A large share of expert respondents in this canvassing expect some already evident trends to extend and expand through 2025. They said the greatest needs include more refined and responsive global governance of the complex systems on which people depend, as telemedicine, telework, tele-learning and tele-life spread. These dependences will increase demands for expansion of secure digital communications systems and will inspire education systems focused on digital literacy.
As they were responding to this canvassing, many of these experts noted the broad calls in the United States and elsewhere for elimination of social inequities in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. They said this incident and others sparked global cries for greater diversity, equality and inclusion that will be a potent force in the coming years. At the same time, some respondents said the near future will also bring more crime and threats to civil liberties, arguing that times of crisis bring out the best and the worst in people.
Larry Irving, Internet Hall of Fame member and former head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, predicted, “There will be considerable change. The new normal will include using technology more extensively for most facets of American life, but particularly for education/remote learning; medical diagnostics; news, information and entertainment; and for business and commercial activities. It simply isn’t realistic to believe that now that folks have found out they can travel less, commute for fewer hours, study or review educational materials on their own time and obtain a medical opinion or diagnosis without sitting for endless hours in a doctor’s office waiting room that they will return willingly to the old normal.
“To meet these new demands on the internet we will see more copious and ubiquitous networks, as consumers won’t tolerate less. You also will see much more continuous monitoring of health metrics, particularly if the suspicions that vaccines for the virus will need to be updated on yearly or half yearly basis hold true. The measured life will become much more real if failure to measure could lead to death. I hope that greater access to copious broadband will allow for a revolution in education as people figure out new pedagogical models to help personalize learning, to allow people to learn at their pace and to allow collaboration by connected students and teachers and professors. Remote learning has great potential benefit for training, retraining and upskilling workers. I believe that medical diagnoses will be more accurate and more timely. I worry deeply about: security, privacy, AI being used to make assumptions, the proliferation of wrong or misleading information, exploitation of the naivete of young audiences. These are serious problems that we haven’t had the will to address.”
James Morris, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote, “We’ll be leaning on technology, including artificial intelligence, at an accelerating rate. This acceleration has been going on since the invention of agriculture or the breakdown of the bicameral mind, but it is an exponential process which looks like an explosion to us – whether beneficiaries or victims. The better/worse question comes down to who is in control, humankind as a democracy, a super-race as a totalitarian system, or (strangely, improbably, but hopefully) the technology itself.”
Michael R. Nelson, research associate at CSC Leading Edge Forum, observed, “In the first four months of the crisis, in most countries, we have seen four years’ worth of digitization. We have had the technology for telework, online learning, e-commerce and much more – but now everyone wants to use it, so the inertia and regulations that were barriers are disappearing. And internet policy could move in a better direction as governments realize connecting the unconnected is critical if everyone is going to prosper in the post-COVID-19 economy. Likewise, there will be more public pressure to ensure privacy online. If you spend hours each day in your ‘Zoom room,’ you want as much privacy as you have in your own living room.”
Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and former chief technology officer for the Federal Communications Commission, said, “The epidemic has accelerated the awareness of technologies that were previously only known to early adopters. In particular, remote-interaction technologies, whether video conferencing or various virtual reality applications, seem likely to be more commonly used by many employees outside the technology sector. This might allow at least partial work-from-home for many back-office jobs, whether customer-service or business-process jobs. These tools will also likely persist as add-ons to family life, allowing families to stay connected when travel is difficult due to age or lack of financial resources. Better collaboration technologies could improve traditional education and human interaction by making them more accessible even to people who cannot travel or cannot attend a regular classroom.”
Tele-everything is embraced
These experts broadly affirm that the adoption of “remote” processes – telework, telemedicine, virtual schooling, e-commerce and more – is growing. They argue that in 2025, there will be more people working from home, reconfigured work spaces, more virtual social and entertainment interactions and fewer forays in public than in 2020. They said they see a new societal focus on the power and performance of technology companies and their leaders. Additionally, they noted that the pandemic proves that anything that happens anywhere can influence life everywhere. The turn to living and working more intensively within digital communications networks shows the value of these complex systems on which billions of people depend and brings more focus on both the upsides and downsides of digital life.
Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University, observed, “This transition period is ‘The Great Reset.’ It has been suggested for some time that people need to leverage digital technologies more in their personal and professional lives. The pandemic response has accelerated a range of uses of certain technologies.”
Terri Horton, futures strategist and founder and CEO of FuturePath, wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed how we will work, live and play. In particular, COVID-19 exponentially accelerated digital transformation as organizations moved swiftly to harness the power of artificial intelligence platforms and systems across the enterprise. In turn, investment and implementation of AI systems and automation to support operational continuity, pivot to remote work, improve processes, reinvent business models and capitalize on emerging revenue streams accelerated the unfolding of the future of work by five to seven years. Now, as we move through what McKinsey & Company refers to as the ‘unfreezing period,’ many organizations have realized that they were able to shift, pivot and reimagine operational efficiency and agility rather well and were far more resilient than they had imagined. To that end, the new normal is about fully actualizing the enterprise by operationalizing new knowledge and insights, leveraging more AI aimed at growth and heavily investing in people strategy, reskilling and humanizing work, particularly as we move through the decade where Millennials, Generation Z and Gen Alpha will dominate the workforce.”
Cliff Lynch, director at the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “Our world is forever changed. The new normal is not a full return to the old normal, though to the extent that we’ve had to put some basic human needs, behaviors and impulses on hold we’ll hopefully find a way to re-accommodate them in the new normal. There are some changes that are clear in the new normal: Working from home has been widely accepted (along with rather ambiguous and expansive working hours), and that isn’t going to be fully reversed, though there will be certainly some role for offices and bringing people together to work together. And there are issues with work-life balance that are simmering. The implications around workspace and getting people together aren’t just about offices, but about performance spaces of various kinds: college campuses, schools, shopping malls, bars and restaurants, social spaces, etc. This will have huge implications for the future of cities, mass transit, infrastructure, and all the economics, demographics and other things that follow from this. There are massive implications for employers in regard to the workforce available and the jobs available to many people who don’t live in urban centers (keep broadband inconsistencies in mind). We’ll see more robots and automation; they don’t get COVID-19, they don’t unionize, they don’t demand pay raises, among other desirable characteristics. Meat-packing companies are already investing more in these technologies – this will only grow. The tougher things to predict are the second- and third-order effects from these obvious fundamental shifts. The really hard things to predict are how fundamental human behavior changes as we come through this, not just patterns of commerce. I’m trying to figure out how the public might view science and medicine by the end of this. Or how higher education will be perceived. It feels like trust in government is pretty bankrupt, certainly at the federal level. The pandemic experience accelerates the move from physical content carriers (like traditional print books or newspapers) to electronic ones. Due to the stay-at-home orders we have largely lost access to our physical collections (in libraries, museums, etc.) for the duration of the pandemic, and there’s lots of concern about books and the like as disease vectors. This is probably a behavior change that stays. … One can hope that institutions like higher education, the arts and the like will pull through. … A lot of things from the old world won’t come back, at least anytime soon.”
Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing, predicted, “The major change due to COVID-19 five years from now will have been the acceleration of the already ongoing trend of many transactions moving from physical to virtual, of those transactions that can move. The process of virtualizing business will have been accelerated by the COVID-19 experience. More people will order products online and have them delivered than going to stores to shop. More food will be delivered to the home. Those involved in areas of virtualization will be better off. A larger percentage of the educational experience will be virtual. Many educational institutions (the smaller ones) will have gone bankrupt, but new ones will rise up because students want largely a social educational experience, not one just through a screen. Consider music, already 99.9% of all music is experienced virtually; less than 0.1% of music is experienced by physically listening to physical musicians physically performing in real time. Is the world worse or better because of this fact? Music has been virtual for so long (with the advent of records, then CDs, then thumb drives, then downloading, then streaming) that no one is even old enough to bemoan the transition of music to ‘virtuality.’ Traditions on their way out already will be accelerated, such as viewing films in movie theaters.”
Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media and associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, commented, “Recent research suggests that it is unrealistic to expect a ‘polio-type’ vaccine for COVID-19 – take it once and enjoy long-term immunity, instead, we can expect a flu vaccine path forward, which means multiple shots per year and partial immunity. As a result, the transformations we are experiencing in the U.S. are just at their beginning. Any aspect of human life that depends on high-density co-presence is going to change. That likely means prolonged unemployment for people in entertainment, the restaurant business, tourism, hospitality and dozens of other areas. While there may be some upsides for people in white-collar, fully virtualizable industries, on the whole the transition is going to be difficult, draining and economically catastrophic.”
William L. Schrader an internet pioneer, mentor, adviser and consultant best known as founder and CEO of PSINet, predicted, “Governments and corporations will still work from home in 2025. Home offices will be a planned and built-out quiet room for the working parents, and children will respect it during the day. Learners from elementary through continuing education will suffer greatly in the next five years. Higher learning must calculate what to do with their campus when their only income for 72 months is from online services. Do they maintain the ivy? … The internet is the only solution to our future. Increasing simplicity of use for computing power is needed to allow the disenfranchised to avail themselves of all that is available. The parts and pieces that feed that internet are what matter. How they use renewable energy must be addressed. I’d like FTH (fiber to the home, everyone’s home). I expect global warming to worsen materially due to the fascist regimes such as in the U.S., Brazil, Russia and China. This means we need low-cost, high-productivity solar – with battery systems for any home that wants it. Including the data centers that will control 100% of our education, commerce, control of our borders and all other communications for the foreseeable future.”
