Today I’m going to write about the college course booklet, an artifact of another time. I hope along the way we might learn something about digital technology, information design, and why we keep getting in our own way when it comes to applying the lessons of the past to the possibilities of the future. But to do that, we have to start with a story.
Forty years ago this summer I was a rising Freshman at UC Berkeley. Like most 17- or 18- year olds in the pre-digital era, I wasn’t particularly focused on my academic career, and I wasn’t much of a planner either. As befit the era, my parents, while Berkeley alums, were not the type to hover – it wasn’t their job to ensure I read through the registration materials the university had sent in the mail – that was my job. Those materials included a several-hundred-page university catalog laying out majors, required courses, and descriptions of nearly every class offered by each of the departments. But that was all background – what really mattered, I learned from word of mouth, was the course schedule, which was published as a roughly 100-page booklet a few weeks before classes started.
Threads is a week old today, and in those short seven days, the service has lapped generative AI as the favorite tech story of the mainstream press. And why not? Threads has managed to scale past 100 million users in just five days — far faster than ChatGPT, which broke TikTok’s record just a few months ago. That’s certainly news — and news is what drives the press, after all.
Threads has re-established Meta as a hero in tech’s endless narrative of good and evil — I can’t count the number of posts I’ve seen from influential public figures joking that, thanks to Threads, they actually like Mark Zuckerberg again. And Meta can certainly relish this win — the company has been the scapegoat for the entire tech industry for the better part of a decade.
But were I an executive at Meta responsible for Threads, I’d not be sleeping that well right about now. As they well know, the relationship between the tech industry and the press can shift in an instant. Glowing stories about breaking app download records can just as quickly become hit pieces about how Meta has leveraged its monopoly position in social media to vanquish yet another market, killing free speech and “real news” along the way. So far that story has been confined to the fringes of Elon’s bitter troll army over on whatever remains of Twitter these days, but should Threads lap Twitter as the largest app focused on creating a “public square” — whatever that means — the worm will quickly turn.
Meta has a tiger by the tail here, and so far, they’ve been working hard to tamp down expectations. Both Zuckerberg and Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri have been active on Threads, posting daily with both practiced humility (“gosh this thing is succeeding well beyond our expectations,” “we’re just at the starting line,” “we know we’re over our skis”) and reminders about how Threads isn’t like Twitter. Mosseri, for example, has downplayed the role of news — Twitter’s main differentiation and its endlessly maddening Achilles hell; Zuckerberg’s first Thread defined his new service as “an open and friendly public space” — prompting Musk to fire back that he’d rather be “attacked by strangers on Twitter” than live in “hide the pain” world of Instagram.
But The News — with all of its complications — is coming for Threads. I left Twitter more than six months ago, and while I sometimes missed feeling connected to the real time neural net the app had become for me, I almost instantly felt better about both myself and the world. Living on Twitter means navigating an unceasing firehose of toxicity, and Musk’s interventions only worsened the poisonous atmosphere of the place. I joined Threads a half hour after it launched, and indeed, it was a giddy place, its initial users basking in the app’s surprising lack of toxicity.
Other journalists have noticed the same thing. For now, the narrative around Threads centers on its extraordinary growth, but a close second is how “nice” the place feels compared to Twitter. Meta executives would like to keep it that way — combining “what Instagram does best” with “a friendly place for public conversation,” as Zuck put it in his first post.
To that fantasy, I say good luck to you, Mr. Zuckerberg. Keeping Threads “nice” means controlling the conversation in ways that are sure to antagonize just about everyone. No company — not Facebook, not Instagram, not Reddit, and certainly not Twitter, has figured out content moderation at scale. If, as Zuckerberg claimed, the goal with Threads is to create a “town square with more than 1 billion people,” the center of that square will have to contain news. And news, I can tell you from very personal experience, is the front door to a household full of humans screaming at each other.
“Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads,” Mosseri told the Hard Fork podcast last week, “But we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.”
I’ll have more to say about that sentiment in another post, but for now, I’ll leave it at this: When Threads hits 300 million active users — roughly the size of Twitter — the love affair between the press and Threads will more than likely come to an end.
I’ll be talking to Meta’s head of advertising Nicola Mendelsohn at P&G Signal tomorrow. You can register here for free.
On Sunday The New York Times reported that Google is furiously working to incorporate conversational AI into its core search products – not exactly news, but there was a larger takeaway: Google has got to get some killer AI products out the door, and fast, or it risks losing its core users for good. And if my own family is any indication, the company is already imperiled. More on that below, but first, a bit more on the Times piece.
The article led with big news: Samsung may decamp from Google and partner with Microsoft’s Bing instead. This would be a major blow both financially as well as optically – Samsung’s commitment to Android is a key reason Google’s mobile platform towers over Apple’s iOS in terms of worldwide market share.
But the real partnership to watch is Google’s deal with Apple itself. Estimated at $20 billion annually, this deal ensures that Google’s core search engine is the default on more than 1 billion iOS devices. If Google loses that deal to Microsoft, the entire tech world will be re-ordered. For now, Wall Street seems to think the deal isn’t in jeopardy (the stock price is a handy gauge), but even the speculation that Google might lose Apple leaves Apple with an extraordinary amount of leverage for the balance of this year (details are thin as to when the deal actually renews, but analysts think it’s late 2023).
