2024: A World Up In Flames?

January 4, 2024
Pascal Morgan

Well... Happy New Year!

You have hopefully emerged unscathed from last year. The year's headline: “global polycrisis.” And barely started, 2024 is already in debt. This new year has arrived with baggage. Unfortunately, not a clean slate to start off with:

  • The Russian war in Ukraine is still ongoing and has turned into something we all feared: an attrition war stuck between decreasing global media attention, political infights among Ukraine supporters, and a freezing winter. Every day Ukrainian lives are lost to defend their own path to a new independent future that started at the Maidan, the Independence Square in Kyiv, in November 2013. Lives lost to defend the values of a democratic Europe.
  • The aftermath of the October 7th Hamas terror attack, tearing open old unhealed wounds of over 3,000 years of local history, a melting pot of ancient Israelites, Arabs, Akkadians, all Semites linguistically in origin, and many more tribes and kingdoms over millennia. To the ramifications of the Holocaust and a thousand years of European antisemitism. To the heated geopolitical crossroads of Israelis, Shiites, Sunnis, Wahhabi, and a global oil supply feeding the economic and military powerhouses of the world. A never-ending proxy war.
  • And speaking of oil supply: the interesting backdrop of the recent COP28 Climate Conference hosted in Dubai, UAE, which in turn has just secured itself to remain among the world’s largest oil and gas suppliers to, at least, the year 2085. When we will have likely surpassed the projected 2.1°-2.4° global temperature rise, if not more.
  • We have seen a technology craze going on with the OpenAI saga. Enough drama to fill four seasons of a Netflix blockbuster series playing out in just less than 2 weeks. The hero of the story: Satya Nadella. And the top-line media hype showing how important AI has become in public perception. A mesmerized rabbit, frozen in awe, watching magical circus tricks performed by yet another LLM release on a weekly basis – and frightened the serpent might swallow little bunny alive. Copywriters, actors, journalists either going on strike or wondering how long their professions will last.
  • The collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank with $209 billion in assets and $175 billion in deposits at the time. Burning $20 billion of tax payer money (FDIC) and triggering a weekend tsunami on “X” with help tweets from founders underwater all across the Bay Area. Fearing to shutdown their businesses within days, losing their private savings, and with ripple effects all the way over to Europe.
  • Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial finally launching and ending with a guilty verdict regarding his FTX implosion late 2022 – and evaporating $8 billion into crypto smoke. This year will see the announcement of how many years he will have to spend behind bars. And without Wi-Fi.
  • And Microsoft purchasing Activision Blizzard in a record-breaking deal worth $69 billion. That’s the company behind Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and the brainless but highly profitable Candy Crush pandemic. Candy Crush has surpassed $20 billion in revenue and 5 billion downloads end of last year since its launch in 2012.
  • Oh yes, and before we forget it: UN officially announced that it will take only another 300 years, before we achieve true gender equality globally. Speaking to the UN women’s rights group just before the International Women’s Day on March 8, António Guterres shared the latest UN Women estimates. So no, not happening in our lifetime. I wonder what we should tell our daughters. That in 11-12 generations from now the world will finally be just and equal?

That was the baggage from 2023. So are we facing yet another mind-boggling year?

Well, one thing is clear: 2024 is not so clear.

The unintelligible noise, waves of global currents intersecting in a space of uncertainty. Social, technological, and economic upheavals are shaking our beliefs and worldviews. Info wars and state-funded cyber misinformation campaigns have eroded our trust in media. And the trust in one another. The divide in our society since the onset of social media has peaked even more. Camps are viciously segregated into neo-liberal to conservatives making the world simpler than it is and campaigning against everything they deem “woke” on one side vs. progressive doomsters seeing the end of the world with each technological progress and intellectually overwhelmed by the simplest right-wing rhetoric. Let’s be honest.

As I stated two years ago: “In this challenge lies a tremendous opportunity for us to profoundly learn, grow, challenge ourselves – and invent. Invent solutions. For people. For us. For our communities. And our society.”

Let’s see if that has aged well.

What will 2024 bring…?

