What is ‘Essential’ Tech?

Published: 13, Aug 2020.

As seen on Medium – By Anne Radl, Programme Development Manager and Jessica Dillon, Communications Manager at Social Tech Trust.

COVID-19 has got us all thinking about the ‘essentials’. We’ve learned who is ‘essential’, or ‘key’, including health and social care workers, educators, transit operators and supermarket workers. We’ve found out what is essential: we have a newfound gratitude for the food in our store cupboards, a regular wage or substituted emergency income (if we’re lucky enough), our NHS and of course, toilet paper.

And as humanity faces total reorganisation, people are also opening up free access to the things that help us feel connected to each other and in control of our lives: news, interneteducationwell-being resourcesculture and communications. It brings the value of these things into sharp relief and raises questions as to why they aren’t freely accessible to all to begin with.

Why we care

For over a decade, Social Tech Trust has been championing technological innovations that are designed to fill essential and profound needs in our lives and communities. Like these other essential people and things, the innovations we back have not typically been the most celebrated or rewarded. But now COVID-19 is challenging us to think differently about what tech innovations we want and need in our lives. It poses the question, “what is essential tech?”

If we want technology to do something essential, something profound, in the world, we need to recognise that, as the designers, creators and users of tech, it’s up to us to make tech do just that. That’s why our vision is a world where social transformation drives tech. We — all of us — determine what tech is essential to our lives.

Life as we know it

We’re seeing immediate, heightened demand for the tech that can help our children keep learning and help us to keep working, together from our kitchen tables. In the last three weeks, we’re using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and various other apps, not only for work meetings, but to connect with friends and neighbours over Friday night drinks and catharsis. The emergence of online gym classes are (for some!) a well-being revelation (for others, perhaps a new incentive to get fit!). This is essential tech.

Collective initiatives, like The Catalyst, are mobilising digital experts and resources to make sure that charities across the UK can shift to providing their essential services online as safely and effectively as possible when they can’t physically ‘be there’. This is essential tech.

Hats off to innovation

One thing that we can be certain of is the need for tech innovation. It’s this agile and iterative approach, backed by philanthropic funding, that has enabled the Cambridge University spin out company, Diagnostics for the Real World, to launch a test to diagnose COVID-19 in under 90 minutes. The test is currently being deployed in Cambridge hospitals, ahead of being launched nationwide. This is essential tech.

Influential financiers and tech companies are working alongside brilliant entrepreneurs to shape their tech in response to our emerging needs-something we’ve been advocating for some time.

Funders and social investors are coming together to recognise the exceptional impact that COVID-19 is having on civil society groups and are pledging to offer reassurance to the organisations they work with. These collaborations support essential tech.

And it’s no surprise to us that we’re seeing our own portfolio ventures innovate furiously to make sure that their users have the care and services they need:

  • Feebris technology has been designed from the outset to support people with existing and emergent health issues (and respiratory conditions particularly) to be cared for in their homes. In the wake of COVID-19, they are rapidly scaling their services, working with the NHS to extend precise, personalised triage back into the community.
  • Xploro is making its immersive world free to every child undergoing cancer treatment during this pandemic, now facing an already-traumatic experience in isolation from family and friends. Early clinical trials show that by using Xploro children decrease their anxiety and loneliness and have better health outcomes.
  • Commonplace is giving free access to their platform to local authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting them with their local communities to receive feedback, share important information and deliver essential services.
  • DrDoctor, which automates appointment bookings, cancellations and referrals for more than 30 NHS hospitals has built new digital tools to allow hospitals to broadcast in large volumes about changed and cancelled clinics. They also started working on remote consultation tools to allow people to reach their doctors by video or phone, which was quickly rolled out to hospitals.

With our partners at Microsoft and Microsoft for Start-ups, through online delivery of our curriculum, we’re continuing to support potentially transformative AI for Good ventures, helping them to uncover their value, like a beacon, in the current crisis. Ventures include:

  • MiiCare, which allows families to stay connected to their older loved ones and know for certain that they’re healthy and safe, even when they’re separated in the quarantine.
  • MyCognition, which can directly help people build mental resilience when coping with the impact of COVID-19.
  • Hello Lamp Post helps people connect to their city through playful interaction. Can you imagine, when this is all over, what it will mean to be able to walk freely through your home town or city — unencumbered — touching, interacting, and sharing your ideas (perhaps, with a lamp post) about how to make your community the place you want it to be?

These purposeful start-ups are the pioneers of essential tech.

Explore some of our projects here or get in touch with us today: contact@hlp.city

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