Marc Brenman, managing member at IDARE, a transformational training and leadership development consultancy based in Washington, D.C., wrote, “The pandemic will not be the only influence on life in 2025. There will be more virtual mobility (telecommuting, telemedicine, online shopping, etc.) and our electronic devices will have more bells and whistles. There will be even less privacy. … Artificial intelligence may help make medical diagnoses and selections of treatments better, faster, more accurately. Cars will continue to become safer due to high-tech devices. Privacy will decrease. Hacking, worms, trojans, phishing, etc., will increase. In other words, our devices will ‘bite’ us.”
Randy Marchany, an information technology security officer at Virginia Tech who has worked with the White House Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, commented, “The pandemic has demonstrated the need for ‘universal’ high-speed internet access. Work from home will continue, and school from home may become more prevalent as school staffs’ health concerns can’t be addressed. Internet access has been shown to be a vital component in a post-pandemic world. It’s become a utility like power, water, etc., and will need to be regulated as such.”
Michael Zimmer, director of data science and associate professor in the department of computer science at Marquette University, responded, “The ‘new normal’ will have both positive and negative aspects, and these will be unevenly distributed, thus in my assessment things will be generally worse off. Those with jobs and home situations that allow for flexible and remote work and learning might benefit. There will be fewer miles driven on highways, a re-centering of life around the home and micro-local neighborhoods, and technology can help motivate these changes through improvements in video conferencing, remote learning, distributed play and entertainment, etc. But for a larger and more vulnerable segment of society, these same changes will point to their fragile place in the economy. Reductions in public transit schedules might put pressure on their mobility; reduced in-person schooling might put pressure on their ability to ensure their kids are taught and fed adequately, plus make it harder to leave the home to work in jobs that can’t be performed remotely. Continued enhancements to digital learning platforms, reading and writing, creative game-playing and coding might emerge as institutions and platforms try to innovate given the ‘new normal.’ A key worry is the potential expanded role of technology in monitoring and regulating our work and personal lives. Workplace-surveillance technologies are already entering the home as employers seek to monitor and ensure their staff is maintaining sufficient productivity and attentiveness to their work duties. This will only increase in the years to come, combining video monitoring, wearables, and other smart devices that ‘report’ on your attentiveness and activities while working at home.”
Miguel Alcaine, head of the International Telecommunication Union area office in Central America, said, “The status of digital transformation before COVID-19 was directly proportional to a country’s resilience. The digital world has shown us preexisting human conditions on steroids. Unconnected people living in urban areas have been the most affected. Vulnerable groups have been the most affected, as is always the case during catastrophes. In contrast, the better-connected a country is or a people are, the better their resilience. One thing that has changed for the time being as the pandemic evolves is the general awareness is that digital transformation is a must. Even those in politics realize that now. We need to work to take advantage of this window of opportunity, which might close after the emergency abates.”
Jon Stine, executive director of the Open Voice Network, wrote, “The new normal will be an accelerated arrival of trends that were forming pre-pandemic. Examples: The digital divide between rich and non-rich; digital grocery shopping; the failure of retail real estate in first-ring suburbs; remote- and from-home-working; streaming, on-demand, and cord-cutting entertainment. From a technology perspective, we will see the accelerated arrival of video-heavy internet traffic (what was forecast for 2027, even 2025 will be here in 2021) and voice assistance.”
Jonathan Taplin, author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,” observed, “The pandemic’s economic damage is, even now, not well understood. Business travel will be sharply curtailed as Zoom meetings are an acceptable substitute. The airline business will shrink. The retail business will wither, and malls will close, as e-commerce will be an acceptable substitute. Commercial office space will go unused, because many companies will find it more productive to let their employees work from home. All of this may bring some benefits to air quality and even white-collar quality of life, but it will not make up for the continued unemployment and increasing economic inequality. I worry that everything I wrote in my book ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ comes to pass. The tech giants get bigger and more powerful; surveillance capitalism becomes pervasive and our media culture and politics become more Balkanized.”
Edson Prestes, a professor of computer science at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, commented, “COVID-19 showed us how dependent we are on technology. Access to the internet as a human right is an urgent subject that should be included in the agendas of all governments as a priority. Although I understand and, in fact, most of us have understood the benefit of technology to restructure the way we do business, access public and private services and get information, some governments do not provide adequate infrastructure for all of their citizens. As they see it, easy access to information and to doing business gives people the power to tear down governments and/or big corporations. Unfortunately, this is a reality in countries that do not put their citizens in the center of their political debates. If nothing is done, we will witness an amplification of existing inequalities and an increase in poverty. I believe that countries with adequate digital services infrastructure and access to the internet will reshape their lives with technology. Across the globe, anyone, independent of gender, abilities or race, can do business, make money, create new jobs and have a comfortable life. It is not difficult to picture a world where digital infrastructure is available and everyone has digital skills. Telemedicine has proved to be a key technology for diagnosing patients with COVID-19 and is crucial to all aspects of health. My mother lives along the Amazon. She receives medical advice via mobile platform. The use of digital tools allows governments to make agile decisions. Restaurants and supermarkets are now rethinking their business models and delivering food and services. Even gyms are helping some people to get in shape via internet.”
Mirielle Hildebrandt, expert in cultural anthropology and the law and editor of “Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing,” predicted, “The architecture of ‘office space’ will probably evolve towards:
- a space to meet up for an appointment,
- to have a meeting,
- to withdraw, or to
- have access to high-quality video conferencing.
“This will have consequences for the distance between office or workspace and home, with a shift away from urbanisation. People may prefer to move to what used to be called ‘the countryside,’ to have a more quiet life in less densely populated areas – while being able to connect with work/family/friends via myriad applications, both to get work done and to develop and maintain connections within their private sphere. I think that there will be simultaneously: 1) a much greater appreciation and awareness of the nondigital (real-time, embodied proximity, gardening and small-time farming, walking and biking, home cooking, enjoying the stillness that is largely absent in urban hubs) and 2) a much greater appreciation and awareness of the connectivity and productivity offered by various applications, with less attention to false promises and more attention to issues of security, privacy, nondiscrimination, freedom of information, but also much more attention to applications that are generative of new products and services without being focused on extraction. Let’s hope that there is 1) a strong, democratic government that takes care of basic goods (economic security and access to good-quality education and health care), while otherwise sustaining a level playing field for businesses, and 2) a fairly-instituted marketplace that thrives on creative (not destructive) invention and a new understanding of the idea of ‘added value.’”
Philip M. Neches, lead mentor at Enterprise Roundtable Accelerator and longtime trustee at California Institute of Technology, commented, “The impact will vary greatly. Some people, particularly those in tech-heavy fields, will be better off, earning more, working from home, commuting less. Some fields will be permanently scarred. Business travel will not recover to pre-pandemic levels. Leisure travel will not fully recover. Hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, travel agencies, etc., will remain depressed. Many jobs in these industries will be permanently lost. Many restaurants and retail establishments will be permanently closed, with resulting loss of jobs. Demand for oil and gasoline will not recover to pre-pandemic levels. Nor will sales and service of automobiles. Construction and infrastructure will grow, some by new demand, some by government stimulus to rebuild old infrastructure. Demand for commercial real estate will remain depressed, particularly for Class A office space. Residential real estate demand in the suburbs and exurbs will be strong, at the expense of core cities. Many businesses will change to mostly work-from-home, cutting down on commuting and giving workers up to two hours per day more time for family and other pursuits. Schools will continue to offer more than half of all instruction remotely. All-remote college-prep and university programs will start to emerge at price points more favorable to the bottom 90%. The debate between whether we want a service society or a surveillance society will be in full swing. Also, serious debate about breaking up the Big Four (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) will ramp up.”
R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, predicted, “In general, the view on technology will go from negative to even. The trade-off between privacy and health, privacy and security, privacy and convenience remain to be determined. We saw an ideological shift on how much privacy we were willing to give up to government control for the promise of better health via contact-tracing app adoption as well as location data being used in aggregate to track spread. The public will probably become more vigilant on how privacy data is being used for public good. Given social distancing, potential labor disputes and lawsuits for safety for return to work, fear of density, we can expect more work to be automated. Machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence adoption will increase as we find ways to reduce human contact and mitigate risk. Autonomous vehicle adoption will increase as workers fear mass transit, an exodus from the cities to the suburbs and exurbs picks up pace due to COVID-19. New networks of delivery and development around regional hubs will emerge. The big fear is that too much concentration of power in one individual’s hands will be possible, as the power of tech increases the ability for one individual to scale. We will see that with the power of automation, bots and AI. We need to ensure that checks and balances are in place.”
Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, based in the UK, said, “People’s sense of space will become interesting. Will they want restaurants, cinemas and outdoor spaces more because of being locked in; or will they have enjoyed not having to travel for events as much? That will determine the tech that shapes markets for some time to come. I’m not sure that people will rush to queue again or to be in shops and other establishments, but when they do it will be more worthwhile. I also think that there’s a limit to logistics and efficiencies for every person everywhere to be able to receive deliveries and personalisation.”
Laurie L. Putnam, an educator and communications consultant, commented, “We need to stop looking for a ‘new normal,’ as though life will find stasis after COVID-19 is tamed. Eventually, yes, the virus will become manageable, but life will remain in flux. This pandemic is demonstrating that we must learn to adapt or we will not survive. Think of it as a trial run for the crisis of climate change. What we need to look at now are the hard truths the virus is exposing: that some of our social structures and technologies can work and others are failing. Some of our digital tools are supporting our society and others are breaking it down. Tech tools can be repaired and social structures can be rebuilt, but we have to do that work collectively, and it will take time. I hope we take a hard look at what we can do better and differently, because the problems COVID-19 has exposed will not vanish with a vaccine. Our technology, and our relationship to it, will have to evolve.
“I hope we will retain the best (and fix the worst) tech tools for flexible learning and work and find positive ways to remix our physical and digital experiences of life. I hope we will realize that maybe we don’t need to consume as much, and our technologies can be more sustainable than disposable. I hope we will face, head on, the effects of digital misinformation and surveillance, and take serious steps to protect ourselves. I hope more of us will understand that tech businesses driven by financial returns need to be held accountable for harms their products inflict. And I hope more of those leading and funding the tech businesses will process how their impact on society goes beyond the bottom line. These are hopes we can make real if we care to. At some point, technology leaders and the political leaders who fail to regulate them (because, the money) will face a reckoning. In the meantime, serious damage is being done to our individual well-being and to the health of our society, and it’s going to take a long time to repair that damage.”
Humans’ yearning for convenience and safety fuels reliance on digital tools
The experts canvassed here note that the pandemic has rearranged incentives so that consumers will be more willing in the coming years to seek out smart gadgets, apps and systems. They expect this will speed up adoption of new education and learning platforms, rearrange work patterns and workplaces, change family life and upend living arrangements and community structures. Here are a number of the expert responses speaking to these issues:
Carol Woody, technical manager for the Cyber Security Engineering (CSE) team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, predicted, “By 2025 there is much less fear of technology by the typical citizen. With the sudden shift, people in church, school, office, family, friends are all using more technology and recognizing its limitations as well as its value. There is a growing recognition that the tools can be improved, and that using them is not magic, but requires some investment of time. Privacy has been slipping away slowly for a long time, and this is not widely recognized as a bad thing. Too many artificial constructs have been put in place to respond to privacy efforts like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that are seen to only hinder information sharing and create added paperwork and delay for every step. Adoption of new technology for its own sake seems to be weakening. Buying the next version does not seem to be an automatic need. Autonomous vehicles can create a public transportation system that is door-to-door and not limited by bus routes and the cost of drivers. This will help with an elderly population who should not drive and are not mobile enough to walk blocks to a bus stop. Smaller vehicles that support social distancing limitations are feasible. More effective online meeting environments that are widely known and supported will make connecting remotely easier. More people will move to where they want to be instead of having to move to where the job is based. I am also looking forward to better ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions for phones, cameras, connections and other Internet of Things products that support better security of solutions to reduce the risk of compromise.”
Beth Noveck, director, NYU Governance Lab and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance, observed, “Much will depend on governance and leadership, especially who is elected in November 2020, but the hope is that the shift to more online work, online education, online services and online life will lead to significant innovation. This could create the opportunity for dramatic and expanded upskilling and the preparation of more workers for a new future of work. It could create the opportunity to personalize and customize education for students and deliver better learning. The shift to more work online and less travel could have a significant impact on climate change and carbon emission reductions. But all of these positive possibilities depend entirely on political leadership and a willingness to invest in innovation. The need for more socially distant ways of learning, working and playing could create the impetus for positive change if the public and private sector choose to make the right investments in this future. With adequate access to broadband, new technology, the right regulatory environment and concerted investment and innovation, the new normal could mean more-personalized and intensive education for more students and better learning outcomes.
“Imagine every kid being able to have a tutor – both human and AI – available to her at all times. It could mean better access to telehealth and tele-mental health services, where people can get cheaper and better access to care from home. It could mean a future where more workers are trained for jobs that can be done at a distance, which will create opportunities for good work, a living wage and safer working conditions. But with a shift to life online, we will have to make new plans for and redesign our urban infrastructure. We will have to rethink the design of public transit and public buildings. We will have to come up with new ways to create civic engagement and civic cohesion. And we will have to ensure that people have access to the tools and the skills they need to take advantage of these opportunities. There’s so much promise and far too little political will to realize it.”
Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research, said, “My hopes for tech-related changes that might make life better in the coming years are focused on reimagining education. With massive funding for reeducating and bringing innovation to the educational process, we can change the world for good in untold ways. As XPRIZE Chairman, Peter Diamandis, describes it, reimagined education means rapid reskilling on a continuum of constant education. The notion of high school and four years of general (college or university) as preparation for the new world is hopelessly outdated. In a tech-enabled world, learning is a lifelong endeavor and we need to structure our lives and education accordingly. Embracing interconnectedness, we can use the dynamics of technology, and the data that drives technology advancement, as a paradigm to reimagine education.
“To do so, it is useful to recall that our educational paradigms were built on the alphabetic order of linearity, one-at-a-timeness, patriarchy and holy books. Without abandoning that order, we must reimagine education as an ongoing interactivity with the real world, so our perception of the real world is clear, accurate, undistorted by cultural, religious or political misrepresentations. As our engagement with the real world becomes increasingly data-driven, and as our datasets become impracticably large, education reimagined must include universal data and computational literacy. This is more or less standard operating procedure in China, which has made it a national initiative to bring 5G to everyone in China by 2025.
“We need a broad swath of our population – not a slim class of techno-overlords – who understand the potential and biases of algorithms, machine learning, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and qubits. At the same time, we must reimagine education to include a foundation of tool awareness and meta realization. Now that our tools are more powerful and pervasive than ever, we must build curriculum focusing on the basics of their logics and the ability of tools to influence (and distort) our perceptions. This is as fundamental to education as weightlessness training is to become an astronaut. Our tools and technologies are now more sophisticated, and their influence in our lives is now too pervasive to adopt a use-it-and-ignore-it approach. Ignoring the effects of our tools on our minds and behaviors ensures we will become their slaves, not their masters.”
Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation, said, “The great many (far greater on balance) positive tech-related developments that arose include, to briefly name only a few:
- International cooperation in science and medicine sharing and in general information sharing.
- The rise in the understanding of humans as human, and not as Balkanized by gender, race, nationality, class, age. Tech cooperation is ‘division-divisive’ blind, seeking to protect and promote health and life and such. This is a great gift from the pandemic.
- Superfluous and unnecessary time away from family love was unavoidably diminished during the lockdown.
- The extreme wastefulness of bogus ‘business travel,’ ‘late nights in the office’ and all other fake, artificial and disingenuous excuses to not tend to family relations conscientiously and sincerely was undermined by the lockdown.
- Commutes – the two-, three-, five-hour chunks of life lost daily – were recognized as wastes of life and wastes of natural resources.
- The lockdown allowed Earth’s environment to recover. We learned about normal, human, daily impact on Earth’s environment from the lockdown and the tech substitutes we quickly put in place to sustain our productivity.
- The flexibility of tech to quickly compensate for those important, needed and desired parts of life were rapidly discovered and developed: banking, telemedicine, dance lessons, time with friends and colleagues.
- The limitations of physical geography were dismantled as people discovered a ‘wider circle of friends,’ a more available chance to ‘renew old friendships’ and the chance to bring in or attend professional speakers; all arose rapidly during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“This is a quick, superficial and undeveloped list. But millions quickly discovered massive promise to rewrite life in the world in positive and enduring ways. I can only imagine the vast explosion of tech discoveries, new uses and advances to increase exponentially and expand on this very trend which has triggered a new, more friendly human-tech interface and integration. Prior to COVID-19, people were intuitive about the personal use of tech for convenience and efficiency. But because what the lockdown primarily undermined was our softer humanness related to creative dreams, and love and friendship, the benefits of tech entered into a new relationship with us; how tech supports our ‘humanness’ (we like to dance, we like to sing), not just our convenience and efficiency (how do I get the best seat on the plane, how do I know when an Amazon price has dropped). Humans, being natural entrepreneurs and profit-seekers, should see an infinite horizon to develop a hitherto untapped universe of tech-human relations and integration. A new universe was born through this.”
Perry Hewitt, an executive with Ithaka, an organization advancing global higher education through innovative use of digital technology, commented, “My greatest hope would be that technology will enable high-quality, engaging and affordable online learning at scale. For higher education in particular, I hope we can use technology effectively to deliver, measure and credential learning in a way that is meaningful for individuals, beneficial to communities and recognized by employers. Few would dispute that the current model is broken from a cost perspective, or that the benefit of one-time, on-campus learning is an effective approach for a 21st-century workforce. We now have enough examples of universities like Georgia Tech to know we can deliver value at a lower cost; how can we extend this to greater and lesser public universities before access to education, like health care, is in the hands of employers?”