Emerging Technologies: AI is the name of the game. As the market is being flooded with AI applications and copy cats, 2024 will peak in a plethora of small to middle-sized startups. All striving to make a quick win with layered wrapper-apps. Applications sitting on top of ChatGPT’s core (OpenAI). Or Claude (Anthropic). Or Gemini (Google). Or Grok (X). Aleph Alpha’s Luminous if we look at Europe. Or…. I haven’t even started with LLaMA by Meta, Jurassic-2 by AI21, Nvidia’s DGX AI, IBM’s Granite, and Baidu and Alibaba with their own platforms. Or even Apple’s Ajax. One thing is noticeable with this exhausting line-up though: As we might see an addition or two in 2024, the market entry for new LLM’s is getting too expensive and cumbersome from raw computing power to training time – and pure lack of AI and data engineers being hired across industries for stellar salaries. And applause to those who invested into Nvidia stock early on.

So the fast money lies in 3rd party applications trying to win the cat-and-mouse race with wrapping services and quickly launching into the market – before perhaps six months later down the line, OpenAI for instance, launches an extension to their GPT suite putting individual wrapper apps out of business. For those still familiar with Porter’s Five Forces in their economy classes: 2024 will be a perfect field study for “forward integration” in value chains. Reserved only for high-risk investments.

For a bit less risk, but still high enough to keep you on your toes, it will be everything around health. From neuroscience to health trackers, from gene editing to longevity research, from smart prosthetics to AI-driven discoveries in pharmaceuticals… Or study Sam Altman’s investment portfolio I summarized here last summer: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sams-vision-pascal-morgan/

Yes, this is OpenAI’s CEO. Someone you should be watching regarding where he puts his money. Apart from the two McLaren F1s or his, no joke, $500,000 watch. No, I mean the very long list of tech companies in his portfolio painting a very interesting future.

And if you’re just in it for the ride: Tap into the debates between “e/accs” and “doomsters” on X and other social media platforms... Wait, I’ll translate: The ongoing battle between technology positivists around Nick Land and others, the “effective accelerationists” (e/accs). Believing in accelerating technological progress, especially AI, with full force. And those who are critical and call for more ethics, guardrails, and fear an otherwise dystopian future if we don’t slow down. The decelerationists or “doomsters.”

We will have to see how Biden’s Executive Order on AI guardrails or Europe’s AI Act will play out this year. As young as these policies are, the speed of AI development had already outlived the signatures even before the ink dried. OpenAI is supposedly independently testing a watchdog system with two AI models running in parallel, with the smaller one keeping checks on the larger, more complex model, say, GPT-3 watching GPT-4.5 on steroids? The pit bull keeping the genie in the bottle.

✨ My take: The singularity might be nearer than we think. Though Meta’s Yann LeCun would likely object. And he is smart.

Geopolitics: Perhaps fueled by the crisis in Ukraine – actually a crisis in Russia just being exported to Ukraine. Or perhaps fueled by the success story of its massively attractive and incredibly productive chip industry. Yes, China has its eyes on the prize: Taiwan! The bridal target of a forced marriage China has been longing for since decades. The focal point of the globalized digital industry.

With just 24 million inhabitants it boasts an overall GDP of more than $1.68 trillion in 2023. Their foundry strategy from the 70s and 80s, producing wafers and chips on a contract basis – a novel market approach at the time – turned the island state into a semiconductor paradise. The top five are TSMC, MediaTek, ASE Technology, United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) including UMC’s subsidiary Novatek Microelectronics, and Realtek Semiconductor. TSMC is one of the main suppliers for Apple – and for AI-wunderkind Nvidia. Initially co-founded by Jensen Huang and two engineering friends in 1993 at a Denny’s breakfast diner in San Jose, CA. Meanwhile, the trillion-dollar company Nvidia has founded a research center in Taiwan and Foxconn just announced to build an “AI-factory” for them on the island, too. Taiwan is responsible for 68% of the production capacity of 16nm chips and smaller, and a staggering 80% of the hi-tech advanced chips of 7nm and below. This includes the bleeding-edge 3nm chips operating in the newest iPhone 15 Pros and upcoming models. The recently tightened technology sanctions on China, especially in the light of the global AI arms race and trying to limit China’s access to high-end computing hardware, has seemed to only spur China’s appetite.

