Futurists dislike short-term thinking. It doesn’t play well with our models, emphasises blips over trends, and gets in the way of dealing with the big issues in favour of dealing with today’s – or tomorrow’s – crisis. That being said, 2023 has been a very good year for seeing some trends develop – some “pockets of the future in the present” – which may extend further in 2024.
So, in deference to the season’s apparent need for predicting the next year, in the often vain hope it will be better than the passing one, here are some thoughts about the trends of 2023 which we see playing an important part in 2024.
The continued evolution of artificial intelligence and other technologies has been a significant theme. From breakthroughs in machine learning to the widespread adoption of AI in various industries, these advancements have begun to significantly alter the landscape of work, ethics, privacy, and even daily life. OpenAI’s board disruptions around the development of Q* point the way to step-change development; Google’s issues with Gemini show that the development is not a straight line. Fairly soon, this thing is going to get exponential, though probably not in the short term.
The growing urgency around climate change has seen increased emphasis on sustainability. This includes innovations in renewable energy, policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, and a greater focus on sustainable practices in both personal and corporate spheres. Depending on who you read, we’re almost too late, or, at least according to the president of COP28, we can keep pumping oil and gas. As the 2023 Natural Resources Forum “ESG Week” showed (full disclosure – the author chairs the NRF), the oil, gas, metals and mining industries understand the importance of making even the most unlikely sectors climate-neutral. Maybe 2024 will be the year that politics catches up with science and industry.
The world continues to grapple with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on recovery and preparednessfor future health crises. This includes advancements in healthcare technology, vaccine development, and global health policy reforms. Whilst the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry grinds slowly on, some lessons are already being learned for the future.
Economic recovery post-pandemic has been uneven, highlighting issues of inequality and the need for more inclusive economic policies. Discussions around universal basic income, wealth distribution, and the impact of automation on jobs have been central. Faltering economies cause social hardship and disruption. As poverty rises, hopelessness comes along too.
Many countries have experienced increased political polarisation, impacting governance and international relations. The rise of populist movements, debates around misinformation and free speech, and the changing role of global alliances are key aspects of this theme. There is almost too much to say here – 2024 could see a widespread rise in the hard right across Europe; Trump could be the next US president. Misinformation threatens civil society, political structures, and people’s faith in democracy. Europe and America have a “pro-Putin populist problem” with obvious implications for Ukraine, the Baltics and the world.
As more of our lives move online, cybersecurity and digital privacy issues have become increasingly important. This includes protecting personal data, the threat of cyber attacks, and the ethical implications of digital surveillance. Scenarios developed during Cyberevolution 2023 highlighted the vulnerability of everything from personal data to critical national infrastructure. And, considering how many elections are taking place in 2024, the integrity of national elections is vital. The quiet drumbeat of nation-state-level cyber attacks has not yet reached cyber warfare. But they could.
The transformation of the educational sector and the evolving nature of work, accelerated by technological advancements and the pandemic, are significant themes. There’s a growing emphasis on lifelong learning, digital literacy, and adapting to a changing job market. We know from our work at SAMI that concerns about the future of skills, education, and work are widespread. As nations struggle with productivity challenges, those concerns will only increase.
Social justice movements, cultural shifts, and discussions around identity and diversity rattle societies globally. These movements influence policy, corporate practices, and societal norms. Whether it’s through the trans debates in the US and UK (no links here as they’re mostly frankly depressing – this is not a place where people seem to be balanced) or the increasing voice of the First Nations in the climate challenge, civil society is finding ways of engaging with its own future. Inevitably fissiparous, divided and without the power of governments and armies, expect to see increasing action on the streets as people seek to reclaim some of the power they feel they are losing through economic disparity and unhearing governments.
Which takes us to the debate around the benefits and challenges of globalisation. Supply chain disruptions, trade wars, and the reshaping of global alliances are the big themes. Social disorder, reshoring, anti-immigrant sentiment (and laws, such as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill), “citizens of nowhere” vs “citizens of somewhere” disrupting electoral projections – all spin from globalisation and affect internal and external policies in jagged and unpredictable ways.
There could have been more trends than just these nine. They all intersect and interact unpredictably, often dangerously. There are doubtless many positive trends – many examples of kindness, thoughtful thinking, and the slow and steady development of a better world. It is difficult to see them when the “pockets of the future in the present” present such compelling evidence of change and of an uncertain response to that change from the people most affected by it.
We look forward to 2024 – we hope it is successful and peaceful for all of us. We fear that that success and peace may be rare.
Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.
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