I hope that, in retrospect, the worldwide outbreak of corona virus
will come to be regarded as a key moment which hastened the transition
from industrial-era automotive transportation to an information-era
internet of things. Further, I hope that the changes it could help
bring about would address the issues of climate change and peak fossil
fuels at a sufficient level to avert the worst level of worldwide
disaster which could even lead to general systems collapse.
An important side effect of staying at home to check the spread
disease has been to demonstrate that it is now possible to carry out a
large number of everyday tasks remotely. Some of these such as
telecommuting, online shopping, and online learning have already been
happening for quite some time, but on a smaller scale. Other
activities, such as court proceedings, seminars, and conferences have
successfully transitioned to a remote format now that the in-person
versions are no longer feasible. [2,3] This provides a preview of an
alternative reality which otherwise might have required more time to
It has been noted that this new way of doing things has already had
noticeable environmental effects [4,5,6]. While it is certainly
possible that things will revert to the status ante quo once the
health emergency ends, maybe continuing this trend of transitioning
in-person activities to remote counterparts could help prepare for
upcoming environmental challenges. To assess how much of an effect
this might have, let us make some rough estimates.
We begin by noting that 45% of petroleum goes into gasoline, 92% of
which is used to fuel light-duty vehicles. Of the total
person-distance travelled in personal cars, 18% is for commuting to
and from work, 4% is for work-related business, 12% is for shopping,
6.5% is for school and church.[9, table 5a]
Next, we turn to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ tally of employed
persons by occupation. As a rough estimate, let us suppose that
all of the jobs under the top level headings “Management,
professional, and related occupations” and “Sales and office
occupations” can be carried out remotely but that the jobs in the
remaining headings “Service occupations” “Natural resources,
construction, and maintenance occupations” “Production,
transportation, and material moving occupations” still need be carried
out on site in person. That accounts for 60% of all jobs. Also note
that most of commuting in the U.S. is done by personal car.
So if, say, half the workforce telecommute and most students study
online, that would lead to a decrease in total personal car use of
about 15%. Combining this with the figure cited above, this
translates into a 7% drop in petroleum usage. (Since some of the
light-duty vehicles are commercial or governmental (e.g. police car)
so one might need to lower this figure. I haven’t located the
statistics for this one yet, but guesstimate something like 5%.)
While not enough by itself to avert environmental problems, this is
more than a negligible amount and, moreover, once a change to a new
way of doing things has begun, it could lead to further effects which
feed back in to the process and move the transition further along.
When a car is no longer needed to go to work, shop, or ferry kids to
school, many people, especially those living in urban and suburban
settings, may choose not to have cars. The purchase and upkeep of a
car costs $8500/year on average, so can use up a sizable portion
of a moderate income. Automobiles and education are two major sources
of debt for many people (each accounts for 10% of total consumer
debt), so that is already a major incentive to seek replacements.
For some people, the current health crisis could also help bring this
change about by disrupting habits.
When more people telecommute, there will be less demand for
infrastructure such as roads, parking lots and office buildings. As a
result, it could be scaled back to make space available for alternative
uses. For instance, urban space taken up by parking lots and
office buildings could turn into third space or green space. Since it
costs $28000 a year to maintain a mile of highway,[16,17] it is
impractical to maintain parts of the highway system which are
One such alternative use which has a “back to the future but with a
twist” feel is grid-connected electric vehicles. Familiar examples
include trolleys and subways which are powered by electricity taken
directly from the power grid. Newer, less familiar examples include
trucks with trolley assist and personal rapid transport. The
latter consists of car-size autonomous vehicles which move on suitable
guideways. These combine the energy efficiency of grid-connected
vehicles with the “go any where at any time” convenience of
personal cars. Thus, there is the potential for this technology to
take over the remaining uses of cars, make an impact on jobs in the
transportation sector, and save fuel which is currently used in buses
One of the weak points of e-commerce as it now stands is that it
relies on existing transportation modes based upon trucks and drivers,
airplanes and pilots, to deliver the goods to the customer. Hence,
shipping costs can be a large part of the total cost for small orders
and, for any size of order, there is a choice between waiting several
days for the order to come in or paying dearly for overnight delivery.
