Hawaii –Pandemic Induced Technological Changes

Picture of Technology

By: T. Jeffersonian

During the 2021 State of the State Address, Governor David Ige, proposed Hawaii 2.0, described as a collaborative economic recovery endeavor that will be co-created by community leaders and leaders of various industry sectors. One part of Hawaii 2.0 entails broadband wifi access being provided to Hawaii’s poorest rural areas. This installation capitalizes on the highlighted importance of remote work and learning seen during the pandemic. Preparing the latest phase of the ongoing recovery effort initially has gained little traction; however, state government officials expect to have a number of action items from various sectors by April 2021. Unfortunately, under the current schedule, the bulk of actions and technological implementation pilots won’t even start rolling out until the spring of 2022.

Some opponents characterize collaborative Hawaii 2.0 effort as being akin to having 100 cooks but not a drop of soup. There is an urgent drive to get Hawaii’s economic recovery underway sooner for various reasons. Despite the state receiving $6.1 billion from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the state will still be short in operating revenue to the tune of $800 million. The state is considering approving the highest tax rate in the United States to make up the difference.

Considering that the national debt will be nearly $32 trillion dollars after 2021, there is unlikely another pandemic stimulus package coming after this recent one. This is it. Hawaii must step up and complete the rest on our own and that cure cannot entail taxing the hell out the Hawaii’s residents who remain here and justifying the hikes by shrugging and saying it costs a lot to live in paradise. One aspect of the cure must indeed focus on the expansion of technology and artificial intelligence throughout Hawaii’s economy and government.

The pandemic truly demonstrated the importance of both to the recovery and will prove instrumental in turning Hawaii from a fiscal liability into a national fiscal asset. Before the pandemic, a Hawaii state senator drafted legislation to compel the University of Hawaii’s board to livestream its meetings so faculty and students on different islands could watch. University officials asked for two years to implement
the idea. Then the pandemic struck, and the board’s support staff threw together its first livestreamed meeting in three days.

Across Hawaii’s state government, the need to prevent the spread of coronavirus has similarly turbo-charged the use of technology. This is a significant change for a state known for being a tech laggard. Christine Sakuda, the executive director of
Transform Hawaii Government, a non-profit organization that advocates for a modern digital government, said executive and legislative branches have for decades prioritized spending on programs that directly benefit citizens rather than invest in themselves. Kicking the technologically advanced digital government can down the road left Hawaii’s government ill prepared to provide services during the pandemic.
To its credit, the state and its agencies learned quickly and caught up gradually.

Early in the pandemic, unemployment insurance claimants initially waited on hold for an entire day, before being helped by a live agent. The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in April boosted its processing capacity with the help of volunteers from the Legislature and other parts of government. It moved call center systems to the cloud, helping workers handle more calls. In February 2021, the Department of Labor and Industrial relations announced plans to hire a company that updated Alabama’s claims system shortly before the pandemic began.

During the pandemic, state courts went from holding essentially no video conferences to conducting 128,000 cases on Zoom and WebEx between August and December 2020. For the first time, the Hawaiian State Legislature authorized people to testify via online video since the Capitol building remained closed for health reasons. This move also makes it easier for residents on islands other than Oahu to air their views to lawmakers. The pandemic has truly unleashed new technological ways of doing things that all state officials say are likely here to stay but there are still many numerous hurdles to overcome moving forward.

Hawaii is the state having the greatest percentage of its work force in unions. 37 percent of all Hawaii workers are either in unions or are represented by them. Union workers are less likely to be furloughed. Hawaii businesses with no incoming revenue and unable to cut union workers simply augured in.

A September 2020, Yelp survey found that 9 in every 1,000 businesses in Hawaii have permanently closed — one of the highest rates in the country. In Honolulu, the figure was higher at roughly 11 out of every 1,000 businesses. Randy Perreira, the
executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said some state agencies have approached his union, the state’s largest, about having some workers continue teleworking because they find the arrangement to be efficient and effective. The union is open to teleworking, which provides flexibility to employers and employees, but some things will likely need to be negotiated like addressing the higher home electric bills some workers have incurred while working remotely.

Following the pandemic, some union workers may find their jobs taken by a bot. Doug Murdock, Hawaii’s Chief Information Technologies Officer, envisions chatbots and voice bots — artificial intelligence that answers basic questions — will play a larger role for the state in the future. Hawaii has already used them to conduct quarantine checks on travelers during the pandemic. If you want to talk to an agent, you might have to wait half an hour; but if you’re willing to talk to the chatbot, you might get your answer in two or three minutes.

There are new risks associated with reliance on technology. Cybercrime generates
around $1.5 trillion per year. A hack occurs every 39 seconds. Global cybercrime damages are estimated to cost approximately $6 trillion per year in 2021. Hackers earn around $30,000 per job, whilst their managers can make up to $2 million. 81 percent of the United States population has a social media account. Following the pandemic, children are online more predominantly than ever before. Hawaii is immersed within all these statics. As Hawaii 2.0 technologically expands to our poorest, rural areas, those novice users in those areas will be most vulnerable.