2023 & 2024 - Looking Back, Looking Forward
What were the big themes last year? What will this year's be? Predictions incoming!
I came into 2023 expecting good things. As I wrote on New Year’s Day last year:
This is my year of ‘get shit done,’ and I have to tell you, my gut is signaling that 2023 is going to be a significant improvement over 2019-2022. (It would be hard for it not to be, but there’s always nuclear war in the back pocket.)
Well, we dodged nuclear war, so let’s throw some gratitude into the universe for that! But the rest of the year had more mixed results.
How was your 2023? Did you feel like it was a step in the right direction? Big year? Small year? A year of setbacks?
For, me, inasmuch as I spent 2022 in a deep, depressive funk — I learned, later, that some of what I was experiencing was known as a form of “dissociation,” which is not exactly a walk on the beach — well, let’s just say 2023 really was a huge leap forward.
For one thing, I started getting my physical health back on track after years of neglect. I managed to drop 40 lbs, only 5 of which came back over the holidays. I’ll be continuing the great Skojecian Downsizing in 2024.
The weight loss plan incorporated more brain-healthy fats, a lot less alcohol, and a decent amount of low-impact exercise. These things together jumpstarted my damaged creativity, and I was finally able to begin writing regularly again. I managed to get 63 Substack posts up last year, which is more than twice what I did in 2022.
I’d like to double that again this year. That will be tricky until I monetize more of my subs -- I have to justify the time I take out of my day to write if I can be using it for other income-generating work — but the current trend lines are looking good:
First short-term goal is going to be to hit the 200 paid subscribers mark. That’s still a long way from where I need to be to go back to writing full time, but every journey begins with a single step, so let’s just keep building!
If you’re interested in helping me hit that goal, BTW, it’s only $5 a month!
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I have some other goals I’d like to hit this year, but I still need to sit down and formalize them. (One of them is to finish writing an actual book!) But it’s definitely a year to kick some ass and take some names.
To do that more effectively, I’d like to first take a look back.
There were big themes that ate up a lot of headlines and headspace in 2023, some of which I’ve written about here. So let’s take a look at what I think the big stories will be in 2024.
#1 - The AI Revolution Continues
Sometimes, you just see the handwriting on the wall. The following post was one of those times I was sure I had nailed it - and I wasn’t wrong:
As I said when I made this post and video, back in January of 2023, AI was poised to be THE big story of the year. Remember, this was the same month that Forbes said “ChatGPT is still in its infancy,” so it wasn’t clear yet to the general public just what a juggernaut we were facing. As an early adopter of both AI Image generation and LLMs like ChatGPT, I was seeing how fast things were progressing in my own use, and it was only a matter of time before that spilled over outside of the niche communities who had their hands on this stuff ahead of time.
Well, things have come quite a long way in the past 12 months. From my post last year:
I'm absolutely convinced that the AI revolution is real. I think it's an emergent phenomenon that's happening across multiple disciplines right now, and it's going to be the biggest story of 2023. It's sort of a sleeper thing that's coming up. A lot of people think it's a fad.
It's not a fad. Right now, it's very novel. And so people are playing with different AI generators for art and for text in a way that sort of feels like, you know, playing a game. It's not a game. It’s going to change every industry, especially creative industries. It's going to change the way that we access and process knowledge and information.
I think it's just going to be one of those epochal shifts. It's probably on par with the invention of the internet. In fact, I would say that A.I. is to information what nuclear weapons were to geopolitics. It's a game changer across the board. It's going to alter economies. It's going to change everything. Now, lots of people say maybe that's not a good thing.
For the purposes of demonstration, I scripted and put together a video based completely on the input of ChatGPT. I even asked it to give me the shot list, which it did.
At the time, not a lot of people were doing videos like this. Now, it seems like everyone is, and new versions of AI-generated video software are coming out every day. The results just keep getting better. Here’s an interesting rundown on some of the latest visual tools, and how AI Image gen is now beginning to transition to more AI video gen. It’s important to remember, we’re still very early:
My AI predictions for 2024: Images and videos are glitzy and glamorous and get the most attention, and they will get exponentially better over the next year. By 2025, I think we’ll see a significant number of amateur filmmakers doing a lot of their work in AI, and some of the pros will adopt aspects of it as well.
But there are less-visually arresting areas where AI is beginning to gain ground, from productivity apps to applied pattern recognition. Productivity apps and AI “personal assistants” will begin doing things like helping you re-gain control of your email inbox, or sampling the writing you already have in your inbox and composing replies in your voice. They’ll stay on top of your preferences, your calendar, and your connections, and help you navigate an increasingly busy and fragmented life in a way where important things are filtered and brought to the top of the stack for your consideration.
