Sometimes, a technology arrives just in time to save us from a problem that the technology wasn’t created to solve. In the early 1900s, for instance, the automobile came along just as burgeoning cities became alarmed that an explosion in horse traffic might bury their streets in manure.
We’re seeing a similar phenomenon today with three technologies: speech recognition, facial recognition, and digital money. None was invented to help us deal with COVID-19, but each recently came into its own and could be crucial to our post-crisis “new normal” by allowing us to avoid touching things that a lot of other people have also touched.
Over the course of the past few decades, we’ve built a screen-tapping, button-pushing society that now, in our heightened state of germ sensitivity, seems downright frightening. When our forebears needed cash from a bank, they walked up to a teller and asked for it. Now,