I wrote a few blogs in 2020 on esoteric topics, including The Ethics of Writing About Tomorrow, The Ethics of Social Distancing, The Ethics of Writing About The 2020 Presidential Election, and The Ethics of Writing Predictions in the Covid-19 Era. While those blogs involved short-term predictions, none came with the gigantic challenge of predicting the follow-up to America’s unpredictable 2020. That’s where we are now. Predicting 2021 against the backdrop of knowing how badly we predicted 2020.

With that in mind (and under the guise of the ethics of predicting 2021), I give you my summary of predictions for the coming year.

Those who thought 2020 was an unpredictable year were definitely not paying attention over the last decade. In the decade preceding 2020, epidemiologists frequently warned that a “once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic could ravage the planet, and that even the most advanced nations were ill-prepared for the fallout.”[1]

Fortune Magazine predicts, “Corporate America will thrive in 2021, but good fortune will not be evenly distributed. That’s because the markets tend to perform better when Capitol Hill is gridlocked, as that rules out disruptive policies that threaten to upend business as usual. In 2021, a likely GOP-controlled Senate, or even a fifty-fifty split, puts the kibosh on any Biden administration plans to reverse the Trump tax cuts; that should bode well for corporate profits, which are also primed for a major rebound when the pandemic wanes.”[2]

Are there any ethics norms that might govern this prediction? It’s based on the hope for more congressional dysfunction.

Compare Ethics predicts, “The impact of coronavirus, social distancing and working from home has altered the fashion landscape and the way we purchase goods. Our wardrobe preferences have shifted to relaxed athleisure and loungewear, whilst ‘waist up’ dressing has become a reality spurred by the uptake of digital conferencing. Hygiene regulations in store environments have catalysed the growth of e-commerce platforms and preference for online shopping. With no ability to try clothes on and a desire to avoid crowds, shoppers have taken to the comfort of their coach instead of the high-street.”[3]

What ethical norms are implicated from “waist up dressing” and “Hygiene regulations in store environments?” Sounds like “buy now,” before it’s too late.

Re-Work is a think-tank that creates content by bringing together the latest technological advancements and practical examples to apply Artificial Intelligence to solve challenges in business and society. It predicts, “1. A tidal shift in the operationalization of principles into practice by speaking to practitioners to understand where the rubber is failing to meet the road. 2. Less talk and more action. 3. Elevation and inclusion of voices outside of the traditional regions where AI ethics is being discussed. 4. Thinking on bias and fairness by incorporating more dimensions and most importantly incorporating intersectionality. 5. Inclusion of technical solutions with the recognition that they are essential as diagnostics but not replacement for larger societal changes. 6. A realization of the importance of organizational practices in the successful deployment of AI ethics. 7. A visceral realization that these are sociotechnical systems and can benefit from voices from all walks of life.”[4]

This sounds like machine learning by bot-ethicists.

Ethics Advice-Line for Journalists offers its 2021 Predictions and Day Dreams. “[We] hope 2021 brings with it a shift in power structures in journalism toward a meaningful investment in building institutions that invest in Black and brown and Indigenous and immigrant and non-Western voices, in creating pipelines and opportunities for those who have been systemically disempowered. 2021 will be the year of the journalist, which would be a surprising and welcome change for a profession that has been under attack by President Trump as ‘fake news’ and the ‘enemy of the people.’ 2021 is the year for journalists from all sides of the newsroom to step into the cultural challenge that is a white-washed, male-dominated media industry and walk into a cultural change.”

Ethical and cultural cheers for that.

CloudBees provides enterprise DevOps solutions. They predict, “Machine learning and artificial intelligence getting the diversity and inclusion treatment in 2021. The inherent and unintentional biases of the largely homogenous creators of machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions [will] slip into algorithms, testing methodologies and training data sets and into the final product. The emphatic call to level the playing field over the last year has set the stage to solve this problem. After all, in many ways software is easier to examine for bias than the human mind. The new year will bring more development in the DevOps space … 2021 will see a great connection between ‘Dev’ and ‘Ops.’”[5]

Are the ethics of machines similar to or different from the souls in software? Either way, ethics in the cloud will be a “thing” in 2021.

Google sees digital marketing trends and predictions for 2021. “Equality, data ethics, and reaching the at-home consumer are topics on marketing agendas for 2021. Global search interest in the term ‘Black-owned business’ surged in mid-2020 as the Black Lives Matter movement gained further international attention and recognition. It was a powerful indication that people are seeking to drive change, not just through campaigning but in the decisions they make as consumers. The conversation on racial equality has undoubtedly advanced in 2020, but in 2021 people will expect more of brands than just speaking up. Businesses will need to take an increasingly proactive approach—and empower consumers to do the same. Consumers are shopping more mindfully, and they hold power in where and how they spend their money. If brands don’t meet their expectations, then they could be at risk.”[6]

Well, it’s about time. The study of ethics can be seen at the beginning of many world literatures. Values and success are the principal qualities of a hero, and rarely are constrained by moral considerations. Ethical claims are found occasionally in the literature of ancient civilizations aimed at lower classes of society. Ancient religions and ethical thinkers put forward some version of the golden rule, at least in its negative version: do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.[7] Google is ethically correct, for a change.