As for pattern recognition, I think this is where a lot of ground will be gained in 2024. I’ve already told you about using AI’s pattern recognition capabilities to decode the language of whales, discover 380,000 new chemical compounds, and create new strains of antibiotics that can overcome drug-resistant bacteria. How many more areas will it be applied to? I think materials science and medicine are both going to see big boosts from AI research in 2024.
One area where I’m certain AI will come into play is in the search for non-human intelligence in the universe. But also, it will be used to filter data to find indicators of the existence extra-terrestrial life in more primitive forms. (There are currently-circulating rumors this may have already happened, but has not been made public yet as the math is checked.)
We’re also going to see a lot more anthropomorphic AI, from AI-generated avatars that can stand in for you in a video or even make it look and sound like you’re speaking another language…
…to AI “influencers,” which are being created by marketing firms and tech teams to cash in on the highly lucrative “influencer” market, which demands levels of physical perfection and content creation that are pretty hard for real human beings to meet. We’re still not fully out of the uncanny valley, yet, but it’s getting much closer:
We will, of course, see (and are already seeing) a darker side of this facet of AI, in the rise of AI-generated pornography, including OnlyFans and other digital avatar-based “relationship” programs, like Digi. The large-scale psychological effects of this stuff is no doubt going to get a lot of discussion in the coming year.
The long and short of it is: I think AI will continue to be a dominant story in 2024. We’re all becoming a bit more used to the idea, so I’m not sure we fully appreciate how fast things are changing, and how disruptive that is going to be.
For a sobering perspective on the effect AI will have on labor, economics, and society, I have to once again recommend Eric Weinstein’s appearance on the Triggernometry podcast last summer. There was some really compelling discussion in this one:
#2 UFO/Nonhuman Intelligence Disclosure Moves Forward
Despite my fascination with this topic, I know it’s not a favorite of all the readers of TSF. It’s a weird, wild, ontologically-alarming, difficult-to-process topic.
But it’s very much real, and it’s been building momentum all throughout 2023, which means it’s only going to be more mainstream this year. In fact, this Friday, member of Congress will receive a classified briefing on the current state of UAP investigations from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. A bit more on this here:
I’ve already mentioned that there seems to be a groundswell of rumors about the discovery of some form of extraterrestrial life on exoplanets out there somewhere. Most likely, this discovery, if it is indeed to be announced soon, relates to lower forms of life, and inconclusive results based on long-distance observations using tools like the James Webb Space Telescope.
I don’t want to get too deep into speculative territory, but the sense I’m getting is that there are some big players behind the scenes who are moving things forward at an accelerated pace, building on the momentum this topic has already received.
Whatever is going on, it’s unlikely that it’s just a psyop. If it is, it’s one that spans 80 years, thousands of witnesses, multiple government agencies, major players in the military and political establishments, and there are not a few careers on the line - to say nothing of the risk of jail time for whistleblowers if they’re lying to Congress.
In a long, incredibly thoughtful essay (h/t tofor bringing it to my attention), Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, a philosopher, scientist, and engineer who heads up the Essentia Foundation — “a new force in the cultural dialogue about the nature of reality” — writes about the current state of the UFO/UAP phenomenon. Kastrup offers a realist analysis of the current state of affairs on this topic that is difficult to find fault with:
As a culture, we’ve thus reached an impasse. On the one hand, the meagre amount of data that has been declassified or leaked isn’t enough for us to derive any firm conclusions regarding the nature of the phenomenon. On the other hand, enough has been begrudgingly but officially acknowledged that we can’t dismiss the phenomenon under prosaic accounts either. The best we can do is thus to take the data seriously, but not extrapolate from it without basis.
In this spirit, I submit to you that the following tentative premises are justifiable: firstly, there is an engineered technology in our skies and oceans that is not human. The counterargument to this is, of course, that UAPs may be top-secret but very human military devices, often called ‘black technology.’ Yet, this seems to contradict much of what has been disclosed since 2017. The following passage from the testimony of CDR Fravor to Congress illustrates the point: representative Ms. Nancy Mace asked, “Many dismiss UAP reports as classified weapons testing by our own government. But in your experience as a pilot does our government typically test advanced weapons systems right next to multimillion-dollar jets without informing our pilots?” To which CDR Fravor responded: “No. We have test ranges for that.”
