Home Technology Cover Story KEEPING US TOGETHER: Tech in the time of COVID

KEEPING US TOGETHER: Tech in the time of COVID

The current world crisis is unprecedented, but without the technology available to us, it could be a lot worse. Being able to bank, work, connect, and even shop, while a little more difficult than usual, is possible, thanks to the mobile phone, computer, and internet connectivity. In this month’s CoverStory, we take a look at how technology has made staying home not just tolerable, but even productive.

HEALTH TECH

Words by Ren Alcantara

Because of recent events, there has been a lot of focus on the health industry. Apart from the devotion and sacrifice of countless healthcare professionals and the institutions that keep us safe, technology has made huge strides in healthcare and how the system runs. We’re lucky to be living in a time where technology can do so much to help with a task that can be quite daunting, so here’s a bit of a spotlight on the tech that helps make us better. Whether it’s something as simple as easier access to records, or something as dramatic as performing remote operations from halfway around the world, technology is here to make the process of keeping people healthy a much easier endeavor.

Your medical records

Medical records are long, complicated things, with plenty of information. Duplicating each person’s medical history, particularly for patients with extensive health concerns. The digitalization of health records is a huge boon for the whole system. Instant, remote access to records that are as accurate as the original, filed in a simple system makes the process of dealing with patients that much more simple, allowing healthcare professionals to focus more on the people who need their help, than dealing with administrative tasks.

Personal trackers with global possibilities

Personal health trackers have been increasing in popularity of late, and while it can be nice to know you’ve hit 10,000 steps in your day, or how much sleep you actually got, the average person doesn’t really have that much use for all that info. At the top of the year, a US study found that heart rate and sleep data from a reasonably large number of people in an area could be used to predict possible flu outbreaks. There’s a lot of power in having a lot of data as long as you know what to do with it, and this opens up a lot of possible uses for all the information all those wearables generate.

Information dissemination

While not directly healthcare technology per se, the way governments and hospitals get to share information during critical times has changed dramatically. Institutions have practically direct access to people through their mobile phones, and apps installed on phones makes being able to update even larger populations a matter of sending notifications or bulletins out. Creating awareness of developments in the changing landscape, of an epidemic, for example, does a lot towards the prevention of larger problems down the road.

Remote access to healthcare

While remote operations using robots and the internet haven’t quite made it into the every operating theatre just yet, simpler things like scheduling an appointment, and even remote consultations are here. As seen with how a number of hospitals and doctors dealt with COVID-19, apps and websites came up for remote consultation, to be able to ease some of the pressure on ERs, as well as tend to a public that was in quarantine, sorting out more severe cases from those that could be dealt with at home.

There are other apps already available, made in partnership with medical institutions and insurance companies that allow users to have a virtual appointment with a medical professional for simple things like a quick consult, or a a quick look-over when something doesn’t feel quite right, once again lightening the load on hospitals, and delivering greater convenience to all the people involved.

Analytics

There’s a lot that can be done with big data. Just like fitbits being used to predict possible flu outbreaks, looking broadly at all the data across different areas, age groups, or other qualifiers, has the potential to show trends that cannot be seen on an individual level. While this is technically possible without the use of digitalization or the cloud, the task is much less daunting with technology on your side. Given digital records of a large number of patients, analysts can look at any number of factors with easy, speed, and accuracy, extrapolating information, running simulations, and predicting possible outcomes that would be extremely difficult or time consuming without any technological aids. This in turn allows faster responses to problems, or even dealing with a crisis preemptively.

Healthcare and technology go hand-in-hand. Each innovation is built on existing ones for a stronger, more useful, more effective solution that helps make our lives easier. While there won’t be a replacement for seeing a doctor, getting your own exercise, or eating healthy, technology has allowed us little changes that improve our quality of life. As tech improves, devices become less expensive, and new breakthroughs happen, we can expect even more amazing solutions, more accurate information, and a healthcare system that is even better at keeping all of us healthy.

ALL HANDS ON DECK

Words by Gabriel Pe

In the last few months COVID-19—caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus—has brought the world to a standstill. The disease is fatal to individuals who are immunocompromised and has killed over 300,000 around the world and infected over 4-million others as of this writing.

In order to slow the spread of the disease, countries have implemented strict lockdowns and quarantine protocols for their citizens. The USA, Italy, and Spain are amongst the most affected by the disease with fatalities reaching thousands in a single day.

In order to help stop the spread of the deadly virus, several of the world’s biggest tech companies have banded together to think of new and ingenious ways on how they could help to fight the pandemic.

Testing kits made easy

Many tech giants have their own health and medicine research arms. These companies have started focusing their efforts on COVID-19 testing and research, with some updating their testing machines to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A perfect example of this is tech and power tools maker Bosch, who has produced an update for their Vivalytic molecular diagnostic platform that will be adapted to test for the coronavirus in patients, offering results in under two and a half hours.