The arts and culture sector has been decimated by cancellations and lockdowns in 2020. But some elements in the sector see a glimmer of hope in 2021. “Only the strong will survive. Recipients of grants from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, William Penn, Andrew W. Mellon and Knight foundations, and other funding sources will emerge more or less intact. Arts organizations that stayed connected with their audiences with virtual events are better positioned to weather the pandemic. The arts are a powerful way for people to process and express all we have experienced during the past year. Our likeliest success will be providing the outlet for people to give voice to all they have been through in 2020—their stories will be powerful.”[8]

The ethical message is that life and work come first. The arts and culture second. First the stomach and head, then the heart and soul.

The Toronto Star says, “Boris will bumble and Trump will linger like a bad smell.”[9]

The Economist says, “We look ahead to America’s presidential inauguration, Germany’s new leader and, of course, the world’s response, in business, politics, economics and medicine, to the coronavirus pandemic. “[10]

CNBC’s Brian Sullivan says, “The world will emerge from our collective Covid crisis slowly at first, but once it is clear a majority of the most vulnerable are protected (April?), expect to see the beginning of a boom in consumption and excess like anything we’ve seen in 100 years.”[11]

CNN says, “Our prognosticators are almost evenly divided on who will win the two Georgia Senate races. But four believe Ossoff and Warnock will be victorious, because the Republicans won’t vote. They’re too busy screaming about imaginary voter fraud. It will be Trump’s final gift to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. After helping McConnell dispose of his principles, Trump will help deprive him of control of the US Senate.”[12]

Forbes says, “Global growth will be 4%, as pent-up demand and new vaccines power a recovery from the 2020 global GDP growth of 1.2%. China will have a solid 6% year, up from 2.8% in 2020. China will benefit from its bet on stockpiling oil reserves at cheap prices in 2020. Still, not all the wind will be at China’s back. Covid-19 will accelerate a rebalancing of global supply chains away from China and toward Brazil, India, Mexico and Southeast Asia. This will cap China’s growth potential in the years ahead. The U.S. will rebound from a no-growth 2020 to 3% growth in 2021, but with it will revive a nasty and long-forgotten counterweight—inflation.”

A suitable end to my predictions about 2021 ethics might be “Nostradamus’ Predictions for 2021: Asteroids, Zombies and a Bad Outlook.” Perhaps predictably, it comes from the New York Post.

“Nostradamus, who died in 1566, has famously prophesied calamitous events through his Les Prophéties, a collection of poetic quatrains. The Renaissance-era seer alluded to such events as the French Revolution, the development of the atomic bomb and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now, close readers of his work say he foresaw a 2021 even more destructive than this hellscape of a year. In his writings, he mentions ‘Few young people: half-dead to give a start.’ This can only mean one thing, according to Yearly-Horoscope: a zombie apocalypse. Fathers and mothers dead of infinite sorrows / Women in mourning, the pestilent she−monster: / The Great One to be no more, all the world to end … After great trouble for humanity, a greater one is prepared … The Great Mover renews the ages: / Rain, blood, milk, famine, steel, and plague, / Is the heavens fire seen, a long spark running?”

Is it remotely possible that a man who died in 1566 could have foreseen the disastrous autocracy foisted on this country on November 8, 2016? Even more improbable, could he have foreseen the rebirth of democracy that finally came on November 3, 2020? If he did, then my ethical hat is off to him.

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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[2] Ibid.

[3] https://compareethics.com/sustainability-predictions-2021/bid.  


[5] https://vmblog.com/archive/2020/12/11/cloudbees-2021-predictions-ethics-kubernetes-devops-and-more.aspx#.X-vIA9hKiUk

[6] https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-154/consumer-insights/consumer-trends/digital-marketing-trends-predictions/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_ethics

[8] https://generocity.org/philly/2020/12/23/predictions-for-nonprofits-2021/

[9] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/12/26/boris-will-bumble-trump-will-linger-like-a-bad-smell-and-more-2021-predictions.html

[10] https://www.economist.com/the-world-in-2021

[11] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/23/brian-sullivan-5-predictions-for-2021.html

[12] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/27/opinions/2021-predictions-opinion-column-fredrick-williams/index.html