• COVID-19 has accelerated the deployment of new technologies, including mobile apps for registering for vaccination appointments and contact tracing.
  • In Cambodia, technology is helping to educate people about history, eradicate landmines and promote financial inclusion.
  • To ensure tech is being used for good, challenges – such as digital literacy – must be addressed.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a catalyst for digital, biological and physical innovation.

Over the past year, new trends have developed – such as "phygital marketing," using technology to bridge the digital and physical world with the purpose of providing a unique interactive experience to the user, and "digital transformation" of educational programs from renowned schools and best-selling authors. In the ASEAN region, Singapore is the technological trendsetter. From next month, they will accept the COVID-19 travel pass, and Sanofi recently announced they will invest $600 million in a vaccine production centre in the country.

The idea of "ASEAN 4.0" emerged before the pandemic, introduced by the World Economic Forum in September 2016. As one example, pre-pandemic, Thailand led and initiated a plan to develop a digital hub in the South East Asian Region, transforming urban centres into smart cities under the Thailand 4.0 initiative.

What does "ASEAN 4.0" really mean for the region during this unprecedented time – and especially for developing countries such as Cambodia? Will the implementation of the key priorities of the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 – to connect businesses and facilitate cross-border trade – encourage digital inclusion and equality?

The top barriers to achieving the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025

Let us zoom in Cambodia to explore how technology may benefit the people and the nation.

1. Reconnecting with the past with virtual reality and a mobile app

Through a virtual reality and 3D experience, the Virtual Angkor project aims to recreate the Cambodian metropolis of Angkor at the height of the Khmer empire’s power and influence.

Technology can also help us to not forget the tragic and traumatic genocide under the Khmer Rouge Regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.

With around 70% of the total population under age 30, many Cambodians are unaware of the history. An app about Khmer Rouge history supported by the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre aims to educate the youth by using innovative multimedia.

2. Eradicating landmines with robots

Landmines are the legacy of three decades of war, which has taken a severe toll on the Cambodians causing one of the highest amputee rates in the world with 40,000 amputees across the country.

Currently, removal is done by hand, and requires deminers to be extremely careful and slow in the removal process. Demine Robotics is helping to remove landmines, especially in rural areas, safely and efficiently. Their technology is remote controlled through camera feeds, allowing deminers to efficiently complete their work from a safe distance.

3. Promoting financial inclusion with blockchain technology

In Cambodia, 78% of the population does not have access to banking services. Technology is helping the country overcome the challenge of insufficient financial inclusion. Serey Chea, Assistant Governor at the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), leads Project Bakong, a blockchain-based payment system that was launched in late 2020.

How Cambodia is using tech for good, during COVID-19 and beyond

Cambodia currently has a spike in COVID-19 cases, with wedding halls being used for COVID patients. The government has taken immediate action including implementing a lockdown and new restrictions.

Technology can ease and support medical procedures, such as mobile solutions for patients and doctors to manage medical records and make appointments automatically through mobile phones.

Another app, KhmerVacc, helps people register to get vaccinated against COVID-19, providing them with a QR code for contact tracing.

coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

However, there are limitations and challenges – such as weak digital infrastructure, the high price of electricity and insufficient access to the internet (only 40% of the population has access to the internet). Digitalization could be a threat to the inclusive labor market, but an opportunity for young entrepreneurs in agro tech, health tech, e-commerce, mobile and fintech to learn new skills.

This vibrant ecosystem has been supported by government initiatives such as the partnership with UNDP to support talented young entrepreneurs and SME’s – providing them with enabling tools and access to funding.

Also, new institutions will educate Cambodian students in new technologies, such as the Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology, the Kirirom Institute of Technology and the Cambodia University of Technology and Science.

The 2021-2035 digital policy framework currently being drafted by the Cambodian government targets developing digital infrastructure, fostering digital trust and confidence, and promoting digital businesses.

Global challenges such as digital dementia, data privacy, fake news and cyber threats will threaten the new digital era. Some are asking whether AI will take over human intelligence – or if machines will take over our jobs.

The answer depends upon whether we use technology for good – and not against humankind.