The end of 2020 is a time for reflection and projection. A year which started with catastrophic bushfires, was dramatically impacted by a pandemic and lockdowns and now sees a return to a strange sort of normality, is not one we are likely to forget.
From a technology perspective, 2020 has had some positive aspects. As I reflected in my virtual presentation to the International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences this year, the pandemic has been the trigger for the adoption of technologies which have been ready for quite some time, but had languished due to business and consumer disinterest. While I suspect that we shall not in the future, for example, see the levels of work-from-home we had during the height of the lockdowns, I equally don’t foresee us returning to pre-COVID levels. On the health front, ATSE with some prescience published, just as the pandemic struck, a technology-readiness report on the health system that foresaw the weaknesses that the pandemic has exposed – particularly with regard to digital data and telemedicine.
The pandemic of 2020 has proven the adage that humans propose but God disposes. It will take a bold person to predict what will happen looking ahead to 2021. For example, the impact of the all-important vaccine is still relatively uncertain. While trials look promising, the distribution (requiring in the case of one vaccine very low temperatures – almost liquid nitrogen level), the time to administer and the uptake are all unknown.
However, as we manage our way through the pandemic, one thing I am fairly clear about is that climate change will become the top issue in our society in 2021. ATSE has formed a policy steering group to prioritise the issues we need to address in our work program and climate change was ranked as the number one issue by our Fellows (followed by reducing emissions through technology at number two, and sustainable food production in adaptation to climate change at number seven). On the positive side we see a clear picture of the technologies and their adoption that will address the problem, and increasing pressure from business and the community for governments to adopt a bipartisan approach to addressing it.
As always, I wish ATSE Fellows and their families a happy and safe holiday season. We should be thankful that we live in a country that has thus far managed the pandemic well enough for us to spend the season with family and friends. Long may it last.