In chaos theory, the butterfly effect describes a small change that can have massive, unpredictable consequences. An insect flaps its wings and, weeks later, causes a tornado.
The coronavirus is more like an earthquake, with aftershocks that will permanently reshape the world.
If we are lucky, the world will pass “peak virus” within the next six months. But the economy, governments, and social institutions will take years to recover in the best-case scenario.
Indeed, rather than even speak of “recovery,” which implies a return to how things were, it would be wise to project what new direction civilization will take. That too will be a bumpy ride. The next 3-5 years will remind us that COVID-19 was the lightning before the thunder.
Of course, it is difficult to draw straight lines between cause and effect. With the benefit of hindsight, we can trace how the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression enabled the rise of Hitler. But in the hyperconnected world of today, dense global networks enable butterfly effects to ripple and amplify far more rapidly.
Can we forward-engineer probable scenarios emerging from the consequences of today’s pandemic? Given how stretched our institutions are in coping with the current crisis, few tasks could be more urgent in helping us prepare for the future. It is easy to predict further doom after a devastating phenomenon such as the coronavirus. Reality will likely turn out differently—and it certainly can. Read More