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What’s coming in 2022?

COVID-19, global shipping, AI, local news and film: Northwestern experts weigh in on the year ahead
Tarek Abdallah of Kellogg sees more trouble ahead for the supply chain.

After a year filled with unprecedented challenge and uncertainty, can the lessons of 2021 prepare us for a more stable year ahead? Northwestern Now asked experts across campus to share their predictions for 2022 on a variety of topics from COVID-19 and the supply chain to artificial intelligence and local news.

We’ll learn to live with COVID-19

“In 2022, we will move more to the endemic phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection, where we continue to learn to live with the virus,” said Dr. Elizabeth McNally of the Feinberg School of Medicine. 

“Since natural immunity from prior infection and immunity from vaccines both wane over time, the overall U.S. population will have a range of protection in 2022. To manage this broad range, I predict we will rely more on antibody testing to help guide patients with underlying medical conditions and inform their need for additional boosters. I suspect we will see a vaccine specific to the omicron variant.”

AI will explode in unexpected areas

“I expect an explosion of activity in artificial intelligence (AI) for areas beyond what we typically associate it with, including newsworthy advances in synthetic biology and the creation of new medicines,” said Chad Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology.

“But the most significant advances may come through deploying AI to address the materials genome. To meet our ambitions for clean energy and zero emissions, we need materials for fuel cells and catalysts with unprecedented power and capabilities — materials that don’t exist today. And AI, when trained on the appropriate data sets, can direct us to structures with the properties we need.”  

On the precipice of energy transition

“Human-caused climate change is here and society must choose a path forward – mitigate, adapt or suffer,” said Daniel Horton of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“I’m most excited to see what paths of action are adopted by the U.S. government. The Biden administration is poised to revolutionize our country’s fight against climate change via their two-tiered infrastructure package. We sit on the precipice of federally backed transitions in energy and transportation infrastructure — actions that are critical for transitioning our society away from fossil fuels, reducing our carbon emissions and reducing the impacts of climate change.”

Excitement over 3D tech

“Progress is being made with 3D touch, eliminating the need for physical devices to sense virtual objects,” said Hayes Ferguson, clinical associate professor and director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“Soon, a physician in Chicago will be able to feel the thyroid of a patient in rural Alaska. While this specific example likely won’t be realized in the coming year, expect to see other exciting developments in this area.”

Supply chains will suffer

“We are experiencing shortages and delays in supply chains since every entity is highly utilized,” said Tarek Abdallah of the Kellogg School of Management.

“The global shipping industry is not able to keep up with the surge in the demand, the ports are congested, companies are struggling with labor shortages, and some are shutting down due to workers protesting work conditions. In normal conditions, supply chains can possibly absorb these shocks if they occur sporadically, but when these disruptions happen simultaneously, even the best-in-class supply chains will suffer.”

Closing the gaps on the vaccine

“Given the 2022 midterms, it seems likely that rhetoric around COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other protective measures will only intensify, while also focusing on charged issues such as critical race theory,” said James Druckman of Weinberg and the Institute for Policy Research.

“It seems reasonable to expect continued closing of the partisan gaps in terms of actually getting the vaccine. The main outlier resistant group that may emerge are those who are less partisan and simply alienated from the system with very low trust in health infrastructure.”

Firms will face their DEI promises

“Many companies have made diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments during 2020 or 2021,” said Nicholas Pearce of Kellogg. “Now, we must challenge business leaders to enforce those commitments and not just give lip service. Business leaders should be transparent and put the DEI efforts at the center, rather than the periphery.”

Sexual harassment in the spotlight

“I anticipate the coming year will bring renewed attention to the problem of workplace sexual harassment and, with it, a push to increase legal protections for the most vulnerable victims,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. 

“As the #MeToo movement progresses, expect more efforts to enhance accountability, to improve the systems that handle allegations of misconduct and to create more survivor-centered approaches to justice. The movement will likely see both meaningful progress and real setbacks, prompting important conversations about the promise of law and its limits.”

Horror will keep us talking

“What struck me about 2021 was the continuation and expansion of artful and political horror filmmaking and TV,” said David Tolchinsky, founding director of the MFA in writing for stage and screen program in the School of Communication.

“COVID-19 has shown that people will continue to go to the theatres mainly for Marvel blockbuster fare and horror, which seems to thrive off the energy, fear and bonding of a live audience. So, it’s not surprising that horror films have expanded and mutated. But what is surprising is how smart and deep they’re getting.

“I predict horror will continue to be even more artful, provoking social discussion and perhaps change, without losing its ability to scare and delight, on TV and in theatres.”

A watershed moment for news

“This year will mark the beginning of the end for the daily printed newspaper in the U.S., as publishers scale back frequency to reduce costs and aggressively shift to digital platforms,” said Tim Franklin of Medill. “The fate of many legacy local news organizations will hinge on whether news consumers pivot with them and become paying digital readers.

“This also is the moment that will determine for years to come whether the U.S. government provides support to buttress the struggling local news industry. There’s been bipartisan coalescing around legislation that provides tax credits to help local news outlets, a potential lifeline for many. But the measure may well become entangled in partisan wrangling on other issues, dooming its passage. Similarly, the government’s decision to act — or not — on the regulation of social media companies will have ripple effects for years to come.

“Regardless of what happens in Washington, we’ll continue to see the emergence of new nonprofit digital local news models, like those in Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland. But will this exciting new paradigm extend to underserved communities that are effectively news deserts? The answer to all of these questions in 2022 will have a profound effect on journalism and our self-governed democracy.”

Young people bring the change

“We will continue to see young people at the forefront of moments for environmental and health justice,” said Moya Bailey of the School of Communication. “I think the Chicago COVID-19 walk-outs portend more to come if the health and safety of students, faculty and staff are not prioritized. I see young people becoming even more unruly and making the change they wish to see in the world when adults are too entrenched in the current system.”