A global pandemic is a traumatic place to be. Among many other things, the fact that the university is physically closed may promote worries about the progress of your degree this year, writes Blay Whitby MBCS, lecturer in cognitive science for the University of Sussex.

However, in the longer term, focussing on the progress of your degree may turn out to be rather short-sighted. Everyone in the world is similarly affected. In years to come at job interviews people will say things like: ‘Oh yes 2020, that was the year of the pandemic, wasn’t it? There were no A-level exams…’

Looking for positives with global change

It is tragic that many will die and there will also be a massive economic impact but when it is over - and it will be over - both medically and economically, you will go into a much-changed world. This changed world will almost certainly be one of great opportunities for you. The extent to which things really change for good is largely up to you, not me but I can definitely see some positives in these changes for you.

What particular changes might open up opportunities? I’m very glad you asked. Here are some of my predictions. (You can, by the way, test my ability to make predictions by reading my 1988 book and seeing how much I got right and how much I got wrong.)

My 3 post Covid-19 predictions

This of course, is not an exhaustive list.

  1. 2020 will be seen as the year in which artificial intelligence (AI) ‘came of age’. The crucial public roles of machine learning and big data in speeding up finding vaccines and in predicting infection rates mean that they will, in future, be seen as mature technologies. Anyone not prepared to employ AI techniques on big data, wherever possible, will be seen as a pre-pandemic luddite.
  2. The experience of a few months with vastly reduced air travel and empty city streets will convince all, but the very strangest people, that burning fossil fuels is a generally a bad idea. Just guessing, but the alteration in overall world temperature trends in 2020 will probably produce the most convincing evidence yet that current global warming is at least partly anthropogenic. The change in air quality is already very evident. After the pandemic, therefore, there will be much increased demand for new, cleaner and greener technologies.
  3. The extreme brittleness of just-in-time global supply chains has now been exposed. Assembling a product from components, half of which were flown from the other side of the planet the night before looked very clever - until it broke down. People will either have to think of ways to make supply chains in manufacturing much more robust or move to more local solutions. All and each of these three predictions represent great opportunities: particularly for someone currently studying a technical subject at a prestigious university.

References

Whitby, B.R. (1988) Artificial Intelligence: A Handbook of Professionalism, Chichester: Ellis Horwood.