Alex Halavais, associate professor of critical data studies, Arizona State University, predicted, “Our memory of the pandemic will be short, but the impact on our institutions will be long. The pandemic was a catalyst for changes that had long been in play and it has sent unbalanced institutions toppling. Nowhere is that more clear than in education. Schools and universities find themselves reeling, and it seems they have difficulty looking more than a few weeks into the future. In terms of school, it has made parents rethink the role of school and think seriously in a way that they have not before about the value of schooling. Is it a place for learning fixed curricula? Is it a place for learning to socialize in certain ways? Is it a way to care for children while the parents work? It is, of course, all of these things and more, but the sudden cancellation of school for many parents has led them to think about what functions it plays in their lives and what alternatives there may be. It has also, by necessity, made them confront the reality of online school. For parents who have the privilege to now work from home, they have entered into a new set of expectations around parenting while working. Just as work-from-home has gained more acceptance (and, indeed, as many employers and workers find that they can be at least as effective working from home and that this reduces many of the traditional expenses of employers), they are thrust into an environment in which they must also be teachers and caretakers throughout the day. These new stresses, nonetheless, have opened up opportunities for those who offer online learning experiences for young students. The shift has been rapid, and while there will certainly be a swing back toward in-person teaching and activities, many will come away from the current changes with more robust online offerings that will continue through to 2025. Indeed, as the children of more well-off and professional parents are more likely to stay away from school as it reopens in 2020, I think we will see a refocusing of financial resources toward online learning at that level. This will come through at the university level as well. A number of universities were already well-situated to transition to online and ‘flexible’ learning. The latter will be the legacy of the pandemic for universities and further accelerate the concentration of the industry in the U.S. By 2025, a much larger number of students will attend universities in more flexible ways, taking the majority of their courses online. Much of this was a move that was already underway. As a people in a larger number of professional roles are expected to work from home or at a distance, online education will better prepare them for that role.”
Amy Zalman, global futurist and founder and CEO of Prescient, responded, “For those who have access to digital technologies in the first place – the global middle class – such technologies seem poised to be more pervasively part of the daily weave than at present. Daily work routines, forms of entertainment and peer connection and security will be augmented by the same technologies as at present, but more intensively. As a global collective, our current focus on data analytics of all sorts to help us navigate the present crisis will make its way into the way many more people experience the world, even if they were not analytics focused previously. For example, I may be accustomed to checking the weather and the stock market now, but might add to my day five to 10 other near-term trend lines to try to understand and help me navigate whether I should see people, go to a particular location, buy tickets to an event, start worrying about my employment status, enroll my child in college, etc.”
Aram Sinnreich, a professor of communication studies at American University who specializes in law and technology, commented, “As harmful as it has been to our health and our economy, I think COVID-19 has the potential to inspire significant change for the better in America and throughout the world at large. It exposes the limitations of authoritarian political regimes. It reveals the human toll of disinformation and science denialism. It has illuminated the limited utility of strong intellectual property controls, such as the patents preventing scientists from developing effective therapies. It has shown us how effectively cities can function without automobile traffic. It has revealed to us how delicate and costly our global supply chains are. It has shown us how essential online community is and how important it is that we close gaps in accessibility and expertise. It has revealed how bias may be engineered into digital communications platforms. It has shown how useful economic safety nets – both existing ones, such as Medicare, and prospective ones, like health care for all and universal basic income – are in maintaining the peace and stability of a large, complex society. I believe we have an opportunity to rethink our social, technological, economic and political values in light of these revelations, and that our responses to these crises may contribute to making the world more equitable, and to raising the quality of life for all humans. I hope for more accessible and egalitarian online communications. More distributed and efficient global supply chains. Open-source solutions for medical research. Accountability for online disinformation. More focus on engineering privacy into digital platforms. Less tech-solutionism and more holistic approaches to understanding sociotechnical challenges.”
Narelle Clark, a longtime network technology administrator and leader based in Australia, said, “I hope that we can develop privacy-respecting apps that can support a populace that is weatherworn and damaged by the pandemic. One major need is apps that assist in supporting mental health that have a basis in science and assist in procuring goods and services without disclosing rafts of private data without consent and for no good purpose. Telehealth uptake will continue and be delivered in increasingly reliable ways with vastly better diagnostic tools via image-recognition and access to AI and bigger data sets for machine learning. Hopefully this will be done in privacy-protecting ways. The pandemic has also driven open sourcing of vital medical technology so that local people can repair and replace worn parts of critical items such as ventilators – I hope this opening up of access continues. The closed-supply-chain approach where the supplier controls vital medical equipment from origin to end of life has worked against the skilling up of local biomedical engineers, and it has driven up prices of vital equipment when things could have been simpler and easier to support locally with local know-how and locally sourced parts. Opening up of educational resources in order to stimulate the economy may improve access to knowledge and information. Perhaps we will see an increase in trust of scientific institutions and actual science because pandemics expose the need for fact-based approaches.”
Soraya Chemaly, an advocate and activist with The Representation Project working to change attitudes about gender norms, predicted, “There will be technology related to better health outcomes, built with a greater awareness of how biases infuse standards, diagnoses, remedies and solutions, could make life better. Also, given the pandemic’s effects on all kinds of travel, tech that creates new and different forms of community-building and travel both might evolve in ways it might not have for years. Technology that enables more widespread political engagement and counters some of the more primitive forms of voter suppression. Reproductive health care technologies, biotech, might also benefit from the necessary restraints on medically unnecessary, paternalistic and oppressive in-person consultations for women. Additionally, I don’t see how American colleges and universities can sustain their economic models without long-term adaptations that incorporate better remote learning.”
Donald A. Hicks, a professor of public policy and political economy at the University of Dallas whose research specialty is technological innovation, observed, “Ever more opportunities to participate in an economy are being revealed by the current quarantine requirements. Organizations’ ‘footprints’ are likely to be permanently reconfigured to allow some portion of their employees to eliminate the time and cost of commuting from their budgets and still develop a career using new technologies. This will reduce the barriers to participation for young parents, the disabled, the elderly, etc. With a broader and more diverse set of skills available, one can expect new varieties of entrepreneurship and new ties between larger organizations and heretofore ‘fringe’ talents left unattached to organizations previously. From these expanded human capital resources, expect new goods and services, new business models and new definitions of ‘career.’ And, especially, a new openness to alternative ways to connect to an economy. This will require a new breed of leadership, new models for continuing education, etc.
“Digital technologies, not unlike all previous technologies that have changed the world, will succeed as they become more invisible, part of the leitmotif of an evolving society/civilization. Think of electricity, wireless connectivity, etc. Without anyone noticing it except in the rearview mirror, the intangible share of U.S. investment (value-added) overtook the tangible share by the early 1990s, a quarter-century ago! (See page 40 of]Haskel, Jonathan, Westlake and Stians’ ‘Capitalism Without Capital,’ Princeton University Press.) The resulting recombinant innovations have expanded exponentially ever since and can be expected to continue to do so. There are always trade-offs associated with technical advances. Some people, places and activities will be left behind on any such journey. However, in all previous technology transitions, the net benefits have made the changes worthwhile. There have always been increases in health, wealth and welfare, although some of these changes are not appreciated until well after the fact. Political economist Joseph Schumpeter’s work is a good guide here.
“Expect significant opposition to changes that are unfolding from the American Medical Association, media and political jurisdictions from local to federal, as new technologies redistribute power and resources. The real worry is what can happen to individual liberty when new technology is in the hands of ruthless regimes such as those in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc. – or even malign groups in Western nations like our own. Digital technologies in and of themselves are neutral forces; their potential negative impacts become apparent when put to malign use. Over the long term, however, new technologies will inevitably erode the power of even the most tyrannical regime as their capabilities are undercut and/or eliminated.”
Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, said, “My biggest hope is that a developer revolt and antitrust campaign against Apple will begin to end the period of intense centralized control that the iPhone and App Store ushered in. When you trace it back, most of the problems we’re seeing with persistent monopoly power in the tech space really accelerated in the late 2000s with the rise of the iPhone. Mobile devices made computing vastly more accessible, but they also vastly increased the barriers to entry, introducing new gatekeepers, less organic discovery, higher-stakes winner-take-all dynamics, a much more constrained space for digital creation and a tendency towards pure consumption or highly mediated creation. I’m fairly sure that if you remove the underlying bottleneck of the app store and make mobile app development and distribution work more like desktop apps or the open web, this will start to erode. I also hope advances coming from the cryptocurrency space make it more possible to build complex modern applications on peer-to-peer networks, and that just as computing moved from the web to mobile, computing will move from centralized clouds to peer-to-peer networks built with free and open source software.
