Who would have thought it?
Something microscopic, which is not even considered a living being, launched a full-scale global attack, brought all of society to a halt and even claimed human life on a large scale.
Was this inconceivable?
Not really. In 2013 (!), Fraunhofer INT published a study entitled “Influenza pandemic in Germany 2020”, which used three scenarios to simulate a similar situation and the ways in which it could be overcome, and made recommendations for action for political and social decision makers.
Amid all the tragedy brought about by these events, this study is an absolute stroke of luck for futurologists: it shows that the scientific methods used can still offer assistance with overcoming the challenges faced in our modern world.
Aside from a bit of self praise for the imagination and foresight of the colleagues involved, we can also say the following:
This pandemic was not at all unthinkable or unpredictable, it was something known as a “wild card” in futurology. We know that such an event can (and will) occur, even if it is uncertain when. Additionally, although the probability of occurrence is relatively low, it will have serious ramifications — which is essentially an obvious hint that we need to be adaptable. The recommendations for action made in the study were rather straightforward and simple, as well as viable, albeit requiring a certain financial cost. They correspond to what was actually implemented with delays throughout 2020.
Even though it is pointless to insist that you know better with the benefit of hindsight, some major research questions immediately present themselves..
In principle, which crises can we prepare for, and which cannot be prepared for? What type of crisis is worth preparing for? (This question is rather delicate when it revolves around human lives and financial and personal costs are offset!) What should the scope of such preparation be?
These questions can be used to quickly arrive at a highly topical subject in relation to the basics of security research. Resilience, a word which is currently on everyone’s lips, is the ability of a system to deal with an external disruption and find its way back to normality in a short amount of time. This is not just a question of defining a couple of terms and making generalisms, it is primarily a question of tangible, multidisciplinary measurement and calculation methods. Can you quantify the resilience of a society? Can the effects that cost-saving measures in the areas of human resources and infrastructure have on the ability of a state to withstand threats be measured? Which investment measures make sense, and which could be excessive? Can we specify universal limits for systems, above and below which resilience is not possible?
Although these questions were not raised as a result of the ongoing pandemic, it has brought these issues to the forefront and highlighted their significance. It is, in fact, a paradox: something microscopic is compelling us to think globally..
One thing is for sure — this crisis will be followed by other crises, and COVID-19 will not be the last of its kind. Whatever the next challenge may be, engaging with our future is ever more important for our businesses, which, as a consequence of being globalized and high-tech, is increasingly vulnerable. Futurology, which is fueled by scientific methods, can provide insight that enables decision makers to make our world safer and more resilient to many threats.
Fraunhofer INT has been active in this area for more than 40 years, dealing with the future challenges of new technologies and security issues. In this way, we are helping to prepare our society for the future.
This annual report contains some of the findings from our research in 2020, the year of the pandemic. As it does every year, it provides an insight into the exciting issues that are keeping the researchers at Euskirchen busy.
Keep testing negative and share our positive view of the future!
I hope you enjoy reading this report,
Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Lauster