Post-COVID Predictions and Observations

SWAN of the Week, Number 150
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Happy Friday!

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote anything specific about COVID-19, so I wanted to share some futurism things I’ve been reading, thinking about, and arguing about with my close friends when it comes to thinking about “what’s next.”

Of course, we’re nowhere close to an actual post-COVID-19 situation. But it’s worth suspending disbelief enough to think a bit about where we’re at and where we could be headed in the coming years.

In Amy Webb’s SXSW Online session on 2020 Emerging Tech Trends this week, she gave some great voiceover and COVID-19 color to her downloadable annual report (get it here!) including thoughts on the most optimistic and catastrophic outcomes we could face by 2035. 

Most concerning is not actually synthetic media and content (e.g., deep fakes and voice cloning), but rather a new economic species of humans who are programmable and those who aren’t. A trend that could lead to “Genetic Class Warfare” if we don’t strive to make technology accessible, affordable, and regulated. We’re seeing some of this play out already between the stay-at-homes and the have-to-works.

Other key takeaways:

  • You’ll soon have augmented hearing and sight.
  • A.I.-as-a-Service and Data-as-a-Service will reshape business.
  • Home and office automation is nearing the mainstream. 
  • We’ve traded FOMO for abject fear. 
  • Everyone alive today is being scored. 
  • It’s the end of forgetting. 

Webb is brilliant, and her team has been talking about pandemics and health care for years, although not as a Black Swan event. 

And speaking of, this week Quartz has a fantastic email roundup about the history of Black Swans — an event that has three attributes: it is an outlier; it has extreme impact; and that, despite its outlier status, people will come up with explanations for its occurrence after the fact. Key quote: “Labeling this crisis as a “black swan” gives policymakers cover for failing to take action earlier.”

Illustration: Glenn Harvey

What happens next? Steve LeVine has a 14 minute read about the future of American cities that’s worth a read, “The Harsh Future of American Cities.”

Key takeaways: 

  • We’ll still be sorting through the impact into 2022. 
  • “In the Midwest, we have been pushing density — the rehabilitation of downtowns, smaller apartments in the core, the joy of being in a city,” Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, said in an interview. “This completely arrests that development.” 
  • Much of our current aversion to crowds will dissipate with time.
  • Dining out may no longer be the main alternative to cooking at home. The winners will be Amazon and Uber, Walmart, DoorDash, and Target, whose boom in delivery will grow at almost everyone else’s expense.

And one of my favorite analysts, Mary Meeker, put out a 28-page report on COVID-19 that says the coronavirus’ high-speed spread and impact has similarities to the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which is different than comparisons I personally keep referencing (like 9-11 and other Black Swans). 

Specifically, she reports:

  • Prior epic viruses have permanently changed the world, but coronavirus may prove less impactful because of our information-sharing and scientific technologies.
  • Scientists and other domain experts are getting “more seats at the table.”
  • Digital transformation is accelerating, due to so many people working from home. New work-life balances are also being struck.
  • This may become the “call to arms” to better marry technology with healthcare, in terms of everything from telehealth to rapid point-of-care diagnostics, to applying automation and AI to health care services.
  • “We are optimists and believe there is hope on the other side of despair…. We need government, business and entrepreneurial intervention at scale (deployed logically and effectively) to get to the other side.”

Oh, and in Italy, they think when we go back to the beach, we’ll be in glass bubbles. And the WSJ says when we go back to work, we’ll be highly tested and tracked

The hardest part about predicting the future is determining where the fulcrum is to pivot. It’s hard to know where to push off of, so I love paying attention to what people way smarter than me are researching, thinking, and arguing about. 

What have you been reading about, being inspired about, or arguing about? Please share.

See you on the internet!
Greg


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