Technology Saves the World

Only 15 months ago — March 13, 2020 — COVID-19 became a national emergency in the United States. My assumption at the time was that COVID lockdowns could extend as long as five years, the previous speed record for modern vaccine development, with many millions of deaths — a generational cataclysm.

While COVID certainly has been plenty devastating in the U.S. and around the world, with 600,000 Americans dead of and with COVID, and with shockingly broad destruction of American small businesses, it has not been nearly as destructive as it could have been. We are coming out of COVID years early, with many livelihoods and businesses preserved, compared to what we had any right to expect. And overwhelming credit goes to our spectacular technology industry.

The most amazing COVID technology story has to be the vaccines. Moderna, a product of the American venture capital system, created the first mRNA COVID vaccine within two days of receiving the genetic code for COVID by email. It’s hard to overstate the tremendous advance in both speed and effectiveness of this new technological platform — and now that we know how well mRNA vaccines work, we can look forward to decades of new vaccines both for potential COVID variants and for many other health threats. We now have the technological tools to quite literally code nature, and the payoff to human flourishing will be profound.

But technology applied to health during COVID didn’t stop there. Coincident with the imposition of lockdowns, the U.S. federal government authorized Medicare to cover the cost of telemedicine, so millions of Americans who could no longer see a doctor in person for a variety of both physical and mental health maladies could continue to receive care. Telemedicine has been technologically viable for two decades, but COVID provided the final push for insurance reimbursement and therefore mass adoption, which I expect to continue. In the decades ahead, state of the art healthcare will be available regardless of geographic location, and we will look back to this crisis as the turning point.

By far the scariest non-health implication of COVID was the simultaneous powering down of much of the supply (producer) and demand (consumer) sides of the economy at the start of lockdown. The prospect of a second Great Depression was very real, as reflected in the stock market collapse of early 2020. But then, a miracle happened — a technological miracle. Much of the economy kept operating, and in fact many parts of the economy started operating even better under lockdown than before. The primary credit for this goes to the American worker, but almost as much credit is due to the technology that made this miracle possible.

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