How 2020 Transformed Innovation and the Workplace


There’s no doubt about it—2020 was a tumultuous year for the technology sector. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, entire industries were forced to transition to remote work, slow production due to shutdowns, and stall new project testing. These delays caused significant setbacks in major industries, including the deceleration of regional 5G network rollouts and pilot programs for autonomous vehicles (although some of these programs continued despite the pandemic). The pandemic also forced universities to transition to remote learning environments, and engineering professors had to completely rethink how to teach STEM courses for online classrooms.

While the pandemic was painful for many organizations, it spurred a transition to new technologies that would have taken longer had the pandemic not happened. For instance, the healthcare industry is more closely looking into blockchain technology—a decentralized digital ledger of transactions that records data in a way that prevents hacking and data altercation—as a way to boost vaccine supply chains and production, and improve the security and management of electronic healthcare records. In Europe, a new (EUR) $8 million project (IntellIoT), which harnesses the Internet of Things, is expected to boost hospital efficiency and allow health care workers to provide remote care to patients during the pandemic. 

Additionally, many businesses under the strain of remote work transitioned their data from traditional servers to the cloud. However, some organizations were hesitant to make this transition over security risks, and cloud providers are now examining ways to improve security. For instance, some cloud providers are turning to “confidential computing,” a technique that encrypts data as it is being processed, to make their platforms more trustworthy. Some companies are even looking to cutting-edge technologies such as edge computing, a form of cloud computing where data is processed around the “edge” of a network by mobile devices. Because edge computing reduces latency, it allows for faster internet speeds and enhanced network performance, making it an appealing alternative to more traditional cloud platforms. 

Lastly, 2020 witnessed a frightening number of natural disasters caused by climate change—from California wildfires to devastating hurricanes that tore through the southern United States. However, the year also saw some major breakthroughs in the renewables sector that may help mitigate climate change. For example, studies from Tel Aviv University revealed that plants, which contain chlorophyll, might be able to act as natural solar panels in the future, and that water vapor may someday be used to charge batteries. Additionally, researchers from the University of Southern California found a way to potentially make renewable energy storage less expensive by building redox flow batteries that store energy as a liquid, and scientists from Italy and Israel published findings on a new solar technology that can make hydrogen fuel production more efficient. 

All in all, 2020 was a transformative year for technology. To learn more, check out some of IEEE Innovation at Work’s top technology stories from 2020: 

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