Welcome to Axios Future, where it's April 15 and I just wish I were doing my taxes.
Today's issue is 1,652 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The world is learning the hard way that ramping up manufacturing of the equipment needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic isn't as easy as scaling up the software that has come to dominate our lives.
Why it matters: The U.S. economy has thrived on manipulating bytes, but to face the threats of the future, we'll need to focus on manipulating atoms in the real world.
The big picture: "Software is eating the world," wrote venture capitalist Marc Andreessen in 2011, making the case that the tech industry was poised for years of dominance as it spread to ever more economic sectors.
What's happening: Overnight, the videoconferencing system Zoom became almost as essential to work and social life as the phone.
Yes, but: Software can get us some of the way to beating the pandemic, but the real bottlenecks remain the lack of products needed to fight and track the spread of the coronavirus, from personal protective equipment for health care workers to the testing kits that remain in short supply.
American companies like Budweiser, GM and Ford are trying to retool manufacturing lines to make vital products like sanitizer and ventilators.
What to watch: One possible economic consequence of COVID-19 could be the reshoring of American manufacturing, but that will likely take years. A shortcut is a technology that takes the speed and flexibility of software and applies it to the real world: 3D printing.
The bottom line: While software may be eating the world, there are still parts it can't quite digest — and those happen to be the parts we need right now.
USS Theodore Roosevelt. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Why it matters: The effective loss of one of the U.S. Navy's prime assets because of the spreading pandemic underscores the threat infectious disease poses to American military readiness — and the failure of the national defense establishment to prepare for it.
The U.S. spends nearly $700 billion a year on national defense — more than the combined budgets of its closest competitors. But that hasn't protected the military from COVID-19.
Between the lines: The U.S. military is set up to fight physical threats, not biological ones — but in an age of pandemics, that's arguably a failure.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Scientists are calling for a better biosecurity system to govern lab experiments involving potentially dangerous viruses.
Why it matters: COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the tremendous human and economic damage even a relatively mild but new virus can wreak. With researchers increasingly able to create far more lethal pathogens in a lab using new gene engineering tools, science needs to rethink oversight for such experiments.
Background: A Washington Post article by Josh Rogin this week reignited speculation that the novel coronavirus could have originated in a Wuhan lab that had been studying bat coronaviruses.
But, but, but: The Wuhan lab had come under criticism in the past for conducting research that involved engineering a hybrid pathogen that contained parts of a bat coronavirus and parts of a SARS virus.
In a piece in the journal Science, Tufts University researcher Sam Weiss Evans and his colleagues argue the field needs to rethink biosecurity governance.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
As the U.S. steps away from its traditional global leadership role, China is aggressively looking to fill the void but has so far come up short, my Axios colleagues Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Dion Rabouin write.
Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic desperately needs a united global response. But the U.S. and China are instead upping the ante in a battle for global supremacy that could leave both countries in worse positions.
The global economy is facing an economic shock "far worse" than the 2008 global financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund announced yesterday.
A win for China's self-confidence: Despite doubts about the veracity of the coronavirus data China has publicly released, its tough measures to stem the spread of infections worked.
What to watch: China could still draw more of the world into its orbit. COVID-19 is likely to decimate economies in much of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, which already receive economic assistance from Beijing and will be looking for more.
The green sludge that could transform our diets (Abigail Beall — BBC Future)
How infectious disease defined the American bathroom (Elizabeth Yuko — CityLab)
COVID and forced experiments (Ben Evans)
This is what it will take to get us back outside (Gideon Lichfield — MIT Tech Review)
A drive-in theater open during the pandemic in Germany. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
Long seen as a mid-century relic, drive-ins are now one of the only public places left to watch movies.
The big picture: The pandemic and resulting lockdown policies are threatening to destroy the already wobbly movie theater business. But the natural social distancing provided by a car has opened an opportunity for old-fashioned drive-ins.
With conventional cinemas almost entirely shut because of lockdown orders, movie tickets sales through the first three months of the year fell by more than 25% compared to 2019. But a handful of drive-in theaters are still open, and owners report doing strong business catering to customers suffering from cabin fever.
My thought bubble: As a teenager, I caught movies like "Independence Day" and "Jurassic Park 2" at the Bucks County Drive-In in suburban Philadelphia. Like most drive-ins around the country, it eventually closed as customers stopped coming, though personally at this point I would watch "Trolls World Tour" projected against an alley wall if it meant leaving my house.