Time to be serious

Dear Futurists,

Time to be serious

If your email inbox is anything like mine, today is “peak cancel” day.

Message after message has reached me today, explaining that various events scheduled for March, April, and May are all being cancelled, or delayed till later in the year – all due to concern about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

As another sign of the sweeping impact of the pandemic, the BBC website has a long list of major sporting events that are being rescheduled.

London Futurists events have been impacted too. As already notified to everyone who had registered for it, our event originally scheduled to take place in Birkbeck College tomorrow afternoon (Sat 14th March) has been put back to some as-yet undecided new date in the future. All tickets have been refunded.

We’re all going to need to learn how to operate with greater degrees of isolation and separation, whilst non-essential travel is minimised. We’re going to need to learn how to replace what has previously been physical (“real-world”) interactions with online (“virtual”) ones.

As a step in that direction, London Futurists are holding an online event tomorrow (Sat 14th March), in the same timeslot as we normally hold our physical gatherings.

The topic is “What should we learn from the Covid-19 crisis?”

Participants won’t just be discussing “how can we cope with Covid-19”. We’ll be considering our collective preparedness for other major social setbacks that may strike humanity sooner rather than later.

Topics that are likely to feature include: society’s resilience or fragility, overall priorities for research and development, the interplay of local and global issues, the role of “experts”, provision of social safety nets, the costs of action vs. the costs of inaction, protecting whistle-blowers whilst controlling dissemination of malicious fake news, and the management of crises.

In short, whilst this is no time to panic, it is time to be serious.

The following panellists have kindly agreed to make short opening provocations, to set the stage for group discussion:

  • David Doherty, mHealth Insight – “A mobile first approach to the management of infectious disease”
  • Steve Buss, citizen scientist – “Options for developing medical cures faster”
  • Adah Parris, cultural strategist – “Seeing the crisis differently”
  • Tim Pendry, crisis advisor – “Reforms for the post-coronavirus age”

Other panellists will be announced shortly. (The organisation of this event has been a bit last-minute, sorry!)

The event will be taking place on Zoom. For full details, and to register to attend, see here.

Covid-19 is hugely important in its own right. However, it’s by no means the worst kind of pandemic that could arise – nor the only kind of threat of global reversal that we would be wise to anticipate.

Simon Stiel has drawn my attention to a BBC drama-documentary first shown in February 2002, “Smallpox 2002”. It has the form of a future documentary that looks back at a smallpox outbreak that happens in April 2002. In this fictionalised scenario, 60 million people die.

I haven’t been able to find any good quality video from that programme. It doesn’t seem to be carried by e.g. Netflix or Amazon Prime. But you can find rather grainy copies, broken into four separate segments, on the far corners of YouTube. Here are the first two segments (with a little bit missing from the beginning of the first one, and some occasional duplications and skips):

Fiction, such as this 2002 drama-documentary, can bring attention to key issues. Subsequently, it’s critical to separate out which ideas deserve ongoing analysis. That’s what we try to do at London Futurists. And that’s also the goal of a remarkable set of online events taking place over three days next week (Mon-Wed, 16-18 March), organised by Singularity University.

The events form a virtual summit, “Covid-19: The State & Future of Pandemics”. It’s completely free to attend. Participants can choose how many parts to watch.

The three days are broken down as follows:

  • March 16: Introduction to COVID-19 & Current State of Affairs
  • March 17: Future Implications and Considerations
  • March 18: Business Impact, Leadership, & Strategies for Today

Full details are here. It could prove to be one of the most significant online gatherings in history (so far).

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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