Welcome to Axios Future #4, where we insist that the best time travel movie ever is Primer.
📷 This Sunday’s "Axios on HBO": Tennis legend Billie Jean King and other women sports pioneers talk equity in athletics (clip); a peek into Biden's governing plan; Housing Secretary Ben Carson on cutting housing programs and why President Trump should tweet less (clip). Catch the show Sunday 6 p.m. ET/PT.
Today's issue is 1,753 words, ~ a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
If the growing novel coronavirus outbreak becomes a lasting pandemic, it could accelerate fundamental changes in the economy, politics and the workplace.
The big picture: A truly global infectious disease event like COVID-19 can be every bit as transformative for the future as a global war or economic depression.
The impacts of major pandemics can be felt well beyond the sheer death toll.
The Black Death, which killed as much as a third of Europe's population during the 14th century, led to severe labor scarcity. The resulting higher wages helped erode feudalism and encouraged the innovation of labor-saving technologies.
What to watch: How lasting the changes created by COVID-19 will be depends on the extent of the virus' spread and its ultimate severity, neither of which can be known yet. But the longer the outbreak endures, the more likely it is that coping responses will remain with us.
1. Going remote: Videoconferencing and remote work have exploded as the virus has spread.
2. The big decoupling: After the travel industry, the companies that have suffered most from COVID-19 are those with just-in-time supply chains highly dependent on China.
3. Nastier politics: The ideal reaction to a global outbreak would be a globally unified response. Don't bet on it.
4. Faster science: While governments have struggled to respond to COVID-19, scientists are making the most of new tools to track and potentially counter the virus.
The bottom line: The year is less than three months old, but we have every reason to believe that COVID-19 will be one of the most significant events of the decade — if not beyond.
An intercontinental ballistic missile aboard the USS Arizona. Photo: Michael Dunning
March 5 marked the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) going into force.
Why it matters: While the number of atomic warheads in the world has fallen considerably since the darkest days of the Cold War, the club of nuclear-armed countries has expanded. With countries including the U.S. updating their nuclear arsenals and arms control treaties in danger of collapsing, many experts believe the risk of nuclear conflict is rising.
Flashback: It once seemed inevitable that we would face "a world in which 15 or 20 or 25 nations may have [nuclear] weapons," President John F. Kennedy said in 1963.
Yes, but: More recently that commitment has wavered, as former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote in the New York Times.
The bottom line: The NPT was one of the first steps the world took to reduce the threat of a global nuclear holocaust. If we forget its lessons, we will be risking our future.
Supporters cheering at a political rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Phoenix on March 5. Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Stringer
Youth voter turnout so far in the Democratic primaries is either flat or declining compared with the 2016 primaries.
Why it matters: Sen. Bernie Sanders has based much of his strategy on the hope that he could turn out large numbers of young voters. The apparent decline is bad news for him, but it will also make it more difficult for future-focused issues like climate change to gain political traction.
Context: According to the Harvard Institute of Politics, while raw turnout is up in all 12 of the states with competitive elections, the youth vote has only risen in four states, and is flat in two other states.
Young voters have always turned out at lower percentages than their older counterparts. But in Sanders, young Americans had a candidate who is explicitly pushing for their support — yet so far it hasn't seemed to matter.
Yes, but: Some experts suggest that the picture isn't as bad as it looks.
The bottom line: Young people have the greatest stake in the future. But they can't shape it if they don't vote.
Go deeper: 2020's new voters
GM CEO Mary Barra with the company's flexible electric vehicle platform. Photo: GM
GM laid all its cards on the table this week in an effort to convince investors, journalists and, ultimately, consumers that it is all-in on electric cars, writes Axios' Joann Muller.
Why it matters: GM has occasionally pulled back the curtain on strategy before — usually when its future is in doubt.
This time company executives went deep into detail to try to show that their electric vehicle strategy is more than a regulatory-driven ploy and instead represents a complete transformation of GM's business.
Driving the news: GM laid out a comprehensive, $20 billion strategy to produce a wide array of electric vehicles between now and 2025.
Here are my key takeaways. GM's EV strategy is:
The bottom line: GM is trying to thread a needle by maximizing sales of today's profit-spinning trucks and SUVs while delivering on its long-term vision for a cleaner, less congested world.
Live facial recognition is coming to U.S. police body cameras (Dave Gershgorn — OneZero)
Freeing the snow (Jameson McBride — The Breakthrough Journal)
The lure of "cool" brain research is stifling psychotherapy (Allen Frances — Aeon)
How to prepare for the complete end of the world (Nellie Bowles — New York Times)
Sonoya Mizuno in "Devs." Photo: FX
A new drama airing on FX on Hulu and created by "Ex Machina" director Alex Garland has things to say about the tech industry, quantum computers and very shiny office decor.
Quick take: "Devs" has ideas — so many ideas — and visual style to spare, but is burdened by a dramatic style as inert as a noble gas.
The show centers on a fictional company called Amaya, a tech giant that develops cutting-edge quantum computers. Amaya is run by a fantastically bearded tech genius played by Nick Offerman, last seen (at least by me) on the comedy "Parks and Recreation."
Of note: The extremely serious "Devs" is nothing like "Parks and Recreation."
Amaya's real project is a top-secret program run by elite programmers called the "Devs," who work in a vacuum-sealed cube in the middle of the forests of northern California. What they do there is a mystery.
What they're saying: Critics have praised the concepts behind "Devs," while finding flaws in the execution.
The bottom line: Hey, there are worse ways to learn about quantum computing.