With over 4.7 million confirmed cases and more than 325,000 deaths that are exponentially rising every passing day, the COVID-19 has so far severely impacted life in 213 countries of the world, which were not prepared for such a catastrophe. From economy to health to education, it has played havoc with all sectors. Developing countries have gone back at least 10 years in their endeavours towards an all-round progress and prosperity. Even the rich countries will find it an uphill task to recover over the next many years.
With mass destruction and economic rout, the pandemic has brought about technological transformation in every walk of life. Technology has never been used before at such a massive scale to keep people updated regarding the hovering threats and counter measures being taken to contain the harmful effects of a pandemic. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have positively impacted the healthcare, education and the governance systems. It is estimated that over 1.5 billion students across the world have been affected by COVID-19. Thanks to distant learning which has enabled a significant number of students to benefit from online learning. As the number of coronavirus patients in hospital continues to rise, telemedicine is of great help to provide medical services on telephones. Virtual and SMART clinics are now handling such calls round the clock. There has been a large surge in video conferences.
The evolving technologies are also prominently being applied in other sectors. Drones are being used for transporting medical supplies, patients’ sampling, spraying disinfectants and scanning the environment for identifying the patients. Robots are now cooks, cleaners and delivery personnel. These are also being used to warn people on roads and market places about the impending dangers. Self-driving vehicles are now another dependable means of delivery of goods. Thanks to the 5G ICTs which have made the Internet a dependable and high speed means of communication which can carry a large amount of data. It is estimated that IT industries in the US will have $300 billion market in 2025.
Instead of opting for counter cyber-attacks strategy, Pakistan is reactive, superficial, contentious, box oriented and documentation focused
The good news is that Pakistan has now fully realized the importance of rapidly evolving ICTs. To cope with the two major challenges of preventing the loss of life due to the spread of coronavirus and to deal with the socio-economic disruptions, we have acquired some capability to harness the emerging technologies. Various applications are being used to keep people updated on the threats and the required counter measures. Tik Tok and Netflix are the most social media apps being used. According to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), in Mid April 2020, there was 15 per cent increase in the use of Internet in Pakistan and one hundred and sixty five million people are using mobile phone, out of these 51 per cent are using mobile phones. A few months ago, we could have never imagined that Pakistan would be able to export face masks, sanitizers and possibly ventilators. According to the Minister for Science and Technology, Pakistan is now in a position to export face masks and sanitizers.
However, there is a downside to the silver lining. To reap the fruits of high ICTs, it’s essential that Internet is widely available to the users in both urban and rural areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan. According to Gallup Survey (May 2020), only 17 per cent people used Internet in the last three months (March-May 2020). There were a lowest number of users in Balochistan. In rural areas, there were only 10 per cent internet users. The second essential requirement is that telecommunication networks are hardened and resilient to successfully face the challenges of cyber threats. According to various studies, this is not so in Pakistan and instead of proactively taking measures to counter cyber- attacks/threats, our approach is reactive, superficial, contentious, box oriented and documentation focused. On October 26, 2018, Pakistani banks were hit by cyber-attacks. Data from 19,864 cards belonging to customers of 22 banks was stolen and put on sale on the dark web. In November 2018, the Pakistan Air Force came under cyber-attack. During the year 2019, Pakistan Navy was targeted to steal vital information. In February 2019, a number of Pakistani websites were hacked. It was reported that websites of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Army were hacked.
The most important lesson that we ought to learn from this prolonged pandemic is that, we will have to set aside adequate resources to keep our systems updated both in terms of infrastructure and trained human resources.
Another serious challenge would be that because of widespread automation, use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and drones, there would be significantly reduced employment opportunities. Already more than half a million people in Pakistan are out of jobs and number of unemployed in the world is heartbreaking. How to deal with this threat would be the real test of the country’s leadership.
A warning comes from the World Health Organization that there may not be a post-COVID 19 environment, because the pandemic may become a part of our life. How the world would be then? The governments will continue to grapple with the two challenges of saving human lives and dealing with the sinking economy. The role of ICTs would become even more crucial to deal with these challenges. Pakistan needs to develop its ICT/software industry like India and China. Such an industrial base would also help establishing social and economic zones in CPEC. Our higher education system should be R and D oriented. Engineering and medical universities should be given more incentives for research work. We need a strong technology triangle connecting the industry, universities and engineering institutions.
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/615055/an-overwhelming-role-of-icts-in-post-covid-era/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.