The rapid emergence of new scenarios that once seemed like science fiction serve as a testament to the Acceleration that the world is experiencing in this exponential era. COVID-19 introduces another variable, one that serves both as an accelerant and an obstacle. There are many examples of the virus serving as an accelerant — many of which I have written about over the last several weeks.
This recent Article describes how the virus is serving as an accelerant for 3D Printing. Author Patrick Kulp explains that its flexibility and dynamism are needed more than ever as countries struggle to produce the personal protective equipment and medical supplies needed to supply front-line healthcare workers. Because of these struggles, advocates for 3D printing are hoping the pandemic is the moment it reaches critical mass. As it goes with exponential technology, the cost of 3D printing has been steadily dropping and the equipment improving. Industries including healthcare, construction and automotive parts have taken note.
Another area of acceleration is not so positive. This Article describes a nasty side effect of COVID-19: robots will take our jobs even faster. Author Johannes Moenius makes the following point: even more automation with ever-more-powerful robots and computers can help immunize the economy against future pandemics. His calculations indicate that it’s the low-wage jobs, like retail and warehouse jobs, that face the highest risk. An often referenced Oxford study showed the availability of technology to automate 86% of restaurant jobs, 76% of retail jobs, and 59% of recreation jobs by 2035. This was before the accelerant known as COVID-19.
Rehiring decisions will likely consider whether a particular job can be done by a machine. As noted in the article, robots are getting more capable by the hour and cheaper by the minute. Add risk perception to the mix and advantage goes to robot. The author provides examples like: Amazon Go technology, Robot Delivery and Robot Baristas. Mr. Moenius closes his article with this: the coronavirus triggered demand and supply shocks. It will also accelerate and alter a technology shock that has been in the making for more than a decade.
Those that have read the book The Fourth Turning are familiar with the premise that history is a series of cycles. I’ve found it interesting to see the number of people that visited my Post on the book in the last month. Major crisis (think World War Two) has historically accelerated our path to a new world order. Here again, the seeds of that change were already in place prior to the pandemic — which now serves as an accelerant. In this Article, authors Parag Khanna and Karan Khemka describe how in the hyper-connected world of today, dense global networks enable butterfly effects to ripple and amplify far more rapidly. These effects are small changes that can have massive, unpredictable consequences.
There are so many dots to connect. If near-shoring is a post-pandemic goal, we must appreciate that emerging markets and developing countries are critical both as suppliers and markets. Their demise weakens the world economy as a whole. Our authors look at six probable scenarios, with one being a long-drawn-out W shape recovery being the most likely economic scenario for the years ahead. In a second scenario, they look at a fragmentation of the global monetary order as a possibility for which all countries should prepare. In scenario three, they believe we should expect the migrant crisis from Central America into Mexico and the Middle East into Europe to surge again. Specifically, millions of people will seek to escape geographies with inadequate healthcare in favor of those with better medical care. At present, almost all the countries that offer universal medical care are in Europe.
Other scenarios include: rising nationalism, regionalization as the new globalization, the use of technology to blunt future impact, and the re-invention of society. As the authors looked at the aftermath of the plague, they conclude that the consequences of today’s pandemic will emerge far more quickly, and with the benefit of foresight, we can try to mitigate them, capitalize on them, and build a more resilient global system in the process. One of the authors, Parag Khanna, is author of a recent book titled The Future is Asian.
For additional thoughts on the pandemic, see my previous posts.