Bruno Macaes

After Covid, get ready for the Great Acceleration

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Before the pandemic struck, there was talk of a ‘Great Stagnation’ – the idea that the world economy was doomed to lacklustre growth and had hit a technological plateau with no game-changers in sight. But Covid – and lockdown – has changed all that. There was such doubt about the vaccines because it normally takes at least ten years to develop a successful immunisation. Now, we have six working ones. The innovation will not stop there: breakthroughs are happening at rapid speed, from transport and energy, to medicine and science, and even when it comes to currencies.

Take transportation and energy. Last October, for example, Waymo finally announced the launch of a taxi service that is fully driverless and open to the public. Walmart announced in December that it plans to use fully autonomous box trucks to make deliveries in Arkansas later this year. As retail goes online as a result of the pandemic, massive delivery volumes are now placing pressure on existing models. There is an obvious connection between Covid and the increasingly irresistible appeal of driverless vehicles.

Supersonic air travel may also return, 20 years after the retirement of Concorde. Boom Supersonic, a start-up, will this year test the XB-1 this year as a prelude to a larger aircraft capable of carrying up to 90 passengers at twice the speed of sound. Airbus has given itself five years to develop a commercially viable aircraft that runs on hydrogen, a Herculean task that will require reinventing the whole aviation industry. SpaceX could be working on a human mission to Mars by the end of the decade. Two researchers from Cambridge and Columbia have even suggested building a space elevator they called the Spaceline: by extending a line, anchored on the moon, to deep within Earth’s gravity well, we can construct a stable, traversable cable allowing free movement from the vicinity of Earth to the Moon’s surface.

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