Which Technologies Survived the Pandemic?
Roger Cheng from c|net recently assembled a quick list of the technologies that helped and hurt us during the 2020 pandemic. We often write about technology as if it lives in its own world, inhabited solely by the likes of Tesla, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Technology reflects our political realities—one must only think of the massive scandals caused by U.S. politicians on Twitter—and raises moral questions about race and society, as video footage of George Floyd’s death showed the world.
Halfway through 2021, here’s where we’re at with the best and worst technology has to offer.
The Good: Zoom and Gaming
Lockdowns provided citizens with plenty of time to reconnect with family, pursue high-quality gaming trends, and invest time in their favourite Netflix shows. The sheer prevalence of video chatting and other time-fillers may shrink somewhat as everyone returns to full-time work in the office, but habits die hard. Certainly, international businesses will hold more Zoom meetings rather than fly halfway around the world.
Gaming also gave users an outlet for pandemic stress. Of course, it had its flaws: screen fatigue, eye strain, and a lack of in-person interaction. Yet as the BBC noted, “gamers—particularly in Gen Z—have perfected the art of building communities in and around video games. Gamers don’t just compete with strangers on the internet, but forge genuine, enduring friendships”.
The Bad: Cybersecurity and Misinformation
On the flip side, governments are still failing to recognise the threat of cyberattacks. It may be that many representatives, councils, and leaders aren’t informed about how to proceed—but that’s no longer a valid excuse. The military battles of the future are just as likely to involve large-scale cyber-attacks or election interference as they are drones or nuclear weapons. And, according to The Brookings Institute, “5G networks create a greatly expanded, multidimensional cyberattack vulnerability”.
Along with the threat of cybersecurity, citizens faced an overload of misinformation in 2020: fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, political fake news, and rampant cases of false or misleading claims about vaccines on social media. Social networks have started to clamp down, but as Cheng said, “they’re fighting a five-alarm fire with a water gun”.
The Future: Clean Energy and Vaccines
But it’s not all bad. The number of electric vehicle companies is exploding: General Motors will invest US$27bn over five years, Ford will double its EV investment to US$22bn, and United Airlines will work with Archer in a US$1bn order for electric air taxis. Companies will first have to cope with the global semiconductor shortage, but Elon Musk still has competition.
Finally, the best for last: vaccines. Thanks to the countless scientists and laboratories who worked around the clock, the COVID jabs may be humanity’s greatest 21st-century success. Developed during the height of the pandemic, the messenger-RNA (mRNA) solutions pioneered by Pfizer and Moderna not only launched the global immunisation effort but unlocked genetic solutions for the future. And that’s a wrap.
Who Will Be the Next Tech Giant to Back Bitcoin?
PayPal was the first truly major tech giant to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, unveiling a cryptocurrency buying-and-selling service in October. Next was Tesla, which shocked onlookers in February by announcing the purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin, as well as plans to accept the cryptocurrency as payment.
Since then, things have calmed down as far as Big Tech and Bitcoin are concerned (although a number of banks have rolled out cryptocurrency investment services for their wealthier clients). This raises the question: when will another significant tech firm take the plunge and back bitcoin?
This is a difficult question to answer, if only because the bitcoin market is in something of a funk right now. At the same time, regulators worldwide are looking to restrict crypto in the name of curbing money laundering and other illicit activities. Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl through the sector that a few other important names in the tech industry may be on the cusp of embracing bitcoin, with Apple being the most notable.
Is Apple Buying Bitcoin?
If you tend to spend any amount of time on Crypto Twitter, you may be aware of rumours to the effect that Apple has recently bought something in the region of $2.5 billion in bitcoin.
Such rumours were almost certainly a desperate attempt to boost the price of bitcoin. And given that the market didn’t witness a sudden, dramatic rise (but rather a steep loss), it seems pretty clear that Apple didn’t buy a substantial quantity of bitcoin in the past few weeks or so.
That said, there remains a good chance that Apple will enter the cryptocurrency sector at some point, even if it won’t be adventurous enough to buy crypto for itself. Back in May, it placed a job ad for a business development manager for “alternative payments.”
Such a manager would be tasked with cultivating partnerships with “strategic alternative payment providers,” implying that Apple may be weighing up the possibility of launching its own cryptocurrency-purchasing service (à la PayPal) via Apple Pay.
Needless to say, it would be huge for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency if the Cupertino company were to follow through with this.
Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook?
Rumours have also revolved around possible bitcoin interest from Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, although there’s a little less substance to most of these rumours.
Back in October former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager Raoul Pal predicted that Microsoft (along with Apple) would buy bitcoin in five years. Unfortunately, a CNN interview with Microsoft’s Brad Smith in February (shortly after Tesla’s bitcoin purchase) revealed that the company had no plans to purchase crypto, although Smith vaguely hinted that it might one day change its collective mind.
More interestingly, Amazon purchased three cryptocurrency-related domain names back in 2017: amazonethereum.com, amazoncryptocurrency.com, amazoncryptocurrencies.com. Nothing has been heard since then, while a job listing from February of this year revealed that the retail giant may be planning to launch its very own digital currency.
Facebook is another tech firm with plans for its own digital currency (Diem, formerly known as Libra). As for whether it’s likely to turn to bitcoin, a few relatively respected figures within the cryptocurrency industry (e.g. Alistair Milne) did spread rumours in April that the social media company would disclose bitcoin holdings on its Q1 financial statement. This didn’t happen, although Mark Zuckerberg did reveal in May that one of his pet goats is called “Bitcoin,” fuelling further speculation as to his and his firm’s interest in the cryptocurrency.
Risks and Rewards of Cryptocurrency
Again, it’s arguable that some or most of the rumours are generated largely to pump crypto prices. But if bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do continue to appreciate in value and attract more adoption, it will become increasingly harder for large tech companies to ignore them.
But at the moment, it’s likely that most major tech firms will shy away from actually buying bitcoin, if only because it remains highly volatile and unpredictable as an asset. And as we saw with Tesla, buying a massive chunk of the cryptocurrency effectively turns you into a hedge fund overnight, something which can adversely affect your stock price if bitcoin goes down.
Even so, there’s clearly a considerable amount of money tied up in the cryptocurrency market. And with numbers of holders growing every year, it’s only a matter of time before other big tech firms attempt to siphon off some of this value for themselves.