavirus. In January, Alibaba launched an online clinic service which allowed people to receive online consultations with doctors, following the Coronavirus outbreak. Baidu is offering an algorithm called “LinerFold” free to gene testing agencies, epidemic control centers and research institutions globally. The aim is to help scientists understand the genetics of the coronavirus, and develop a vaccine. In fact, the company has also developed an AI powered healthcare unit that answers common healthcare questions and makes automated phone calls to people to ask about their recent travels, health history and people they’ve come into contact with. Tencent is making waves with free online health consultations and chatbots that make basic diagnosis. But that’s not all: According to Reuters, researchers at a university in China have developed a robot that could save lives during the Coronavirus outbreak, prompting even doctors to take a well-deserved break. Acting like a real doctor, this robot consists of an arm on wheels that can, just like real doctors, go on hospital rounds, perform ultrasounds, take mouth swabs and listen to sounds made by a patient’s organs, usually done with a stethoscope and in person. The possibility of using it remotely is being explored. “Doctors are all very brave,” Reuters quotes Tsinghua University Professor Zheng Gangtie, the robot’s chief designer. “But this virus is just too contagious … We can use robots to perform the most dangerous tasks.”

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Even business is different

Stunned? There’s more to come. According to the ReachFurther website, delivery of on demand items in China has now moved to designated bins placed in strategic locations within communities, instead of door-to-door. “We have seen a new form of e-commerce develop with contactless delivery,” the website quotes Michael Zakkour, founder and chief strategist at 5 New Digital in New York City as saying. “This is helping to keep the online orders flowing.”

Well, what can we say, except that the Coronavirus has resulted in a rapid digital revolution that wouldn’t have happened otherwise? Who can be blamed for wanting to stay indoors? After all, the world is at our feet! Or should we say, fingertips?