Greetings from Axios Future, where tomorrow never knows.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The novel coronavirus outbreak has caught the U.S. and the world off guard, and it now threatens to break through all containment efforts. But far from being a surprise, the potential pandemic was utterly predictable.
The big picture: The world had its chance to prepare. We failed — and now we'll pay the price.
Flashback: Last October the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHCHS) put on a high-level pandemic simulation focusing on a fictional global outbreak caused by a novel coronavirus that spilled over from animals to humans.
Along with other reporters, I was there to observe the proceedings. What happened during the fictional pandemic eerily presaged the challenges and conundrums the world is facing with COVID-19.
The final results of the Event 201 simulation were horrific, with 65 million people dying in the exercise.
Why it matters: There's no way of knowing yet whether COVID-19 can cause damage on anything close to that scale. But Event 201 and other predictions about the rising threat from new infectious disease gave us plenty of warning about what the world is facing today.
If the current coronavirus can't be contained, the world will be forced to mitigate it as best it can. But few countries are adequately prepared for what would come next — including the U.S.
The bottom line: Too often our response to public health disasters cycles between "crisis and complacency," in the words of a 2019 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But we can see these catastrophes coming all too well.
Xenex robot uses ultraviolet light to kill germs like coronavirus. Photo: Xenex
As coronavirus spreads across the globe, health care professionals are tapping germ-zapping robots and roving tele-doctors to help minimize human exposure to the virus, Axios' Joann Muller writes.
Why it matters: Drones and other new technologies could potentially slow the spread of illness and perhaps speed the delivery of medicines and other support where help is needed.
What's happening: Hundreds of hospitals already use robots to disinfect operating rooms and kill MRSA and other pathogens that cause health care-associated infections.
Now they want to turn them on the coronavirus, too.
What to watch: Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles can now perform a variety of tasks that could be beneficial in fighting epidemics.
Yes, but: The temptation during a humanitarian crisis might be to rush technologies to the scene before they're ready, even bending regulations to do so, which would be a mistake, disaster recovery experts warn.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
For the first time, scientists have used the gene-editing technique CRISPR inside the body of an adult patient, in an effort to cure congenital blindness.
Why it matters: CRISPR has already been used to edit cells outside a human body, which are then reinfused into the patient.
Details: The research was sponsored by biotech companies Editas Medicine of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Allergan of Dublin, Ireland, and was carried out at Oregon Health and Science University.
"It gives us hope that we could extend that to lots of other diseases — if it works and if it's safe," National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins told NPR.
Go deeper: Genetic technology's double-edged sword
As part of our What Matters 2020 series on the critical trends that will outlive this moment, Axios' Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen taped seven short videos discussing topics of consequence to society.
Live facial recognition is a fact of life in Buenos Aires (Dave Gershgorn — OneZero)
The great Tulsa remote working experiment (Sarah Holder — CityLab)
Must growth doom the planet? (Ted Nordhaus — The New Atlantis)
COVID-19 is traveling along the new Silk Road (Parag Khanna — Wired)
Photo: Nicholas Free/Getty Images
A group of futurists have been making long-term bets with each other about how the world will develop — and in 2020, some of them are coming due.
The Long Now Foundation is a San Francisco-based organization that aims to foster long-term thinking.
Long Now also sponsors what are called Long Bets — competitive wagers about whether or not a specific event will occur by a specific time in the future, with the winning money going to charity.
What's new: A number of these Long Bets will be decided over the next year, as Ahmed Kabil and Alice Riddell detailed in a Medium post.
The bottom line: It's too easy to spout predictions about how the world will be in 20 years (except in this newsletter, of course), but putting a little money on the table can inject a note of welcome caution.