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Predictions for the Future
This is less about Quantum Computing than many articles that we usually write at QZ. Some of the changes we are undergoing now are likely to affect many aspects of our life including research, development and commercialisation of Quantum Computing. Of course, nothing is happening in a vacuum and deeply interconnected events have the potential to radically transform the life we once knew from just a few months ago.
As is customary around the new year, writers and commentators make all manner of predictions. This time, we are only 2/3 of the way through March 2020 and it feels like we entering another universe where there appears to be a worldwide grab for toilet roll – unimaginable just a few weeks ago. We are now revisiting what the future might have in store for us all. Some ideas will be relevant for science and tech and others may affect us all profoundly.
There is so much to note that could change in the light of social distancing. We’ve compiled some of the ideas that might come to fruition in the wake of the Covid-19 Crisis.
Tech conferences die away. The number of conferences seems to have grown over the last few years. It seems to have been a growth industry and our team have been all over the planet for conferences on Quantum and Tech. This has traditionally been a way to make money – this gravy train is now over – at least temporarily and the crisis might help to reset delegates expectations. Expect Virtual Conferences at a fraction of the price (MIT are still running their EmTech as a virtual conference). Perhaps we’ll wonder why we ever traipsed around the world, stayed in hotels and burnt jet fuel to go through some power point slides. What will be needed though is a way to recreate the social experience in the bar at the end of the day.
Education in the classroom moves to the home. Online learning has been with us for many years. EdX and Coursera are some of the most popular learning platforms that allow learners to undertake a variety of courses from some of the worlds most prestigious institutions like MIT and Harvard. Clearly, with social distancing and schools closed, lessons must move online and when students realise that often online is a better learning environment without the usual distractions, might we see permanent school closures? Certainly, in higher education and universities, they will feel the pinch as closures disrupt typical term time frames and exams. More and more universities will come to rely on technological platforms and classroom teaching will be a bonus, not the core. We have even seen companies such as Brilliant come in to offer courses in maths and science that are rich in content and offer in some ways a better learning environment than a classroom. If you want to learn about Quantum Computing, you could take a look at their amazing course.
WFM. Head back few months ago and hardly anyone knew about these three letters – which mean Working From Home. Now we have all been sent home to work in our home offices or on the sofa huddled over our laptops (if we could find any). The prognosis is not good for the modern office certainly. Reducing costs and overheads can be done and if productivity does not decline, then many companies if not already doing so might be considering whether there is any merit to re-open their office. Take the creators of WordPress, the company named Automattic, which for a number of years has had no offices and meetings are held in hotel lobbies or coffee shops. Before the virus, WFM felt like shirking, the Time Ferris (4-hour workweek), where we are all just lounging around and pretending to work. But now this time, WFM is widespread and that is what is going to make it here to stay. For businesses that can, it will likely prove more effective to implement WFM then just about any strategy in the coming year. We have the platforms and tools now, anyhow. Microsoft Teams, Slack, Facebook Workplace. All these tools have existed for sometime, just waiting for that Cambrian explosion – or a pandemic virus.
Investment appetite wanes. In this environment when companies, businesses are worried about capital crunch – that means more cash is likely to be stock-piled and pulled out of especially risky areas or areas that have a longer time frame. Expect industries like Quantum Computing to take a hit unless there are near term objectives hat can contribute directly to the bottom line (virus focused). That doesn’t mean that Quantum computing is over, just that we may step back from seeing money flows into the area until the dust has settled. Crucially with an industry like Quantum, it requires huge follow-on funding and deep pockets and without a product or “Killer Application” it is going to be hard to persuade investors to part with capital in a risky climate. If companies do not raise enough capital – they will also like to hit the buffer as it noted that many companies do not raise enough to see themselves through leaner times. If you are raising now – raise more!
The shop dies. Bricks and Mortar retail has been in somewhat of dire-straits before the crisis. More and more shopping has been moving online except for the queues to the grocery store to panic buy toilet rolls. This move online is even happening with the grocery shop as the dangers of mixing with fellow humans is emphasised and delivery services are booming. Of course, it is not just groceries that are headed online, but even meal kits (Blue Apron & Hello Fresh) which seemed to never quite have found their place in the market are seeing unprecedented demand as customers look to acquire food from any source. We are already seeing companies such as BrewDog and Majestic wine run out from their online store of beer and wine. Comfort and food will be sought out from the easiest avenues and channels – namely online – it beats queuing for one mile around the block. When this is all over, the scenes and scars of physical shop attendance will be left, but so will the forced online shop sign-up accounts and many who were forced to experience online shopping will find it preferable to heading out.