Moreover, if UAPs such as the metallic spheres were black technology the US Department of Defence were trying to keep secret, it is hard to imagine why Dr. Kirkpatrick—an official of that very department—would publicize their existence and even declassify a video showcasing their size, form, flight capabilities, etc. Also, the fact that UAPs often seem to defy our understanding of physics doesn’t line up with the black-technologies hypothesis, as it would require not only the engineering to be secret, but also the very advancement of the human understanding of physics. This isn’t impossible, but isn’t very plausible either. Finally, it is difficult to imagine why such game-changing black technologies—which would have to have been around for at least as long as the UAP phenomenon itself—were never used in large and conspicuous scales to advance the geopolitical interests of any nation.
Secondly, if there is non-human technology in our skies and oceans, then there must be Non-Human Intelligences (NHIs) active on our planet, engineering and controlling the UAPs. This does not imply that the NHIs are extra-terrestrial; it means simply that they aren’t human.
As implausible as these two premises may sound in this particular historical junction, the data, if taken seriously, does not seem to allow for prosaic alternatives. So whatever hypotheses we entertain, they will per force stretch our credulity. Indeed, to insist on prosaic explanations we must disregard the data. The latter is not necessarily invalid—it isn’t incoherent to imagine that all the data are the spurious fabrications of some sprawling disinformation campaign stretching over decades—but it certainly doesn’t advance the discussion. It thus seems more productive, at this point, to bite the bullet of what the data suggests—at least hypothetically—and then check whether we can make sense of it in a manner that renders the data less vexing. [emphasis added]
There’s a lot in Kastrup’s essay. A lot. This excerpt, while important for cutting through the BS around this issue, doesn’t come close to covering the examination he provides. I think skeptics in particular will get a lot from this piece, examining what the most plausible explanations are, and why not even some of the seemingly more fantastical possibilities can simply be discounted. But Kastrup believes that these “visitors” are not actually from somewhere else.
“The hypothesis I put forward is that,” he writes, “if the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ UAP phenomenon and the Non-Human Intelligence(s) behind it are real, they are unlikely to be extra-terrestrial. Instead, they may consist of remnants of industrial, technological NHIs evolved on Earth up to 350 million years ago. We cannot find conspicuous archaeological or geological footprints of such civilisations because, according to the so-called ‘Silurian Hypothesis,’ not only weather erosion, but also the regular recycling of the Earth’s crust through plate tectonics, erase them. The anthropocentric notion that nothing intelligent has arisen on our planet in the billions of years for which no conspicuous evidence would have remained on the geological record is unjustified. There has been plenty of time and opportunity for many technological, industrial, but non-human civilizations to have arisen and disappeared from the surface of the Earth.”
Whatever the true nature of this phenomenon, expect to see more significant chunks of it revealed to the public in 2024.
#3 - Election Year Shenanigans
This one is obvious, and I won’t dwell on it right now. I’ve mostly avoided politics here, because it’s a tiresome and contentious beast, but the world is entering a bizarre cycle of demographic collapse and de-globalization, the manipulation of the American presidency becomes increasingly transparent as Biden continues to demonstrate signs of dementia and incapacity to do the job, and the Banana-republic-style tactics being used to try to criminalize Trump to keep him off the ballot is a bizarre, unnervingly open bit of corrupt politicking that doesn’t bode well for the future of the most powerful nation on the planet.
I fully expect that this year will be rife with a number of “I can’t believe they’re doing/saying this right out in the open” tactics that will bleed into demonstrations, protests, riots, social action campaigns, battles between Elon Musk’s commitment to free speech via X and the known complicity of other social platforms with government propaganda efforts, etc.
The configuration of the pieces on the board aren’t yet clear, but I expect more overt manipulation than we’ve ever seen in an election year, and that’s saying a lot.
#4 - The Beginning of the End of Gender Insanity and Woke, Inc.
Call it a hunch, but I sense this coming, and coming fast.
First of all, people are tired of everything “trans.” They’re done with tubby, histrionic, purple-or-green-haired androgenous whiners going off on “cis” “heteronormative” people for being…normal.
They’re sick of degenerate, aberro-sexual behavior being rammed down their throats every day by corporations, or being force-fed to their kids through ostensible children’s entertainment. They do not want their daughters competing with boys pretending to be girls, let alone allowing those boys into locker rooms with their girls. They are not willing to participate in the delusional lie that a man is in fact a woman just because he says so.