“My final hope is that the trend line from Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring to #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo to the Hong Kong protests to #DefundThePolice continues and the internet continues to create ever more miraculous social movements that achieve shocking new milestones in how they’re able to change debate and rewrite rules of public discourse. … The days of mandatory commuting for three or more hours, five days a week just to be in an office are behind us. Office presence will start to be more optional, partial, negotiated and used sparingly in the moments where it matters most, even after we all have been vaccinated. Supermarkets have always been a disaster for human health and well-being. I expect that many people who have transitioned to grocery delivery services, community-supported agriculture groups and outdoor farmers markets will only sparingly return to supermarkets, and the groceries delivered will increasingly come more directly from suppliers. For high-end and environmentally conscious consumers, in season at least, food will increasingly come directly from farmers. This will take some time, but COVID-19 accelerated it.”
Meryl Alper, a professor of communication studies at Northeastern University expert in children and families’ uses of technology, wrote, “My hopes center on new forms of care and mutual aid that technology has the potential to enable. I hope that a greater percentage of people telecommuting to work leads to more value placed on child care, elder care and personal care attendants. This includes higher pay within the profession and opportunities for professional advancement, particularly as these workers are more likely to be women of color. I also hope that non-disabled people develop a greater appreciation for and prioritize the skills and talents of disabled people, and in doing so, extend the opportunity to telecommute from home to this population beyond a period in which it is deemed necessary for the non-disabled. Post-coronavirus, more people will be living with the chronic health conditions that it increasingly appears come with surviving the virus. It is my hope that broader disability solidarity forms online and offline in response, a solidarity that is critical of all the ways in which technological ‘innovation’ has also generated disabling conditions, especially for those already marginalized by their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and country of origin.”
Melissa R. Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, commented, “People will be more able to access health care and other services without needing to find transportation. There will be more events online, such as dance performances, musical performances, etc. There will be more access to events that used to be expensive and require tickets and travel to broader swaths of Americans.”
Michael Muller, a researcher for a top global technology company whose work is focused on human aspects of data science and ethics and values, said, “The privileged among us are developing new skills in working virtually or remotely. These skills with technologies of virtuality will allow us to live where we want, rather than being constrained by proximity to workplaces. I hope that conferences and other gatherings will continue to allow remote participation. If we can reduce travel and lodging costs for conferences, then we can include people from poorer countries and poorer institutions. We need the benefits of their ideas! And they need the opportunities of full participation.”
Stowe Boyd, a consulting futurist expert in technological evolution and the future of work, wrote, “We frame the discussion about ‘working from home’ in the wrong way. It’s not that we’re ‘working from home,’ which many of us did relatively regularly before the plague. It’s that we are not working at the office, at all. Unlike some, I don’t think that the new norm will be zero time in the office, it will be minimum office. Research has shown that the people who are most productive and engaged are those who spend 60% to 80% working out of office. That translates to 20% to 40% in the office. So, ‘remote’ – isn’t, it isn’t remote, I mean, psychologically or emotionally. Management has wised up and seen that what was formerly considered impossible, isn’t. Connecting the dots, businesses are likely to consider downtown office space a costly indulgence rather than a necessary requirement, so they will decrease that cash outlay as an obsolete cultural belief. This will translate to increased use of communication and community-cation technologies: most obviously video conferencing, but work technologies across the board will be more widely adopted and provide a basis for deep analytics and AI underlying the post-normal workspace (no longer a ‘workplace’). These techniques will see more of the work of managers being taken up by the machinery of what can best be considered business-operating systems. There was a time when a customer on one cell network could not text message someone on a competitor network. That was overturned by legal requirements from governmental bodies. Today, if I am a user of Slack and you are a user of Microsoft Teams, we can’t share a chat room. This is an artificial barrier to cross-company collaboration, and I hope that the (minimal) technological barriers to fixing this will be overcome, perhaps by government intervention.”
Howard Rheingold, an internet pioneer expert in exposing the social and political implications of modern communication media, said, “Several changes that have been forced by the pandemic could lead to positive trends:
- Face-to-face conferences where thousands of people fly hundreds and thousands of miles to gather together will disappear or be severely reduced, with online conferences often substituted – thus reducing a significant amount of carbon pollution.
- From my own experience, working from home can be more productive, but total absence from the office can be counterproductive. However, if one in four office workers worked from home one day out of four, traffic and carbon pollution reduction would be significant.
- In the absence of federal leadership and a cacophony of state and municipal leaderships during the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual aid – often facilitated online – is thriving. Perhaps that will continue.
- With more and more people socializing online, perhaps it is an opportunity to build out a ‘green space’ of social networks and online communities outside the paralyzing and toxic enclosure of Facebook.
- Teaching online is not a matter of delivering your normal curriculum via videoconference but instead is a powerful pedagogy when it is done right. Universities without endowments are in trouble, and unfortunately, many will go under if they can’t get tuition-paying students back on campus soon. I taught blended courses at Berkeley and Stanford for 10 years: three hours of face-to-face each week combined with six to nine hours online during the week between classes. I hope to see more online socializing outside of Facebook. More telecommuting. Fewer face-to-face conferences. Better preparation for, and awareness of, potential pandemics. More peer learning online. I am concerned about facial recognition, universal CCTV surveillance, hacking of essential services and uses of AI in warfare and law enforcement.”
Marjory S. Blumenthal, director of the science, technology and policy program at RAND Corporation, observed, “The pandemic has shifted the balance in favor of tech-mediated interactions – more online shopping, more delivery, more telework, more telehealth, more uses of video in socializing (and work), more online learning (including about how to troubleshoot when things go wrong). … Although today’s apps relating to contact-tracing leave room for improvement, in five years there should be more meaningful tech support for coping with infectious disease in a privacy-preserving way. And five years should be enough time to redress the uneven access to the broadband capacity that is needed to achieve the benefits listed above, as well as to develop bandwidth-conserving approaches. Finally, other kinds of technologies (involving physical equipment and facilities) should be more available to provide safety to people whose jobs require physical presence in a shared space, as well as at least some reengineering of how those jobs get done.
“I expect progress to facilitate more – and more extensive – use of technology by people with differing abilities (both cognitive and physical). Today’s jokes about the three most often-heard words being ‘you’re on mute’ demonstrate that everyone has moments of needing to adapt to technology, and more thought about design that anticipates or at least adapts to different behaviors would be good – such design is certainly possible. There are also opportunities to use tech to help people who feel disempowered have a voice, beginning with people in positions on the lower economic rungs who may hesitate to speak up about workplace concerns or to help those knocked off their anticipated paths by the pandemic to find another path. Perhaps today’s crisis will also help to achieve more of the long-touted potential of open data and open systems (especially if some of the pandemic-motivated systems and ventures endure). From today’s vantage point, the addictive qualities of technology may have been exacerbated by extended stay-at-home routines, something that may endure even with less physical distancing. Meanwhile, the challenges of proliferating modes of deception (deepfakes, bots, fake news and so on) call for new mindsets that will take time and likely greater public awareness to set in. Tech companies have choices to make; we can already see some responsiveness to policymaker and public-interest advocate concerns.”
Andy Opel, professor of communications at Florida State University, said, “The virus has revealed the deep inequalities in our economic system. This embodied learning at a global scale is going to prompt a rearrangement of economic rewards, recognizing and rewarding what is widely seen as ‘essential’ and putting limits on speculation and the financialization of life that has played such a powerful role in the widening inequality of our time. The power of virtual collaboration is being felt in meaningful ways, but, at the same time, there is a deep longing for physical presence and intimacy that cannot be replaced. I don’t think the changes in the role of digital technologies will be as profound as the recognition of the power of personal interaction, the shared experience of an audience, or the breaking of bread with family, friends and colleagues. Technology has the potential to make our lives more efficient, reducing energy consumption and fostering a connection to how our daily decisions impact the natural systems that sustain life. The electrification of transportation is one example of the move toward a low-carbon economy where digital technology will reward efficiency.”
Benjamin Shestakofsky, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, commented, “The COVID-19 crisis has already spurred new organizing efforts among essential workers in sectors including logistics, food service and education. The impact of social movements supporting workers’ demands for improved compensation, working conditions and recognition in the workplace is likely to extend far beyond it. The lasting impact of the crisis on our use of digital technologies is likely to depend on the duration of the pandemic itself. The longer it lasts, the more governments, businesses and individuals will generate and maintain new, digitally mediated routines (e.g., increased telework, increased use of tracking technologies in the workplace). The most vulnerable workers are most likely to see their privacy, well-being and economic security threatened by digital technologies. ‘Low-tech’ changes may be just as important as ‘high-tech’ improvements. For example, states can protect voters from COVID-19 while simultaneously bolstering democratic participation in the long term by switching from in-person voting to vote-by-mail systems. By 2025, the increased appetite for regulating tech giants could result in an industry that is more accountable to principles of democratic discourse (e.g., Facebook) and workers’ rights (e.g., Amazon).”
Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, an advocate/activist, predicted, “Digital technology will dominate all aspects of life, further detaching humans from one another. There will not be a ‘new normal,’ but rather a continuously changing abnormal as humans and institutions draw further and further apart in a radically fragmented society. Eyeball-to-eyeball professional and personal contact will be intentionally set aside in deference to digital video communication. Diminishing resources will lead to a national mood of scarcity, giving rise to aggressive competition between individuals and groups. Economic security will become a dream for the great majority of the citizenry. Tech-related changes in medicine will lead to a continual state of breakthrough developments for the betterment of humankind, but fewer and fewer citizens will be able to afford the new diagnostic and treatment regimens. Positive developments in broadband accessibility will be the Trojan Horse of the era, transforming the digital realm into a force of control by corporate and governmental entities. By inviting technology into their homes, working class and middle-class individuals will be totally relieved of their privacy. What, me worry? It makes little sense to worry about the inevitable. Five years from now, more and more homes will become beholden to technology and the technicians who operate it. Big data will be drilled down into almost every aspect of daily life. Video interfaces between home and governmental/corporate interests will be all-pervasive. There is no escape from Big Brother, once ago a fiction and now a reality.”
Charlie Kaufman, a security architect with Dell EMC, said, “Once COVID-19 stops being a direct major influence on society – which is probably at least two years away, but probably fewer than five – it will have accelerated changes that would have happened eventually anyway. The biggest of these is that more of our lives will take place in cyberspace, with more people telecommuting from home using conferencing tools for meetings. This will be a huge benefit for the environment, reducing both carbon emissions from commuting and the need for the duplicate indoor space we consume having both an office and a home. This will benefit the people who thrive in such an environment and hurt the people who don’t. Also important is the continuing trend of physical stores disappearing, as people favor ordering things on the web and having them delivered. In social interactions, being tall, big and loud will no longer give people the ability to dominate an interaction. On the other hand, being aggressive and rude will probably still win out. For people who live alone, it could be a very lonely existence, and there will likely be an increase in mental health problems. Technology will obsolete more of society’s worst jobs, which could be good news for some people but may be bad news for the people currently occupying those jobs. The richer society that results could enable them to do more rewarding jobs, or it could leave them in a permanent underclass. The increase in telecommuting will be a boon to the economy and the environment.”
Vincent Alcazar, a retired U.S. military strategist experienced in global intelligence, wrote, “COVID-19 is the catalyst for displacement, dislocation and more marginalization. The human toll itself will affect two to three following generations. It is those generations whose following effects will be what we might best see and measure to understand impact. However, that will all successfully evade measurement because what will lie hidden are all of the events and opportunities that did not accrue in people’s lives.”
Andre Popov, a principal software engineer for a large technology company, predicted, “Remote/off-site work will become more acceptable to businesses. Generally, this will probably lead to more atomization of society, weaker interpersonal interactions. Internet infrastructure companies and large datacenter operators are the winners. Transportation, entertainment, hospitality, etc., are the obvious losers, although, e.g., the entertainment industry can transform to meet the new reality. In a way, this is a trimming-down of nonessential businesses. It makes for more efficiency, but also detracts. We are probably living the ‘new normal’ right now: Microbial life mutates rapidly, and we will surely see COVID-20 and so on. There is a growing accumulation of power and resources within the corporations that own the internet infrastructure. Content delivery networks, cloud companies and telecom companies are the world’s computer and data storage. An individual has zero privacy from these corporations. And that’s the case now, even before the wide spread of Internet of Things devices.”
Sean Mead, senior director of strategy and analytics at Interbrand, said, “The average person will have less income, worse access to credit and greater job insecurity. There will be massive economic dislocation as continuing aftershocks from the large number of small-business failures and the collapse of financial markets affect people for years. People will offload more of their administrative activities and communications with others to digital assistants. Legislatures will be confronted with the need for clearer laws around the responsibilities for, use of, and problems caused by digital agents. We’ll see the start of the fracturing of the internet into geographically bordered networks and into separations between secure networks that require positive identification and less-trustworthy networks. Many parts of the digital economy benefit so strongly from network effects that the market leaders become natural monopolies. This is particularly true with distribution platforms for communications, the monopolization of which are particularly pernicious. Because of widespread phone installations and voluntary grants of phone permissions, the Googles and Facebooks of the world can build intelligence tools like association networks and location history tracking that would be the envy of NSA and GCHQ planners from the near past. There are few real controls on how this information is utilized.”
Gerry Ellis, an accessibility and usability consultant, commented, “Employers will try to set the balance at a point where people spend most time at home as this can save the organization money. This will suit some employees fine – e.g., those who live far away from their office – so they do not have a long daily commute, and those with adequate physical space in which to work who do not have children or other caring responsibilities at home. However, for many it will not suit. They may not have a large living space and thus nowhere from which to work. Their Wi-Fi connection may be poor. They may have children at home who interrupt them as they work. They may not wish to interrupt others in the home. They may miss the personal collegiality of working in an office. They may miss the technical support or support of others when an issue arises, particularly if they are new to the organization. Some may find it difficult to learn and adopt to the particular ways of working of the organization if they are not physically working close to their peers, again particularly for new employees. There are also costs to staying at home rather than going to an office such as those for extra food, heating, lighting and insurance costs. Insurance is a particular issue of concern; if an employee does not inform their insurer that they are working from home, is their insurance valid should they – for instance – have a fall during normal working hours? If they do inform the insurer, will their insurance costs rise as their home is being used as an office? Working from home for people with disabilities has its own particular issues. Reasonable accommodations that may be available in the office may not be available at home, e.g., adapted furniture and specialized technical support. I would expect that there will be conflict in the next number of years between employers who wish to make savings and the unions representing employees who may not wish to be at home full time because of the issues raised above. The final point I would make is that line managers may find it much more difficult to build good teamwork, brainstorm and assess employee performance if regular physical meetings do not occur.”
The best and worst of human nature are amplified
These experts see evidence that both sides of human nature are being amplified by the pandemic. The crisis is enhancing digital interconnectedness that engenders empathy, better awareness of the ills facing humanity and positive public action. On the flip side, they said they expect that some individuals, cities and nation-states will become more insular and competitive as survival mode kicks in. Some say xenophobia, bigotry and closed communities will also increase and these changes will cascade through all aspects of society – including international relations, the composition of social and economic safety nets for vulnerable citizens and basic human relations.
Steven Miller, professor emeritus of information systems at Singapore Management University, observed, “The worst of it: The source of income was either stopped or substantially reduced for a lot of industries, organisations and individuals. It will take several years for these entities to recover or they may never fully recover. A number of them – small, medium and large – will cease to exist. This will be painful economically and in other emotional and behavioural ways for the people involved. There is no denying there will be a thread of impact along this ‘worse-off’ line. The better things to emerge arise from the fact that COVID led people to change things they never thought they could change, at least not in such a short time period. COVID has led people to try things, to reimagine things and to do things. Specialists in evolutionary biology and related aspects of geology and climate history refer to this as ‘punctuated equilibrium.’ COVID will have that type of effect on how we live in the broad sense of things, including all levels of analysis from individuals to groups, to organisations, to institutions, to societies. We know the terrible things about COVID – the large number of deaths, the huge amount of suffering, the many examples of dislocation. There will be endless examples of the harsh realities and byproducts.
“Exactly because it has been such an extreme situation it will catalyze new ways of thinking and doing, new approaches, new things, and all of these changes will persist beyond the period of medical threat, and will undoubtedly change the way we live, both directly and indirectly. For more than a decade to come or a decade after the medical threat eventually subsides – however long that may take – we will see the equivalent of a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of innovation catalyzed by COVID. These changes and innovations will go well beyond things directly related to dealing with the medical threats and contagion now or in other pandemics to follow. They will open up countless new possibilities for the way we work, live, learn and play. We will have the Dickensian ‘worst of times’ and ‘best of times.’ Both forces will propagate across various societies simultaneously. Those looking to be optimistic as well as those looking to be pessimistic will find ample examples and supporting evidence for their point of view. While COVID is extraordinary in some senses relative to contemporary history in recent decades, it is not so different than situations the world has encountered throughout the arc of history in a set of forces [that] simultaneously propel change. Somehow, the human species adapts, as it always seems to do, and things keep on keeping on, though in different ways.”
John Harlow, smart cities research specialist at the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, explained how complicated things are in 2020, “We are stacking crises here: state violence, climate change, opioid epidemic, COVID-19 pandemic, historic unemployment and the disastrous Trump presidency’s effects on geopolitics. I’m sure you could name more. The ‘new normal’ in 2025 seems most likely to be constant change to absorb historically unusual threats, zoonotic pandemics, extreme weather, food insecurity, housing insecurity, unstable political systems, etc. I think the world will be less stable because of these drivers. … There are so many paths from here to 2025. Could we all be on Signal, Protonmail and Mastodon, or literally raising a generation of teens addicted to a Chinese Communist Party intelligence agency spy platform? The internet could cease to exist as we know it due to trolls, the concentration of everything into walled gardens or infrastructure challenges. Could we all be deep into solving climate change problems? 2025 feels like 2020, constant change and uncertainty. …
“The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests against a half millennium of white-supremacist state violence and extrajudicial killings have amassed support and momentum for change beyond anything I can remember from my lifetime. The premise of abolition invites us to imagine a world without police and policing, and there is building to be done to replace those retributive oppressive structures with care-based, harm-reducing alternatives.”
Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media and associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, commented, “We have the chance to build a different type of internet around video co-presence and sustained online interaction. The systems we’re using now to create public spaces online are either extensions of social networks built around surveillance capitalism, or they’re simple extensions of two-way video chat. We have the opportunity to design and build spaces that have a variety of uses, support different behaviors and norms and operate on academic, civic and other logics, rather than a market logic. As we learn to teach, meet, brainstorm, hang out and govern in these new spaces, we may start designing a digital future that’s radically different from the one we’re starting to fight against.”
