Futures Salon: “What’s next for Columbus after the pandemic?”

We open on May 6th, 2020, the first of many digital lunch-hour Futures Salons, with smiling familiar faces. Our topic for the day is the future for Columbus following the active COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. David Staley, Director of the Humanities Institute at The Ohio State University and President of the Columbus Futurists, welcomes the group and starts conversation.

Opening thoughts come with some trepidation and uncertainty for what will happen next, but also with hope to gain insight into how work and life will be changed. We are experiencing a bifurcation of work, between the “real-world” and digital. A certain privilege arises for those who are able to maintain this digital presence without increasing their own risk through required work under the label of essential work. Economically, the hardest hit groups (e.g. retail, home health, food service) are also among the largest in population within the United States as a whole.

Within those occupations deemed as essential, what is the expected economic drive to move those positions into automation? And does this scale with the expected income/cost of transitioning those positions into semi/fully-automated systems? Packaging, shipping, and end-delivery exist as a prime example of this both in terms of pay and in simple numbers of workers. Previous push-back against items like drone delivery, discussed alongside automation often within this group, may dissolve under the increased pressure to maintain this social distance.

Far too many unfortunate examples have arisen in the meat packing industry, where previous status quo elements may present the tipping point between either a push towards finding automation solutions or the resurgence of a labor movement. Will we see a defense line and betterment of these vulnerable essential positions?

In medicine, the home doctor concept has been centralizing into large hospitals, but is moving slowly, becoming more commercialized, and shifting away from a system which requires hands-on tests to a system where such tests may be equally accomplished over telephone, video call, and through mail.

Google can write a symphony, but will we listen to it? What fields will move towards the digital? Architecture, roof repair, and digital modeling are already building the tools and techniques to communicate data between the human designer and the modeling software.

But should this centralization be avoided? Are we building the hotbeds for disease and pandemic by promoting these high-density packaging and treatment facilities? What is the responsibility to move these entities to smaller, safer, local enterprises?

Are big offices necessary? Does the concept of a Zoom call, like this one, become much more normal? Is the bifurcation between who must report and who must not report across education majors and business types divided by access to a strong broadband connection? Does this define internet access as a necessary utility? The previous barriers to global access, such as university access for in-state vs. in-country, may very well be eliminated through this.

As you walk down the street, where do you define your social space? Was that once two feet from someone? Was a handshake your go-to greeting? Perhaps the new discussion should focus on how we define our personal space and the policing of these new boundaries.

Pandemic is not a new concept to the world. Resurgences of highly contagious viruses like the common cold and influenza are prerequisite on our density, the speed at which humans transit the globe, and, most importantly, how we physically interact with each other. Things are changing and the pressure we put on viruses defines how they mutate to survive (e.g. new S (Spike) protein mutations of SARS-CoV-2. LINK). As we adapt to this new world, we continue to watch for the bright future.

Our next event with be Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 at 12:00PM with the tentative topic of “Conversations with Alexa: The future of our interface with machine intelligence.” We hope to see you there!


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