The fact that X is allowing free speech on this topic — I even finally got my suspended account back after 6 months of fruitless appeals — is beginning to change the discussion.
Bud Light learned a hard lesson this year on this front.
But it’s not just trans. It’s the overuse of racist accusations. It’s the DEI problem in our companies and universities. It’s the selective outrage over “speech is violence,” except when it’s violently anti-Semitic speech. It’s a whole lot of things people are a whole lot of fed up with.
I think this is also tied in with the movement we’re seeing among Gen Z to “return” to more traditional relationship aesthetics, if not traditional values. There’s a real sense that aggressive, rabid forms of feminism along with utilitarian tech like Tinder have destroyed the ability of young men and women to relate to one another and build meaningful relationships. They’re not happy. They want to go back to a time they’ve never even known.
So in general, while there’s been a pretty wild push towards extreme progressive ideological positions, I think the pendulum is swinging back. How fast, and how far it will have to go, remain up for grabs, but watch for this trend to pick up steam in 2024.
#5 - Big Changes in Home Ownership
This one is very nascent, and very US-focused. I’m not exactly sure how far we’ll go down this road in 2024, but I expect it to start.
My wife has been a real estate agent for 20 years, and a broker for about half that time. I work with her enough to see industry trends, and while many fundamentals still appear solid, I sense that we are coming to an impasse.
Homes are too expensive for most people. Low inventory translates to high prices, and higher interest rates mean much bigger payments. Buying a house in 2024 could easily cost you double the monthly payment you would have made in 2018 for the same house.
In August, 60,000 new home contracts were canceled. (My wife and I were among those who pulled out of a new home build agreement this year, as we realized that the cost would only continue to go up as we approached our closing date, and it was likely going to be much more than we could afford.)
The office for Veterans Affairs announced in November that it was pausing foreclosures on VA loans until June of 2024, after discovering that tens of thousands of VA loan holders were at risk of foreclosure.
Meanwhile, commercial real estate is quietly imploding. There are some loud talkers in industry demanding a wholesale return to the office, but for many folks who got a taste of work from home during COVID, there will never be a universal full-time migration back to in-person workplaces.
Consequently, commercial lease renewals are headed down, and those that are being renewed are for much less space:
A new national report by the CoStar Group lays the challenge bare: Though office tenants are renewing leases at a far higher rate than they were in the worst of COVID — businesses signed new leases in the second quarter of 2023 for an estimated 97.5 million square feet, a big increase from 57.4 million square feet in the second quarter of 2020 — the new leases, often running 15 years, are far smaller than they used to be. Specifically, they’re for 19% less space than the 2015-2019 average.
Consequently, we’re beginning to see stories about commercial office buildings being converted into multifamily or apartment homes. So-called “Tiny Homes” are being used to ease homelessness in cities like Austin, but you can expect to see more normal homebuyers making recourse to this trend.
And with millions of immigrants crossing our borders, there are a lot more people to shelter, whether they belong here or not. Competition will increase as long as they continue to enter the country.
The way we approach housing in America is about to undergo some big changes.
#6 - BONUS ROUND: AI Predictions
In the spirit of AI continuing to dominate the upcoming trends for 2024, I asked ChatGPT to throw me some predictions. The first round of answers were lame. I told it that, and asked it for something more bold. It gave me these 5, which were all interesting:
Quantum Computing Breakthroughs: A major breakthrough in quantum computing could occur, potentially solving complex problems much faster than traditional computers. This could revolutionize fields like cryptography, leading to significant challenges in cybersecurity and data protection.
First Successful Anti-Aging Treatments: Advancements in biotechnology might lead to the first successful anti-aging treatments, significantly extending human lifespan or reversing certain aging processes. This could have profound implications for society, healthcare, and ethics.
Discovery of Extraterrestrial Microbial Life: Space exploration missions, such as those to Mars or Europa (one of Jupiter's moons), might discover evidence of extraterrestrial microbial life. Such a discovery would have enormous implications for our understanding of life in the universe.
Implementation of Universal Basic Income (UBI): In response to increasing automation and AI in the workforce, a major economy could implement a Universal Basic Income as a bold experiment in social welfare and economic restructuring.
Major Advancement in Fusion Energy: A significant breakthrough in controlled nuclear fusion could be announced, offering a potential path to a clean, virtually limitless energy source. This would represent a monumental shift in global energy strategies and climate change mitigation efforts.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope you’ll share your own predictions in the comments. I bet there are patterns emerging that most of us haven’t seen. If you do, feel free to be bold!