Bill Dutton, professor of media and information policy at Michigan State University and former director of the Oxford Internet Institute, pointed out that people must be connected to participate but many are not. “The pandemic has underscored the centrality of the internet and related digital media to everyday life and work, so that efforts to paint digital media as harmful will face increased scrutiny, along with the policies and regulations that a harm model is fostering, such as censorship of online content. There may also be more acknowledgment of and awareness of the importance of grappling with the digital divides locally and globally. Efforts to recover revenues and institute more governmental regulation of digital media will undermine innovation and the promises of an open, global internet.”
Ian O’Byrne, assistant professor of education at the College of Charleston, said, “I worry that humans will move away from physical interactions and spend more time socializing via digital tools and spaces. The algorithms and echo chambers will continue to distance social groups as the machines consider how best to keep us satiated and always clicking in. Attention is the new economy, and when people are enraged they’re more entrenched in these platforms. Social distancing could lead to community distancing, as neighbors may feel that they have even less in common with their peers as they only see what they want to see online. It may seem as if we all live in different media, information and social spaces that rarely, if ever intersect.”
Maggie Jackson, former Boston Globe columnist and author of “Distracted Reclaiming Our Focusina World of Lost Attention,” wrote, “I am deeply concerned that the move to an even greater reliance on virtual relationships during the pandemic will inspire people to increasingly accept the diminished standards of togetherness that technology offers. The definition of a Dark Age in part is a ‘forgetting’ – and it’s possible that at least some sectors of society will be increasingly tempted to leave behind the discomfiting hard work of trying to understand one another fully. Relating fully takes lifelong practice, and humans even in the best of times often fail to do so well; an over-reliance on technology socially may leave us less and less able to work past difference and deliberately pursue complexity in relations.”
Rebecca Theobald, assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, observed, “The way societies are responding to the challenges faced by the pandemic reflects their willingness to invest in the future. This is demonstrated by the sacrifices or inconveniences the people living in a country agree to undertake; the amount of resources designated for children, young people and the disadvantaged; and the ability of the community to discuss differences in a rational manner, starting by agreement about basic frameworks of the state, whether that is democracy, theocracy or autocracy. In 2025, the ‘new normal’ will be most affected by the changes brought about by rising seas, warming temperatures, changing habitats, increasing vulnerability to disease and multiple other issues documented by scientists across the world. The communities that will be most successful – countries, provinces, cities or towns – are those that are able to examine the facts of a situation, whether it be details of insufficient wealth due to systemic discrimination based on a characteristic the dominant group finds abhorrent or irritating or the evidence of how common food sources are no longer producing the nutrition necessary for a society to subsist and alter their activities so that all people in their community benefit.”
Miguel Alcaine, head of the International Telecommunication Union area office in Central America, said, “The status of digital transformation before COVID-19 was directly proportional to a country’s resilience. The digital world has shown us preexisting human conditions on steroids. Unconnected people living in urban areas have been the most affected. Vulnerable groups have been the most affected, as is always the case during catastrophes. In contrast, the better-connected a country is or a people are, the better their resilience. One thing that has changed for the time being as the pandemic evolves is the general awareness is that digital transformation is a must. Even those in politics realize that now. We need to work to take advantage of this window of opportunity, which might close after the emergency abates.”
William L. Schrader, an internet pioneer, mentor, advisor and consultant best known as founder and CEO of PSINet, wrote, “Look at the drivers of mankind first: safety, health, wealth. For those without safety and health, while wealth can help them gain safety and health, they cannot possibly achieve wealth without the first two. Thus, fear becomes the primary driver for most of mankind – 99.5%? As for drivers of business which includes technology, the concepts of global warming and global supply chains to optimize both costs and time to market will wane due to pressure from nationalist governments like [the] U.S., UK, Brazil, China and so many others. Most countries will attempt to move to pure domestic production, or at most, regional production and supply chains. That drives the reciprocal for the consumption side; people will buy domestically or regionally prior to buying the best. That goes for auto, telephones, computers, home gadgets of all kinds and even planes (but I doubt any firm, including airlines, will buy planes very soon). Economic security is gone, especially in America, due to Trump. Yes, personal and professional lives are altered permanently, routines will be all new, fear and anger will drive most people globally. The rich will get richer and the poor will riot and be killed by law enforcement and the military will stand by and wait. If the military engages, then the rules of engagement will change.”
Jim Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, predicted, “Many people will be somewhat worse off in 2025 as a result of the pandemic. Disruption is never easy – particularly when it is rapid. Lives will be upended in the transition to a ‘new normal.’ Jobs have been lost and many will never come back. I do believe the economy will recover – at least in the developed world, but many will be left behind. Many older Americans will face an uncertain retirement, particularly as the cost of living rises with inflation driven by higher levels of government spending and the economic costs of the pandemic. Just like other businesses, many colleges and universities will not survive. Those that do survive will be transformed – businesses and providers of higher education. In this disruption, where physical distancing will still be a part of the new normal, digital technologies will play a critical role. These technologies have already transformed the way we live and work, but the ‘demands of the day’ (a la Max Weber) will dramatically accelerate this transformation. Some will thrive, some will cope and some will be left behind.
“The very real health risks associated with COVID-19 are likely to lead [the] developed world to become more insular, and the bits of prosperity that trickled down to the developing world will become leaner. Not a pretty picture. To mitigate the negative consequences will require strong leadership on the international stage with the willingness and authority to speak out for ‘positive-sum solutions’ in contrast to zero-sum thinking. This kind of leadership – from the U.S. but also in collaboration with others in the developed and developing world – will be essential to manage this disruption while averting disaster.”
Bill Woodcock, executive director at Packet Clearing House, commented, “While there are a number of unexpected beneficial outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re being learned at great cost in human life and well-being, not to mention economic cost. We’ve learned that we can make immense gains in global inclusivity in newly virtualized events that previously required expensive, time-consuming and carbon-heavy air travel, and in allowing people to work from home rather than make daily commutes. The meetings at which important decisions are made should remain virtual. They should remain equally accessible to those from developing countries. They should remain open, and not return to their previously behind-closed-doors ways. We’ve learned that being more careful about our hygiene benefits us with respect to many diseases, not just the one of most pressing immediate concern. But these lessons could easily be lost, and the 600,000 lives that have been lost to learn them will have been wasted if we don’t take them to heart. At the same time, the inequality of distribution of wealth, which I consider our second-greatest problem after the destruction of the environment, has been severely exacerbated by COVID-19. The rich use ‘disaster capitalism’ to ensure that they profit regardless of the situation, while the poor are most heavily impacted by both the disease and its economic effects. I worry that the intersection of the surveillance economy, omnipresent data-brokering, AI and the pragmatic psychology of getting-people-to-do-things-they-ought-not is really coming to a head. The worries of skeptics of even five years ago now seem quaint. The machinations of evil capitalists of 15 years ago now seem benign, in a Nixon-goes-to-China sort of way. Although there are quite a few people within the industry who recognize this, too many of them are happy to profit from it and not enough are bringing the danger to the attention of the public, regulators or policymakers. Unless these practices are curbed, we’re headed for a really dystopian nightmare.”
Patrick Larvie, global lead for the workplace user experience team at one of the world’s largest technology companies, observed, “We are seeing a breakdown in international cooperation (e.g., weakness in the European Union, the U.S. pulling out temporarily from the World Health Organization), and this will make cross-border coordination of epidemiological surveillance much more difficult. While the world will be connected, people will be less mobile than before. I fear that this will lead to increasing restrictions on travel and a rollback of international trade. Cross-border distrust and suspicion may lead to increasing nationalism. Technology will be leveraged as part of a surveillance strategy. Communication will likely be less free and far more subject to search and seizure, whether that means the devices or the medium.”
Michael Froomkin, professor of law at University of Miami Law School, expert in legal and policy issues relating to new technologies, said, “Even in the best case, the economic consequences of the pandemic will take a long time to heal. Meanwhile, subsidies are going more to the wealthy than neediest. They’ll need to be paid for eventually, and probably not by the wealthiest. Changes in terms of work also won’t work to the workers’ advantage. Efforts will be made to offload as many costs as possible onto the worker (e.g., home office when applicable). I do expect one good thing: This will accelerate the push for full national health coverage in the U.S. The digital divide will be more serious as we move more and more services and public and private life online.”
Michael Marien, director of Global Foresight Books, futurist and compiler of the annual list of the best futures books of the year, wrote, “The ‘new normal’ will certainly include more emphasis on health security and may include more emphasis on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. On the other hand, there may be more authoritarian regimes based on empty slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First.’ In contrast, there may be more emphasis on the slogan proposed in a column by Thomas Friedman: ‘Respect science (RS), respect nature (RN), respect each other (REA).’ It is highly uncertain as to which set of slogans will prevail, where and for how long. … Good public policy is needed far more than new technology – policy based on RS, RN and REA. The most important tech-related change could well be creating a global technology assessment organization such as the IPCC, modeled on the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, which did excellent work in the 1990s.”