But geopolitics also means war. And as we are seeing escalating military conflicts, cyber warfare, technological surveillance, and misinformation are on the rise. The tsunami of artifacts flooding our information channels are slowly trickling in. Now, after Midjourney’s v6 release we are seeing imagery that would pass the majority of consumers as real. 2024 will hit us hard – with automated bots, huge databases with AI-optimized target patterns and personalized phishing schemes in unforeseen quality. And the new trend with AI-automated voice calls mimicking a familiar voice has just begun. This revolution will shift the powers in asymmetrical warfare. Grenades of bits and bytes influencing public sentiment, designing and launching fake narratives, even during ongoing military battles in the field, can force wedges between allies, disrupt targeted countries and their supporters. We are already seeing some of this today.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) just allocated $1.8 billion for AI in 2024, on top of a $1.4 billion initiative (JADC2) using, e.g., AI to link vehicles, sensors, and infrastructure to modernize overall warfighting capabilities. This is parallel to a $17.8 billion science and technology budget within an even larger $140 billion-heavy research & development fund. This is significant, compared to the overall 2024 DoD budget of $842 billion.

Gender equality: UN Women has declared the 2024 International Women’s Day under the slogan of “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” Very befitting to foster a more innovative and empowering environment for women. It is not only about equality, but also about equity. Financing, assets, ownership, and having a tangible economic and decisional share in the market is key. UNSDG 5 is dedicated to gender equality and is already – from the latest UN report – drastically underfunded by $360 billion, leaving up to 340 million girls and women to live in extreme poverty by 2030. At the same time, 2024 will see more female entrepreneurship programs in developed countries. A development we hope will radiate into the Global South with, e.g., the World Bank embracing more aggressive financing strategies as Hana Brix, World Bank's Global Director Gender, announced last year. It’s about allowing women to “actively participate in the global economy.”

More women in STEM? Women achieving equal pay and career opportunities? The doors have been opened, there is no way back, despite backlashes in Afghanistan and increasing suppression in Iran and in many other geographies. The progress may appear slow and there is still a long way ahead. But a desirable and prosperous future depends on gender equality. This not only benefits women but all of us.

Democracy is still under siege: As the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm stated in their last Global State of Democracy: “Democracy is still in trouble, stagnant at best, and declining in many places.” According to Freedom House, 11 of 29 countries in transition have declined while only 7 have improved. With only 8% of the world’s population living in a fully developed democracy and another 37% in a flawed democracy, that leaves 55% living under an authoritarian or hybrid regime (Economist Index). A development that has been declining overall since 2008.

I do hope to see the Russian war in Ukraine ending in 2024 – and Ukraine making additional strides in joining the European Union as a stable democracy. But I also see the destabilization continuing on the African continent across the Sahel nations with over 7 coups d’état in just the last 3 years from Mali to Niger. This will fuel further migration, destabilize the entire region, and create high volatilities for their resources – especially lithium, graphite, and cobalt needed for renewable technologies from solar panels to batteries for smart grids and electric mobility. And will make these countries more likely a target for even more exploitation: As Niger’s Economy Director Dogari Bassirou recently complained, that their uranium was exploited by France and their oil by China. But Africa remains a continent to watch in 2024 with innovation hubs bustling and a growing digital economy across the extremely diverse 54 countries – and hopes for a prosperous future.

Global information and resource divide: 2023 has already seen 5.3 billion internet and 4.95 billion social media users. An uptick of more than 15% since 2022. We will see this number continue to rise in the times of ubiquitous IoT and IoE – with wearables and more affordable smart gadgets flooding the markets everywhere. The global market for online learning platforms will grow to $58.5 billion in 2024, with a CAGR of 4.24% through 2024-28. And to update the poverty numbers: 47% of the global population live with less than $6.85 per day – of those, 648 million alone or 8% of the population, in extreme poverty with less than $2.15 (World Bank). In contrast, the number of billionaires has grown globally by 7% to 2,544 with a combined wealth of $12 trillion, up 9%. A development that UBS Wealth Management says will only increase for the next 20 years, at least.

