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Emerging Technology and COVID-19: An Analysis

While Many articles have considered the social and political impacts of the currently rampaging COVID-19 virus and focus on evaluating mental and social structures and reforming them to adapt to the intricacies of a pandemic, few have evaluated the more implicit repercussions of the pandemic. One unconsidered, underlying factor that develops in the utter chaos of new world order, in the midst of a pandemic is the global economy and the technology market with its latest developments in user interfaces and automated systems. Shifting to a virtual economy, boycotting traditional avenues to shift to the more convenient, socially distanced online shopping with a few tweaks have not been easy, but an upgrade to current technology has made it possible. Such systems are seen in a vast array of everyday life from food and drink delivery services to more industrial innovations such as the recent surge in 3D printing technology. However, the reality as drastically different, and not as obvious.

For one, the rate of production technology, while unnoticed and often ignored by mass readers, is continually developing amidst the current chaos, primarily in production technology. Recent innovations in 3-D printing and manufacturing technologies have all been forced to increase productions of devices to quell the growth of the virus. While the race to vanquish the virus and make it extinct are on, the search to find a vaccine, create products that slow its spread, and other goods and services that have now turned essential with our newfound vocabulary of Social Distancing - 3D Printers can help provide mass-market solutions to mounting problems. The development of sustainable materials has also grown as seen with the inception of certain devices like the Paper Pulp Printer. Its durability and closed-loop system make it a perfect example of the ideals the manufacturing system is progressing towards. If kept unaddressed, this technology has the ability to displace hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the globe as firms more towards cheaper operation costs. This factor of costs combined with global approval of technology puts 3D printing on the fast track to taking over production lines in factories and threatens to put daily wage workers out of business.

Business Insider reporter Greg Morris who leads the GE team, writes, “I actually see additives as producing situations where you have higher-skilled positions that companies need to fill, both on the technician level, and the engineering and design level”. Consequently, Brian Krassenstein, founder of 3D Printing news site adds, “In fact, we have already seen this beginning to happen with Apple and Google. Sure, many of these jobs will be suited best for machines, but someone has to maintain these machines, manage the supply, and oversee production.”

Regarding such statements, clearly demarcating the line between human jobs and a machine job proves to be near impossible. One possible implication may be that workers will be able to specialize in certain facets of their job using this technology. But the question remains: can they be replaced? The stark reality seems to be that while daily wage workers cannot simply be put out of business overnight, the need for skilled labourers would increase with the advent of robotics, 3D Printing and a future replete with Augmented Reality - and therefore, manual, daily wage and mechanical labourers would soon need to up their game, work towards making themselves suited for the niche market of 3D Printer Maintenance, or Robotic Diagnosis and Factory upkeep, else they risk losing their jobs to machines. This, as stated earlier, is already taking place in Apple’s and Google’s Factories - something that can even be clearly seen from Apple’s iPhone 12 Promotion video - wherein the entire process of assembling a phone is depicted as robotically controlled. With the pandemic demanding faster, more labour intensive work from nearly all sectors; some more than others - it is worthwhile to consider seeing the possibility of a machine controlled future, in which humans’ skill and irreplaceability allows them to specialise towards more streamlined job avenues. This, however, would require a shift and an acceptance from millions of factory line workers, sweatshop labourers, and need higher initial investments from Companies to originally begin and gain momentum.

Another important factor to consider when evaluating the growth of these technologies is their potential. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed to the world the scalable applications of this technology: prototyping and mass production. With the surge of Supply Chain 4.0, it is more evident than ever of the profound impact this technology could have on the lives of thousands. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to be aware of the impact of certain emerging technologies and exploit their means to a global advantage. While It is important to keep in mind the percentage of the population whose livelihood depends on certain production facilities in implementing this technology, it is a paradigm shift that requires common cooperation between skilled and unskilled labourers towards a more efficient production future. While this technology is highly efficient and beneficial, the humane price tag it comes with may be hard to overlook. This often results in an ethical dilemma for MNCs - replacing their staff with machines, while costly, will often increase production, productivity and bring down manufacturing costs - however, these daily wage workers, slowly going out of business, often even without a basic severance package and little to no investments, living hand to mouth, are often unemployed and unable to sustain themselves and their families. Companies need to exercise jurisdiction in their ways

Another profound impact of this technology is the societal shift that will accompany it; the rise of these technologies cause them to have the ability to centralize production along with the inventory. By doing so, these devices have the ability to displace the economy of cities and even countries; rather than being centralised and held at one building, information can now be accessed through secure networks, stored on servers and decentralise the process of data retrieval and input. In the process, entire industries will fall victim to the corporation-driven production that controls supply. Amidst all this speculation, we find not only possible avenues for this technology to run rampant if not kept in check but also the global influence this technology could pose for several industries.

Thus, while evaluating these technologies and even the industries, maintaining awareness, but also honing in on the ability to adapt might prove useful to numerous individuals. One cannot predict the impact these devices may have, but our anticipation for their arrival might drive many sectors of society to find specializations that not only progress humanity as a whole but enable the arrival of modern technology without posing a great risk to the economies of the world. It is the fourth industrial revolution that brings with it economic prosperity and a sci-fi-like curiosity, the social impact needs to be carefully considered before the decisions are made, and choices implemented so as to ensure the least disruption to human lives. Or not, a revolution entails radical change. The fate of this revolution lies in the hands of the MNCs and their worker unions, for now at least.

By: Rahul Kurien and Soorya Balasubramanian

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