Earlier this week, Forbes Magazine named Rebekah Jones, the controversial former state data mapper as the nation’s “Technology Person of the Year.” But in a year filled with rapid, worldwide adoption of high-tech, pandemic-related technologies, it’s not clear exactly what qualified Jones for the honor.
Forbes deputy editor Helen A. S. Popkin wrote the story, dismissing with a handwave some of the serious questions about Jones’s credibility. Worse, Popkin failed to list a single significant technological accomplishment by Jones, except to say she’s “the latest technologist who stepped up to fill the vacuum left by governments during Covid-19.”
Reasonable people can debate the existence of a “vacuum left by governments,” but Forbes owes its readers – and our nation’s actual technology innovators – a bit more introspection when it comes to 2020’s Technology Person of the Year. In a year filled with spectacular and impactful technological developments, what criteria did Popkin and Forbes actually consider before settling on Jones?
Sadly, Forbes chose to honor someone whose most important technical contribution in 2020 was based entirely on off-the-shelf software that has been around since 1997, hardly a new innovation. Jones merely bought a subscription to ArcGis using donations, likely from her controversial GoFundMe account, then populated the software with suspect data that CDC’s epidemiological experts say could include too many Covid-19 false positives.
There are far more deserving candidates. Here’s just a handful of tech developments where Forbes could find more fitting choices for the honor of America’s “Technology Person of the Year:”
While 2020 started out like any other year, by mid-March it was clear that virtually every single organization in the world needed to rethink the way they conducted their daily business. Forbes at least acknowledged the “Zoom” revolution in the story about Jones, naming it the “Technology Firm of the Year.” But the tech was significantly underdeveloped in early March, as many school teachers and business owners who saw their Zoom calls hijacked, will attest. The company managed to roll out a number of security updates in record time, elevating “Zoom’s” brand to be synonymous with online meetings in the same way people “Google” something online, use a Band-Aid(tm) to cover a scrape, or a Kleenex(tm) to wipe their nose. Surely any one of their developers might be a better choice than Jones.
In the health care world, faced with a bed shortage crisis and resource crunch, other tech innovators stepped up. One new app that health care logistics experts describe as the “Uber for hospital patients,” called Xferall, is a multi-platform app used by doctors, nurses and hospital administrators to help transfer patients to health care facilities with the proper equipment and capacity to deliver treatments more quickly. The app has proved especially useful at the height of the pandemic, when some hospitals around the country started to approach full capacity, allowing incoming patients to be diverted to other facilities.
Another health care challenge caused by the pandemic led to more tech innovation in the telemedicine: doctors needing to minimize their contact with patients so they can remain healthy and avoid spreading the virus to other patients. The solution: more frequent reliance on secure, high-quality, streaming audio and video. Think HIPAA-compliant FaceTime for doctors and patients, allowing diagnoses and prescriptions to be filled without having to go into the doctor.
One such company, MDLive, is thriving during the pandemic, attracting $50 million in new investments in September to expand their infrastructure to deal with the explosion in demand:
The company’s growth has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following five consecutive years of over 45% visit growth, in the first half of 2020, MDLive’s virtual visits grew by more than 95%. Total bookings were up by more than 300% in the first half of the year, the company reported.
Another health care tech company that might employ dozens of people deserving of recognition by Forbes: Access Physicians, a high-tech service that offers rapid-response telemedicine with a physician in under four minutes. According to a company press release, in 2020, “Access Physicians telemedicine specialists will have cared for nearly 2 million patients with some of the most complex conditions, including stroke, cardiac arrest, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, septic shock, and fetal abnormalities, all through virtual means. Encounters increased 273 percent over 2019.”
The company’s underlying technology includes pan-tilt-zoom high-definition cameras on mobile carts with large-screen monitors so that patients and doctors can meet virtually face-to-face, and the IT team members behind the service “are fully accountable to clinicians,” according to the company’s web site.
VIRTUAL SCHOOL TECHNOLOGIES
The education world also has more than a few tech innovators who might have been excellent contenders for Forbes’ award, including Florida Virtual School, whose IT department had to contend with enrollment that surged to nearly double the previous year. But virtually every public school in America has had to work overtime to develop online curriculum and IT infrastructure to handle the instantaneous demand for virtual education this year.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Virtual meetings, doctor visits and education are only the most obvious economic sectors where tech innovation changed the way we live, work and learn.
In our view, even ignoring all of the other questions and controversies surrounding Jones’ claims, her “tech” contribution simply isn’t enough qualify her as America’s “Technology Person of the Year.” Forbes editorial decision to do so is clearly more political than technological.
To me, the ‘honor’ merely calls to question Forbes Magazine’s credibility (not that it was already questionable before now). The whole thing is just silly.