Bryan Alexander, a higher education futures consultant and senior scholar at Georgetown University, responded, “The new normal will mean changes to personal and social lives: greater suspicion of other people and reduced social engagement. … Technology use will be strongly split by national borders, political ideology and views of technology.”
Leslie Daigle, a longtime leader in the organizations building the internet and making it secure, said, “2025 will feature a mixed bag of changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason it’s going to be overall worse for the average person is mostly because of economic impact. I am also concerned that necessary geographic isolation is going to breed more isolationism and xenophobia. While people are anxious to get back to their vacationing habits around the globe, and businesses desperately need to be able to have people travel for work purposes, at the same time people are twitching when they see out-of-state license plates or hear nonlocal accents. On the plus side, we’ve already seen a reduction of seasonal flu impacts (all that hand-washing paid off!) and we can certainly hope that people’s habits have changed for the better, and that medical research is going to achieve not only a vaccine and/or better treatments for COVID-19, but also better knowledge about how this and other viruses work.”
Melissa R. Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, wrote, “Digital technology is being used to help connect people who otherwise might be isolated. Many older people are being taught by younger friends and family members to use Zoom and other video tools to visit with one another. Their comfort levels with these technologies are increasing.”
Meredith Whittaker, a research professor and co-director of NYU’s AI Now research institute, commented, “A primary lesson from the failed U.S. response to COVID-19 is that the ruling class will not act on a crisis if they can protect themselves from said crisis (by quarantining, by divesting risk onto primarily BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] essential workers), and if addressing the crisis would perturb the functioning of capitalism. In this sense, COVID-19 provides an ominous warning about what will happen if we don’t adopt significant structural changes soon, in the face of the looming climate crisis. Climate chaos is already harming people who have suffered from colonialism and structural racism, while those most responsible for climate change – wealthier people in the global north – are more easily able to protect themselves. We are facing a fundamental choice: Do we move to manifest revolutionary change at a global scale, or do we stand by as people who are already vulnerable are made expendable in the name of profit and White supremacy?”
Glenn Edens, professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, previously a vice president at PARC, wrote, “Technology can increase the resiliency of individuals as well as firms, societies, geographic regions and nations – we might find a better balance between globalization versus populism.”
Sean D. Young, executive director at the Institute for Prediction Technology in the University of California–Los Angeles Center for Digital Behavior, responded, “People are being forced to find creative ways to use technologies. The positive side of this is that tech for good will rapidly advance.”
Judith Schoßböck, research fellow at Danube University, Krems, said, “I have hopes in the area of urban planning, smart cities and in general a more energy-efficient way of living together. I also hope that better digital literacy will lead to better options of networking and more personalized ways of living together, particularly for certain groups of society like the elderly.”
Joshua Hatch, a journalist who covers technology issues, commented, “I hope that there’s a recognition that high-speed internet isn’t just a luxury; it’s a necessity for connecting people and providing access to tools and information. I’m not terribly optimistic that leaders will take the steps necessary to provide it, though. Ultimately, there’s an imbalance between technology companies and the public at large. The public can’t have expertise in the issues around technology, so at some point they throw up their hands and give in. A lack of trust in government, and a government that can be bought off, means the public’s guardian won’t be there to protect them. So, ultimately, the public is going to have a difficult time fighting off unscrupulous technology companies – a problem we already see.”
Steve Jones, professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of New Media and Society, responded, “I hope for a greater understanding among the general population of the complicated and prominent role that social media plays in knowledge and action. I’ve long believed and argued that in many ways there is less difference between the online and offline worlds than we seem to admit, and I’d like to see greater acknowledgment of the blurring of that boundary. Will that make life better? Well … not in a techno-utopian sense, I suppose, but it might make us better users of technology, particularly social media, and it might make for more sensible policy discussions, too.”
John Laudun, professor of culture analytics, wrote, “Yes, things will be worse, but that was already our path. I worry less about any given technology and more about who is wielding it and how. … Thanks to the reversed consumer model on which media production and consumption is based, where users are the product sold to advertisers, and to the pinched wallets of most Americans (thanks to depressed wages), I don’t see most of us escaping the information bubbles of our own making in which so many of us now live. Fairness has been overwhelmed by a sense that the only thing that matters is competition. I do not see this trend declining. The result is that the current path we are on, where inequality increases, will only continue.”
Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer active in multistakeholder activities of the International Telecommunication Union and Internet Society, observed, “COVID-19 brings changes that will be different depending on each country and culture. In Europe and Asia, people will embrace social detachment easily even after everyone has been vaccinated. This stems from historical learning from previous pandemics. In the Americas and Africa, social life will not be affected, and after vaccination, people will continue to touch each other as they do today. Despite this, prejudice between races grows and the ‘new normal’ imposes more barriers to migration, economics and education. The gaps in different cultures reacting to pandemic coronavirus will justify more bureaucracy and barriers. … In the socioeconomic field, the ‘new normal’ brings grave retrocession, inequality and racial prejudice. This is a very negative post-pandemic effect that puts global security at risk. We will see more countries closing borders and more cultures being banned. The ‘new normal’ is instigating new laws and procedures for exclusion under COVID-19’s false justification. The question that the ‘new normal’ poses is: ‘How much more can society peacefully carry out?’ I would suggest new discussions and measures on international cooperation to recover rights. The people involved in this effort should not only include the young, rich or White people. Remember, we all share the same planet and we are all affected by events that occur within any single country.”
Rosalie Day, a policy leader and consultancy owner specializing in system approaches to data ethics, compliance and trust, predicted, “Individual isolation is going to become ever more of a problem. Meeting people who don’t share your hobbies or religion will be exacerbated even more than the filter bubble of values and political ideology. People meet people by engaging – for example, on public transit – and they mutually benefit (see the work of Dr. Nicholas Eppley). People will become more sedentary, and obesity will grow from not having to commute and not having to leave your chair. You can ask Alexa to do your shopping and to change your music selection. Further, general nutrition will suffer, because as exposure decreases – becomes less diverse – the individuals and communities eating junk food will know nothing else.”
The director of a major strategic project, recipient of the U.S. National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, responded, “Back in 2013, and again in 2016, a proposal informed by the anthrax events of 2001, West Nile virus in 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States in 2003 was shared with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The proposal at the time was something seen as a safeguard against a ‘low-probability, high-consequence’ event – a natural or human-caused pandemic. The solution was a series of proposals centered around the concept of building an ‘immune system for the planet’ that could detect a novel pathogen in the air, water or soil of the Earth and rapidly sequence its DNA or RNA. … At a minimum, such an immune system for the planet would overcome the limits of waiting for nation-states themselves to alert the international community of outbreaks within their borders. A second reason also was associated with this proposal, namely: exponential changes in technology and create pressures for representative democracies, republics and other forms of deliberative governments to keep up – both at home and abroad. In an era in which precision medicine will be possible, so too will be precision poison, tailored and at a distance. As proposed both in 2013 and again in 2016, this will become a national security issue if we don’t figure out how to better use technology to do the work of deliberative governance at the necessary speed needed to keep up with threats associated with pandemics. The world needs a collective effort to gather and share data to steer society and nations back to full operations, and to provide early indicators and warnings of future pandemics. Current methods for accessing data owned by public and private institutions and private citizens today are not able to guide COVID-19 recovery. The new data-access frameworks in this initiative could succeed while strengthening societal welfare, prosperity and peace around the world.”
David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, based in Switzerland, commented, “One of the results of the pandemic is that it is finally obvious to everyone that we are global. Not only did global connectivity and flows of people spread the virus throughout the world in a matter of weeks, but subsequent shortages of protective materials and medical equipment showed international dependencies. The nationalist reaction of closing borders and blocking flows of people and materials represents a ‘lockdown’ mentality aimed to disrupt connectivity and stop the flow of the virus, but at the cost of disrupting the economic, social and political foundations of the globally networked society. Politically, anti-globalist factions see themselves justified, whereas those who see the nation-state and its populist supporters as outdated point to the need to strengthen international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations.
“Following these two possible trajectories into the economic realm, some expect a reorganization of supply chains and production favoring national independence under the regime of stronger centralized control and regulation even to the point of nationalizing some industries, while others look to decentralized and networked organizations that alone are capable of dealing with the complexity of the situation. The left is calling for a universal basic income and increased government support for those who have lost jobs and income, while the right is calling for deregulation to spur innovation and the quick development and deployment of new business models and new products and services.
“More interesting than the rehearsal of well-known political mythologies is the role of science and technology in the post-pandemic world. Some see the growing dependence of politics on science as a trend toward technocracy, whereas others see how science is unable to deal with pressing moral and social concerns the pandemic raises. On the one hand, society must be guided by scientific evidence and not political ideology, while on the other hand, scientists cannot tell us what values and visions for the future society should follow. Is it right to ‘sacrifice’ lives to ‘preserve’ economic prosperity? How much money is a human life worth? When is life no longer ‘worth’ living? Calls for economic sacrifices in the name of generational solidarity no longer go unquestioned. And these are questions that cannot be answered by science.”