Here too, grid-connected vehicles could also come to the rescue.
Moreover, these could be “smart” self-driving vehicles connected to
the internet as well as the electrical grid. Combined with, say,
industrial robots to move packages between trains and drones and robot
vehicles to deliver and pick up packages to and from their end
destinations, this could turn into an “internet of things” which
is competitive with, say, driving downtown to pick up a few items and
so become a viable replacement for automobiles in most situations.
When this situation or something like it happens, it would have an
impact upon the material moving jobs, affect how other sectors of the
economy operate and also decrease the amount of petroleum used for
shipping and transporting goods.
Well, no links available to 10 years in the future
Personally, what I foresee as an education systems benefit from the pandemic is a permanent, new capability to match students’ preferred learning styles and interests with a more dynamic assortment of learning modules and experiences. Think hybrid (in-person, on-line, in-the-field options) with many more groups and instructors/influencers than we have now. Compared to education ten years hence, some of today’s instructional models and courses may feel boring, out-of-date, and/or ineffective. (Please note this is not a critique of today’s practitioners; rather at attempt to show the distance we will have travelled collectively in ten years’ time. Also, ‘dramatic’ description compensates for not being able to produce the requested link
In an IFTF course I found this signal: A 2019 survey by American educational nonprofit group Commonsense found that 43 percent of U.S. parents say their 6- to 8-year-old children use voice-activated assistants embedded in smart speakers, to help with homework.
I guess these percentages are going up in times of pandemic when education goes even more digital.
Here is some of my perspective on this topic as a research scientist. In addition to classes, seminars and conferences moved online when universities closed their buildings. Based upon my experience over the past few months, here are what I see as strong and weak points.
The weak points have to do with the current limitations of online as opposed to in-person meetings. As time goes on, hopefully improvements in technology will overcome some of these limitations and, compensation for features of the old ways for which there might not be an adequate substitute, offer new features which would have hitherto been impossible.
As an instance of one such possible improvement, I recall a demo we had at a metacaugs meeting a few weeks back. There we were taken to a virtual reality park where one could stroll about and, as one got closer to a bench, the voices of people speaking would get louder and one could engage in the conversation, then stroll off to another bench and participate in a different conversation. One could also potentially use this software to set up a cybervenue for a conference with lecture rooms, rooms for discussion with whiteboards, chat area, etc. This could offer a richer experience than most online conferences nowadays running on standard conference call platforms.
The strongest points for me had to do with the way in which the current circumstances are making the global character of the scientific community mainfest. Somewhat paradoxically, limiting travel and having everyone stay at home has promoted globalization! A year ago, there might have been, say, a weekly graph theory seminar in Chicago, a weekly graph seminar in Tokyo. Each of these would be attended by local people and the occasional visitor. Once or twice a year, someone from Chicago might go to Tokyo to talk at the seminar there and vice-versa. But now that both seminars are held online, people from both Tokyo and Chicago routinely attend and speak at both seminars. That a particular seminar was organized by someone in Chicago or in Tokyo is no longer important, as they have all become worldwide events. Whereas, in the past, one might only have met colleagues from around the world once a year at an international conference, it is now becoming a daily occurrence.
Please have a read over it because it proposes using Discourse to participate in IFTF’s campaign in a slightly different way than what has naturally occurred here in this first thread of ours relating to the campaign.
The main difference I am proposing is that each idea gets its own forum thread (because IFTF asked that each idea have a unique link), and that rather than having one big long thread on the future of education, we instead use the tagging system here on Discourse to link together ideas that fit within a theme like #future-of-education (I suspect we will have many ideas that fit within that theme, but we will see other themes emerge too I’m sure, and we can create tags for them as well).
So, please, break out any distinct ideas that you shared above (including a signal / link as described on the about page), and create them as new threads for them to live / breath within.