It is uncontroversial to say that over the last 20 years tech has transformed the way we live. It has disrupted just about every area of our existence and at a speed so fast it has forever altered the way things work within a single generation. In the bestselling book, “Sapiens”, Yuval Noah Harari wrote of the three defining revolutions in our species’ history: cognitive, agricultural and scientific. Technology feels very much like the fourth. We are always learning of the next disrupting element – whether it be blockchain, Virtual Reality, or Artificial Intelligence. It is a powerful and innovative force, constantly driving change.
However, to reference another uncontroversial concept, with great power comes great responsibility – and in recent years tech has developed an increasingly tricky reputation. As it reached into more and more corners of our lives, becoming increasingly indispensable, the infiltration has been accompanied by an undercurrent of concern. It has felt at times like we couldn’t keep up with the issues tech was leaving in its wake as it raced through our lives at lightning speed. Mass data leaks and security hacks; concerns about the impact of social media on our mental health and our ability to regulate online forums. A growing suspicion of the trade-off between sacrificing personal information to gain more customised services, and a frustration with an increasingly commercialised space littered with targeted content. The uncomfortable feeling unseen algorithms and listening devices are shaping our experience, the battle against fake news, and fears that tech is destroying our ability to build meaningful “IRL” connections.
Tech to the rescue
Then a pandemic turned the world upside down. Across the global population we have been forced to retreat into social distancing and lockdown measures unlike anything we have faced before. And it is in these extraordinary times that people have turned to tech, dazed and confused, to help us navigate our way through this strange and unsettling new way of living. Tech has sprung to the rescue, as a trusted source to facilitate our most fundamental needs: maintaining social connections, continuing our jobs (if we are lucky), obtaining critical supplies and accessing information.
In this crisis tech has cemented its reach into our personal space – a celebration hosted on the House Party app, an exercise regime maintained by online classes, a family catch up via Zoom, and vulnerable relatives set up with platforms and devices as a means of social life support. Our professional lives are adapting to tech as well, connecting businesses and providing new ways of working on a scale that would have felt unachievable just months ago. Even the most traditional of operations have realised that remote working does not spell disaster, and that tech can work wonders for business continuity at a time when little else is stable. Thanks to tech solutions, meetings can be held, deals can be done, progress can be made.
Like many organisations, Reload Greece has seen the impact of tech first-hand as we adapt to the current situation. This included hosting our annual RG YEP pitch event online instead of the live event we had planned. Whilst we were disappointed not to bring our finalists and judges together in person, we were delighted and encouraged by the response to our first ever digital event. We sold out tickets, hosted a full house of finalist pitches and were able to connect live with an international audience. It was amazing to hear that 95% of participants were in favour of more online events in the future. Tech featured prominently in the winning ideas as well: from Nanoshield’s biotech invention tackling antibiotic resistance, to GlucoLive’s innovative digital testing device for diabetes, and Solex’s monitoring platform to maximise the provision of solar energy. You can read more about our final RG YEP winners and their ideas here.
Tech at the forefront of innovation
We are thankful that tech is providing us with an alternative way to connect and progress our mission to help entrepreneurs at a time when we believe innovation and the start-up community are increasingly important.
Indeed, more than just holding together a semblance of normality for our personal and professional lives, innovative tech is at the forefront of responding to this crisis. It has been used to create the COVID Symptom Tracker, helping scientists in the UK use data to better understand the virus. It is providing a vital means of onboarding an army of volunteers through the GoodSam app to support the NHS. It is adapting to the disruption head on – from companies setting up new ecommerce platforms for essential products to providing a means of maintaining essential services in a world on lockdown. For example, innovation foundation Nesta has led a £1.5million funding round for Q doctor, an eConsultation platform supporting the NHS in providing video consultations which has had to scale up at speed in the current climate. And tech is facing up to existing problems with a more pressing urgency: tech giants including Facebook and Google have been spurred on by the crisis to combat fraud and misinformation on their platforms, acknowledging the importance of accurate reporting when the stakes are so high.
There is significant support for this innovation drive as governments around the world recognise that we need new solutions to tackle this crisis and its ongoing impact. The EU has made significant funding available for start-ups and SMEs with technologies and innovative solutions relevant to the crisis, and the UK government’s Innovate UK has said it will invest up to £20 million in innovation projects focused on responding to urgent needs during and following the pandemic.
Tech for the future
This energy and drive to innovate in response to a global health, social, and economic crisis is a clarion call for tech’s purpose in the world. We have seen that when everything is stripped back to the bare essentials and focused on urgent requirements – accurate and timely information, food supplies, social contact, the ability to work remotely where possible – it is tech than goes into these spaces and finds a new way to lead. And tech is uniquely able to react at the speed this pandemic has demanded.
Despite the challenges it brings, which still need to be addressed, tech has a unique ability to respond with purpose-driven innovations to take on these new and unexpected hurdles. In doing so, tech has an opportunity to use its power to tackle issues of great social value, and demonstrate to the world that it can be a force for good and fundamental to our response in a crisis.
Tech has long been a disrupter, but COVID-19 has proved a disrupting force like no other in recent history. As tech guides our way through this situation it seems inevitable that it will lead the way as we navigate the aftermath. They say it takes 30 days to build or break a habit, and this pandemic is shattering our habits in so many ways. When it has passed it will be interesting to see how purpose-driven tech continues to innovate, building its reputation as a disrupting power for good.