Dedicated COVID-19 websites and apps

When the virus rapidly started spreading through the western hemisphere, tech giants started to notice, and began opening web services specifically dedicated to the cause. Early March saw Google, Apple, and Twitter create dedicated COVID-19 pages on the ‘net and platforms to notify users about the latest news and trend of the disease. In the country, several universities and private organizations have partnered with the World Health Organization Philippines (WHO Philippines) and the Department of Health (DOH) to create dedicated websites and apps to monitor, track, and inform the public about the latest news and cases of COVID-19. They have also partnered with local telcos to open access to these websites by removing data costs in visiting the app and sites.

Big servers and computers for cure research

One of the biggest ways that tech giants leaped into action was by lending their tech expertise to the different causes. For their part, IBM, Google, AWS, Microsoft, and HPE have created the High-Performance Computing Consortium (HPC Consortium) an initiative that unites all of the companies’ high-performance computers and servers to aid researchers to decode the virus. The high-performance computers will run simulations and calculations on the nature and composition of the virus. This lets scientists and researchers accumulate years worth of data in just a matter of weeks or days.

Hospital robots, masks, and new ventilators

Much is still unknown about the new strain of the coronavirus, which is why tackling it remains dangerous. Governments and hospitals around the world have implemented strict protocols when dealing with patients who are suspected or confirmed to have the virus. To help keep frontline workers safe from the virus many tech companies, such as Intel, DJI, HP, Apple, and even car manufacturers Tesla, Ford, and GM have each provided ingenious ways to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Apple, HP, and Honeywell have started production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks to keep supply in the US. Ford and other car manufacturers, on the other hand, have been ordered by the White House to produce ventilators for patients in the US. Lastly, DJI and Intel have made use of their technology to create drones and robots to aid in disinfecting and sanitizing. DJI’s drones were used in China and Korea to aid and streamline the disinfection of the streets and buildings, while Intel has provided platform based robots in hospitals in China to separate doctors and nurses from infected patients by transporting tools and supplies.

AI and machine learning leading the way

We have come a long way in tech since the last massive outbreak. One of the many ways tech has boosted research and detection of the coronavirus is by AI and machine learning. Several countries have deployed AI programs to help in their fight against the virus. Examples of these are the diagnostics AI which helps people know whether they have the virus or not. Some tech startups have also used AI to start researching the effects of specific medicines on the virus without the immediate need for a human trial. Meanwhile, other startups have also begun using machine learning to compile research and journal articles about the virus to aid researchers around the world and expedite the search for a cure for the deadly disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic was unexpected, and caught practically everyone unprepared with how serious and deadly it could be. Thankfully the technology we have today helps streamline our road to recovery.

ENTERTAINMENT

Words by Mia Carisse Barrientos

Staying at home is fun. However, when extended indefinitely, even the most seasoned couch potato would run out of ideas to banish boredom.

If you’re close to the end of your Netflix watching list in this time of social distancing and self-quarantine, you might want to check what these companies are doing to keep you entertained at home.

EA says Stay Home, Play Together

As part of their Stay & Play campaign, the video game company is hosting online tournaments —Apex Legends Global Series—where their community of players can participate and compete against influencers and celebrities as well as get the chance to win a hefty amount of cash. They have also enlisted personalities, including gaming personalities and NFL superstars, to stream on their Twitch channels.

Other video game companies such as Zynga, Riot Games, Blizzard, and more have also banded together, under the campaign #PlayAPartTogether, to insert WHO best practices in slowing the spread of COVID-19 into their games.

Epic Games, the maker of the massively popular title Fortnite, is also offering a multitude of games for a limited time only to offer all of us stuck at home a virtual escape.

Come Together with music

Music never fails to entertain. And in this time of encouraged isolation Apple Music strengthens this with its newly launched Come Together feature that showcases upbeat music to keep you energized and productive. There are seven playlists to choose from depending on the type of music you need to power up. The titles—Social Distancing Social Club, Isolation Icebreakers, and more—will give you more reason to hit play.

If you’re not an Apple device user, Spotify has a lot to offer as well. You’ve probably seen the COVID-19 quarantine party playlist going around on social media with tracks such as Toxic, Stayin’ Alive, Work From Home, among others you can’t help but dance along with. There are more playlists put together by bored people like you and I to enjoy on the app. While these aren’t exactly Spotify initiatives, it’s great how the service facilitates fun in these trying times

Have virtual movie nights with friends on Netflix

I think we can all agree that watching movies is much more enjoyable with the company of friends and family. Netflix lets you do just that, but still in keeping with the rules of social distancing, through Netflix Party. Watch shows and movies in sync with friends by installing Netflix Party Google Chrome extension. What this does is during playback, there would be a small window where you can chat with your friends and gush over how cute Lauren and Cameron are on Love Is Blind (Yes, I am imploring you to watch this show).

And as it is expected that most of us will be spending days locked in, burning through our Netflix binge lists, the streaming service has announced that they’ve developed a way to reduce traffic without sacrificing video quality.

Amazon Prime, on the other hand, will also be making a selection of family-friendly content available even to those without Prime membership.

Let’s flatten the curve by staying home!

Also published in the GADGETS MAGAZINE April-May 2020 Issue