Climate change still poses as our no. 1 threat in terms of overall chances of survival for our civilization. At the same time, it is our no. 1 opportunity for innovation and global transformation. Not only driving new technologies, but also transforming societies on a fundamental level if we learn to embrace cradle-to-cradle production cycles and truly sustainable value chains. But questions remain, like how many mines will we need to open to access the minerals, rare earths, and metals to enable our energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables? It’s not only lithium for car batteries. A 3-megawatt wind turbine contains up to 4.7 tons of copper. Not to mention the 300 tons or more for steel, 3 tons of aluminum, and over 300 kg of rare earths. Offshore wind turbines can even go up to 8 tons of copper – per megawatt. Worst case, to get 1 ton of copper one would have to move up to 400 tons of earth. Depending on mine type and copper ore quality, possibly less. The amount of metals and minerals per megawatt in solar farms is also comparably high. So which pristine local ecosystem are we willing to sacrifice for the next electric mobility production line? A coral reef in the Pacific, the Arctic sea bed, or a South American coastline?

So, is it another year of highest recorded temperatures? Highest sea level rises? Glacier melts? And loss of habitat and species? Highest recorded CO2 ppm in the atmosphere? But perhaps it’s also the year of highest spend in renewable technologies, reforestation, local sustainability projects, and climate-tech startups equipped with tremendously smart people, data, and AI…

Yes. AI will help us monitor, explore, predict, and manage the causes, impacts, and mitigation strategies to combat climate change. 2024 will bring us more examples like DeepMind’s very recent GraphCast. AI is predestined to crack the complexities and interdependencies of a multitude of data nodes, from temperature sensors to wind speeds, from ocean buoys to satellite imagery. Our climate trajectories will become more precise, as well as identifying the culprits and the chain of causalities, like Stanford’s AI-powered climate study from last year. Perhaps this year’s COP29 UNFCCC Climate Conference in Azerbaijan might give us a more insightful AI-assisted report of the ‘global stocktake’ data we have collected over the last years.

Forced migration: It is not only an ongoing phenomenon, it is rising in our increasingly volatile world. Wars and inner conflicts. Persecution. Climate change. And the hope for safety and better economic perspectives. The reasons for displacement have become more complex and are much more interdependent and interconnected than ever before. Climate impact driving resource scarcity. Resource scarcity fueling conflicts. And starvation. Conflicts forcing people to move. It’s not only climate impact, but also securing energy supplies, competition for (mainly fossil) fuel, and the global race for economic and technological advantage, and proxy wars in an ideologically divided world. Putting that into numbers: UNHCR counts over 117.2 million displaced people, a continuing global trend going up another 20% over the last two years. 8.4 million Ukrainians alone. And already 23 million due to natural hazards and climate change – with a projection to grow up to 200 million climate refugees by 2050 (UN). An obvious consequence.

✨ And for those aiming for the stars: Space Tech will have a stellar year ahead. The Moon will continue to enjoy the renewed attention of the last few years. NASA with Artemis 2 flying a crew of four around the Moon and launching several landers to explore its south pole. China will send their Chang’e 6 lunar rover. And looking back at Earth we will have two new NASA climate satellites. Sierra Space is launching Dream Chaser, a crew-carrying reusable space plane that can potentially resupply the International Space Station. Going outbound, NASA will launch towards Europa, one of Jupiter’s mysterious icy moons, for a multiple-flyby mission. Japan will land on Mars’s largest moon Phobos.

All eyes are of course on Space X. For multiple reasons: We are anticipating 'Flight 3' of the iconic Starship. Starlink has been rumored to go public in 2024, which would be a major shakeup in the satcom industry – though Elon Musk was eager to deny this last November. To add some spice, Amazon is scheduled to launch their $10 billion Kuiper program, ultimately bringing 3,236 satellites into low orbit – competing with Starlink for broadband internet connectivity. OneWeb, having survived over a decade of dramatic business challenges, has plans to launch their inflight satellite services. And all fingers crossed, if Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin will succeed in launching the New Glenn heavy-lift rocket – as NASA is hoping to kick off their robotic “ESCAPADE” Mars mission with it next year.

But the magic will lie in the data: Earth and space observation not only for research but also for a new startup ecosystem building applications on an open data platform. A new industry is on the horizon. This is a space to watch (pun intended).

✨ So... 2024 will be a year of action. And embracing complexity for what it is: an opportunity to grow.

It will be a year of mental health, as this complexity and uncertainty can be taxing. Especially on our families and children. And on those without access – to sanitation, education, resources, safety, and medical care. Those in need of protection and support. And those who have the talent to grow and become leaders of a desirable future.

Wishing us all hope, inspiration, and solidarity. Look out for your loved ones and, please, treat yourself kindly. ❤️