Mon Aug 31 2020 Michael McQueen

Along with lockdowns, shopping frenzies and social distancing, COVID has brought the technologies that we once reserved for years down the track right to our doorstep. While Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have slowly but surely been infiltrating our daily lives in recent years, COVID has accelerated this to an unprecedented extent.

Since AR arrived on the scene, most people have thought of it merely as an entertaining novelty, serving no further purpose than enhancing games and giving unsuspecting individuals who put on the goggles a fright. However, with the travel bans and distancing measures of COVID making many work interactions impossible, AR has provided a COVID-safe and shockingly futuristic way of conducting work.[1]

Global semiconductor manufacturer, Intel, faced just this problem when one of their top engineers could not be flown in to solve a pressing manufacturing issue. Donning his AR goggles, he was able to examine the issue up close and remotely give repair instructions to engineers.[2] Volkswagen did the same in its repair processes when experts were stranded, using AR to bring the expert, technician and issue together.

For Intel and the broader chip industry, the successful use of AR under unprecedented circumstances has led to a greater integration of its technology into everyday processes. Where once any kind of camera technology posed a threat to trade secrets, the capabilities it enabled in these circumstances are too beneficial to overlook.[3]

Schools around the world are also having to alter systems that once served them well for a world that nobody anticipated. Artificial Intelligence is helping them do it.

One school in Las Vegas, and many throughout China, is using AI to monitor students as they enter, checking their temperature using thermal technology to prevent potentially infected people from entering. Conveniently, this technology uses its facial recognition capabilities to take attendance.[4]

Social distancing is also measured using AI in schools as it monitors areas with high levels of traffic. Educational institutions across the world are expressing interest in this surveillance technology as they buckle down into building systems for a socially-distanced world that is yet to show any signs of budging.[5]

In some cases, wearable surveillance technology is on offer, measuring distancing and monitoring contact and encouraging 1.5m or 6 feet for all those involved. One of these wearable technologies is being offered at a university in Michigan, and has been labelled the ‘BioButton’, as it is pinned to the chest and measures the vital signs of the wearer.[6]

Unsurprisingly, privacy concerns have been raised surrounding this surveillance technology, and both businesses and individuals are having to weigh up two different kinds of security: privacy and health.

AI and its utilisation in the era of COVID, however, has not been limited to surveillance. The hotel industry, which has taken a huge hit with the collapse of travel, has been using AI to enhance safety measures for hotel guests. With some horror stories circulating the media and with COVID making a germaphobe of us all, perhaps the most strategic move hotels can make is to ease the concerns of customers in terms of hotel cleanliness.[7]

Using voice activated technology, guests in many hotels can ‘make a call’ to make special requests and can control lighting and television remotes – some of the places within hotel rooms that are notorious for spreading germs.[8]

Beyond Artificial Intelligence, guests at MGM Resorts International hotels have the option of conducting their check in, processing their payment and accessing their room key all through a mobile app, rather than interact with staff. However, this does mean that the redundancy of many workers in the hotel industry, while perhaps not being as extreme moving forward, is set to continue.[9]

The hospitality industry more broadly is finding that embracing emerging technologies is the only way to reconcile social distancing and business. The chain bakery store, Panera Bread, has introduced a curbside service in an attempt to encourage sales by taking away the threat of the in-store queues.[10]

Customers place an order through an app, register their vehicle, and have the option of using geocaching technology or simply pressing ‘I’m Here’, so that an employee can deliver their order to their car. Considering that Panera is attributing 65% of its revenue to these digital sales, it is clear that the integration of this technology into everyday processes is the key to survival for hospitality businesses.[11]

In the world of customer service across industries like banking, healthcare and retail, Artificial Intelligence is yet again proving necessary for ongoing survival. Chatbots have been part of our daily life for years – if you have ever asked a question online or interacted with a website, you have probably spoken to a chatbot.

However, as online ordering has spiked in the era of distancing, these technologies are proving to be the make or break for businesses in these sectors in terms of automating customer service and administration. The healthcare sector and governments have been using conversational technology online which assists individuals with assessing symptoms and deciding whether to seek treatment or self-isolate. Chatbots were very much becoming part of our new normal – COVID has seen that new normal arrive.[12]

The world is fast discovering that in order to last the distance, it must keep the distance, and the technologies that have been on offer are the only viable way of making this happen. While this crisis is entirely unique, it is consistent with all disruptions in that the way to survive it is to move with the tides rather than attempt to hold them back.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

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[1] Fitch, A 2020, ‘Coronavirus Makes AR’s Potential a Reality for Chip Makers,’ The Wall Street Journal, 31 August.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Heilweil, R 2020, ‘The dystopian tech that companies are selling to help schools reopen sooner,’ Vox, 31 August.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Castellanos, S 2020, ‘Hospitality Industry Turns to Tech to Lure Guests Back,’ The Wall Street Journal, 31 August.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Lalley, H 2020, ‘Panera Adds Geocaching to Curbside Pickup,’ Restaurant Business, 31 August.


[12]CBInsights, ‘The Post-Covid World,’ CBInsights, 24 August.