VR makes a comeback. After many years of headline stories about the wonders of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (AR), us humans have preferred real-life. Companies such as Occulus-Rift which were purchased by Facebook at a heady valuation have lain dormant…until now. Clearly, as there is a global clampdown on meeting up in person, us humans will have to find alternative places to get together. What the VR industry has always needed is a trigger event – and this just might be it. Coupled to perhaps consumer spending on home and personal electronics – since the experience economy is the pan right now, a bit of self-indulgent consumer electronic spending might go down very well. As government consider helicopter money, where is that money going to go? Already into consumer electronics to make time at home more palatable.
Property market grinds. A runway asset market now might be coming to end and this includes property too. One benefit of the physical asset over paper (stocks) is that right now, there is a need to be sheltered in one. Perhaps houses and property will come to be seen as a sanctuary and less as an investment vehicle. Plus, with international travel down, will those 2nd and 3rd homes be all that necessary. We expect to see still the mega homes as people seek comfort but we do think if this becomes a protracted affair, those holiday homes might be empty for a while as travel looks unattractive.
Cities reverse their trend. Connected with WFM – the cities have been massive magnets for individuals flocking to find themselves – and often work. But if work is elsewhere or can be done from home, and socialising is off the menu, will cities look so attractive? If you can work from anywhere – does having a central London or NY apartment make sense when you can be away from people in a less dense area in the countryside at a fraction of the cost? Perhaps we could see people move from cities to suburbia as the crisis engulfs. The longer we operate in a lock-down environment the more the benefits of being back in suburbia are likely to appeal. I’m not saying cities are dead, but the more we invest in technology that enables remote working and communication, we might all see the massive and colossal inefficiencies of dragging ourselves into a city office to do exactly what you can do from home.
Health Trends. As we spend more time at home, the gym is going to have to adapt or come to us. Expect new applications, crazes and fashions to take off here as we do Yoga, Pilates and weights at home. Peloton – a company that does live Spinner class floated August 2019 – a product you can indulge in from home. Whilst the bikes and classes are not that cheap – it does at least allow for personal or live human contact and if you wondered if there was market for this type of product – well there certainly is now. Your instructor can be selected from a menu and there is a heavy social element to it – communicating with your instructor who could be thousands of miles away. Expect this trend to increase as we look for alternatives to gym, instructor and personal trainer. This can increasingly be done via our mobile phones or tablet. We expect many businesses that found selling a remote PT (personal trainer) flourish.
New ways to socialize. Meeting existing friends is easy – using the plethora of existing tools, but how will you make new friends if popping down the pub or to the local bar is off limits – or for that matter any social contact. I’m not advocating for another “Chat Roulette” which was a mobile app that allowed users to randomly connect. But we might see something similar perhaps close to a “dating app” but for people of shared interests. Whilst dating is off the cards, the Bumble app does allow people to network based on interests. Lets see whether these companies can make the transition to the online world where the point is NOT to meetup in person. How do we find the “long tail” of human connection – those serendipitous moments that become friends and partners? We need to find ways to build this into our lives.
More rational next time. Asian countries have been a lot more measured in their response in not panic buying. In part because they have dealt with this type of event before. But in Europe and North America, this all feels rather new. If this does happen again, we will at least have some experience to draw from. At least we may not panic buy all the toilet roll for an entire planet at once.
Masks all around. This is serious one. In Asia, the locals tend to wear masks all the time in public. This could become mandatory or at least the norm. If we all want to return to life in the west, we should get used to the fact that we should be protecting ourselves at all costs – and those around us. Since in the UK and the US we see news reports of people ignoring advice to maintain distance, then we should all realise that wearing masks could eliminate much of the risk of being in public. Once the peak number of cases subsides, we will all have to work immensely hard to reduce further outbreaks and we think the sensible way to do it is by implementing a policy of wearing in masks in public. The Asians do it without prompting and if we were to adopt such a policy then we could at least have some semblance of normal life after a lock-down or curfew.
Gamer Haven. As we spend oodles of time at home we will be looking for things to do. There is only so much TV, Netflix and Amazon prime that anyone can watch before they go slightly mad. Our brains need stimulation. So expect parents to relax their kids rules on gaming and perhaps join in themselves. This will be great for games and console makers as people look to spend more time doing something interactive rather than passive. Therefore the outlook could be good for chip makers (Intel, AMD, Nvidia), technology companies, console makers and game developers. Technology seems one of the areas that is less severely hit as we rely on technology for work and now play.
The future will come
Things may look bleak – they always do mid-way through a crisis. But with diligence and hard work, there will be a future. And it will be a great future. We do expect that after all this over the world looks a better place. We hope that governments see the need to invest in healthcare, technology and big science – (Quantum Computing), because whilst these projects may not appear to bring near term wins, investment in these huge disruptive areas may bring knock-on efficiencies when it comes down to speeding up drug discovery – something that is sorely needed right now.