Welcome to Axios Future, where we now live in a world where a former member of Blink-182 may have discovered aliens.
Today's issue is 1,791 words, a 7-minute read.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
With deaths from the novel coronavirus potentially cresting and some U.S. states taking early steps to reopen their economies, the COVID-19 pandemic is at a critical moment.
Why it matters: State and local leaders are trying to figure out what to open and when. Properly managing the pandemic on a social and personal level will require hard honesty about what we know and what we don't.
The big picture: "We still don't know how the coronavirus is killing us," David Wallace-Wells recently wrote in New York magazine.
The big question then is how can we accurately understand the risk COVID-19 poses to each of us — let alone make decisions about how to ease off the lockdown that has suffocated the U.S. economy?
One way, say risk experts, is for those in authority to be more honest about what we know and what we don't. "Many MDs have been talking in absolutes rather than communicating the uncertainties that may be involved here," says Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University.
The continued uncertainty around COVID-19 is what makes it feel so risky — and what makes it pointless to compare the pandemic to known dangers like the seasonal flu or automobile accidents. Not only do years of data give us reliable projections about risk from those threats, but we can take steps to reduce our personal risk — get a flu vaccine or drive more safely.
Be smart: COVID-19 will be with us for months or longer, and we will need to shift out of a defensive crouch and find a way of living that balances the trade-offs between the disease and the cure.
"A key message is that you can never get to zero for anything when it comes to risk."— Charles Haas
The bottom line: The more time passes, the more we'll learn about COVID-19. But first, we'll need to learn to live with some degree of uncertainty — and some degree of risk.
The Broad Institute's microwell CARMEN chip. Photo: Michael James Butts
A new technology has been developed using CRISPR-based molecular diagnostics to run thousands of tests for diseases simultaneously, per a paper published in Nature today.
Why it matters: COVID-19 has painfully demonstrated the limits of conventional diagnostics methods for infectious disease. A new platform that would allow doctors to test a single sample for thousands of different pathogens could revolutionize disease response.
The new testing platform, called CARMEN and developed by scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, provides one possible answer to a question that often bedevils doctors: What are sick patients actually infected with?
How it works: The Broad Institute's new test uses rubber chips slightly larger than a smartphone, each with tens of thousands of "microwells" — compartments that hold two tiny droplets. One droplet contains viral genetic material from a sample, while the other contains virus-detection reagents.
What they're saying: The new technology could help speed COVID-19 tests, but its bigger impact could be in enabling clinicians to rapidly test a patient sample for more than 150 different viruses.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
If and when quantum computers are developed, they will likely be able to break any cryptography standard in use today.
Why it matters: Governments and companies need to immediately begin future-proofing their online security against coming quantum computers, which will be exponentially faster than current technology.
A recent report from the RAND Corporation laid out a worrying scenario for governments, companies and anyone who has something they want to keep secret on the internet — which is all of us.
The catch: There's a risk to waiting, however. Vermeer lays out a scenario where spies or cyber criminals today intercept messages or security credentials.
"It's catch now and exploit later. The costs will be less and the disruption will be less if we act on this now."— Michael Vermeer
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Whether in the workplace or the mall, people can expect that an opened-up world will involve more intrusive security measures and surveillance, Axios' Jennifer Kingson reports.
Why it matters: All the new coronavirus protocols that companies are considering for their workers and customers — from contact tracing and temperature-taking to heat mapping and "immunity passports" — have privacy and civil liberties implications.
Where it stands: While there's evidence that people are less concerned with privacy than before the pandemic hit — and more concerned with health — they still may not be ready for a world where their blood is tested for antibodies before boarding an airplane, as Dubai-based Emirates airlines has started doing.
Other options could have a far broader reach.
The bottom line: Companies are going to be collecting a lot more information about people — through contactless payment systems, which will be in growing use as people avoid face-to-face transactions, and through the various technologies in development that will track people's virus exposure.
Seattle’s leaders let scientists take the lead. New York’s did not (Charles Duhigg — The New Yorker)
The pandemic is bringing us closer to our robot takeout future (Timothy B. Lee — Ars Technica)
To survive coronavirus, restaurants can never go back to "normal" (Vaughn Tan — London Eater)
CEO of surveillance firm Banjo once helped KKK leader shoot up a synagogue (Matt Stroud — OneZero)
Travis Scott performing a virtual concert on Fortnite. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
The hit rapper Travis Scott broke records when he performed a virtual concert on the hit battle royale video game Fortnite.
Why it matters: You're going to have to understand what Fortnite is.
On April 23, Scott appeared inside the Fortnite gaming platform for a virtual concert called Astronomical. Weird stuff followed, according to The Verge:
To these 41-year-old eyes, it looked like an extremely bad acid trip. (Scott's music slaps, though.) But the rapper set a record for live Fortnite events, attracting 12.3 million players to the game while he was performing.
The bottom line: Given Fortnite's unfathomably intense popularity — and the fact that new movies and concerts will be on hold during COVID-19 — the gaming platform could be the best way for artists to reach their fans. And those fans to annoy their parents.