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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Hoff

Science fiction to the rescue

As a science fiction writer, I spend a lot of time considering what the future may look like. For my book Eclipsed, which takes place in a pandemic world, I did some serious projections as to how people would live: limited social contacts; masks; loss of jobs; closure of schools, libraries, theaters, and museums.

It’s bizarre to see so much of it coming true. But once the mass of the public has acquired immunity through either a vaccine or surviving exposure, we have an opportunity to bring back our world in a more rational way.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Schools. Our system of education is beyond antiquated. A teacher trying to manage a class of 30+ students in a physical schoolroom, cramming learning into a 50-minute time slot before the bell rings and the students rush off to another class: This hasn’t changed appreciably in a century. A system of school management fragmented by state, county, and town divisions has created wildly differing educational resources and standards, and the perpetuation of racial and cultural segregation.

  • We could focus in-person teaching resources on students who need it most: pre-school and elementary children and students with special needs. Beyond elementary school, lots of learning can take place online—as we are forced to do now—with students moving through learning units at their own speed. Online teachers could monitor progress and be alerted quickly if a student is falling behind or needs extra help.

  • We need a quality national curriculum. Localities may offer their own supplementary content, but let’s make sure everyone has the basics.

Healthcare. Isn’t it time to divorce healthcare from employment? Whether it’s through a national healthcare provider system or national health insurance, it’s in the public interest—and in the interest of preventing future pandemics—that everyone, no matter if they are employed or retired or disabled or just temporarily out of work, has access to healthcare.

Medicine. There are many new tools available to vastly improve medical practice, and they all depend on harnessing data. Our fragmented healthcare provider system and inadequate systems for preserving privacy have hampered the deep data analysis of medical conditions, treatment, and outcomes. If that data could be collected and analyzed through available machine learning technology, it could vastly improve:

  • Diagnosis of medical conditions.

  • Selection of treatment options.

  • Identification of promising new medications.

  • Early identification of novel contagions.

Work. Now that so many of us have been forced into teleworking, let’s make it the norm. It could save time, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce the opportunity for the next pandemic. For those who need or prefer an office setting, community work hubs could provide a place to set up a laptop and still get the benefits of work-based social contact.

Thinking about the future is helping me deal with the present. What ideas do you have?

My very best wishes to all, during this difficult time.

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