The short of it is this: Google’s got to respond, and soon – or it risks losing its most important distribution deals, and by extension, its most profitable customers.
Then again, if my wife Michelle is representative of a larger swath of Internet users, Google’s got a fight on its hands today – not sometime in the future should Samsung or Apple decide to bolt. And it’s not Bing that’s winning – it’s ChatGPT. Yes, ChatGPT had “only” 1.6 billion visits in March, roughly 1% of Google’s totals. But that’s up from 1 billion in February, and with compounding growth like that, it won’t be long before Google’s facade of immutability starts to crack.
Given all this, the Times piece reads as obvious – of course Google is rushing to “incorporate AI into search” – but what will those products really look like? For answers, it makes sense to look at how regular folks are using GPT-driven products. And while my own habits haven’t really changed yet, I can’t say the same for others in my orbit. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is – caveat alert – the aforementioned Michelle.*
Unlike me and probably most of you, my wife is not an early adopter of tech products and services. We were a decade into our marriage before she started regularly checking her personal email, and she pretty much skipped the Facebook and Twitter phases of early Web 2. Like all of us she quickly picked up the smart phone habit, but she has something like 1000 unread emails and texts, which is incomprehensible to me – I can’t sleep until my inbox has less than ten messages, and I respond to (or delete) texts almost instantaneously.
Michelle does use Instagram pretty regularly – more to browse than to post, and she’s a sophisticated user of the “rest of the Internet” – which means she’s a pretty seasoned Google user. Until recently, Google has been her main window to the Web – the glue that held together hours of weekly research into whatever she was working on at a given time.
That’s all changed in the past few months – and if Michelle represents the average Google user, it’s no wonder folks in Mountain View are “freaking out,” to quote a source in the Times‘ recent report.
Here’s why. A few months ago Michelle started playing around with ChatGPT, first just to see what the fuss was about, but more recently in a focused and highly utilitarian way. Put in crass, commercial terms, ChatGPT converted her. Michelle has several information-intensive projects going at any given time in areas ranging from real estate to documentaries, food to finance. Before ChatGPT, she’d start her work inside Google – asking the search engine to answer a simple query, then refining and re-searching – over and over – until her browser was crowded with dozens of opened and often unread tabs.
This process of culling insight and knowledge from an infinite and maddening list of blue links is familiar to anyone who uses Google, in particular on a desktop machine where there’s plenty of real estate for multiple browser windows and tabs. In essence, Google acts as a kind of real time Memex – a temporary** and fragile thread holding our research efforts together. At some point it becomes our job to make sense of all those open tabs and windows, a process I’ve come to call internet bricolage.
Then again, sometimes we’ll just give up in frustration and leave the whole mess behind. Whenever I happen to be using Michelle’s laptop I’ve noticed windows with 20 or more tabs open, and I’ll ask if I should close them out. “Oh no,” she’ll say. “I need those, I might get back to that…”
But when Michelle uses ChatGPT, the service essentially inverts all that bricolage, confidently offering a summary based on orders of magnitude more input, a crisp response that feels magical compared to the sludge of a typical Google search session. It’s addictive, and it’s changed Michelle’s habits completely.
Before ChatGPT, Michelle used Google for many hours each week. But after, her use of Google has plummeted more than 50 percent. Interestingly, her engagement with certain trusted publications and websites has increased.
I asked Michelle how her usage had shifted in these previously Google-dominated kinds of searches, and we worked up this chart:
In short, Google’s down dramatically, ChatGPT now takes more than a third of her time, random web sites have receded, and “trusted” sites – she often will ask ChatGPT which sites to trust – have skyrocketed.
All of this has some pretty interesting implications for the Internet (and for the advertising that supports it), if Michelle’s usage is anything like the rest of the world’s. In my next post, I’ll go into specifics about how Michelle uses ChatGPT, and what some of those implications might be.
*I know, I know, never write a story using your family, or a cabbie, as your source. Fortunately, I don’t have editors and this is a blog post.
**It’s crazy that Google doesn’t remember search streams over time, a presumptive feature of ChatGPT.
How long have I been staring at a blank screen, this accusing white box, struggling to compose the first sentence of a post I know will be difficult to write? About two minutes, actually, but that’s at least ten times longer than ChatGPT takes to compose a full page. And it’s those two minutes – and the several days I struggled with this post afterwards – that convince me that ChatGPT will not destroy writing. In fact, I think it may encourage more of us to write, and more still to consume the imperfect, raw, and resonant product of our efforts.
I’m a pretty fast writer, but I’m a deliberate and vicious editor – I’ll happily kill several paragraphs of my own text just minutes after I’ve composed them. I know that the best writing happens in the editing, and the most important part of composition is to simply get some decent clay on the wheel. ChatGPT seems to be really good at that clay part. But it’s in the second part – the editing – that the pot gets thrown*.
Everyone from educators to legislators seem to be asking how we can distinguish between writing done by AIs, and writing done by actual humans. But if the age of the centaur is truly upon us, perhaps we don’t have to. Authorship is already a complicated process of bricolage and outright theft. I don’t see why adding a tool like ChatGPT should be anything but welcomed.
Some argue that ChatGPT already is writing like humans – which implies it will replace writing, instead of merely complementing it. Indeed, ChatGPT can string sentences together in often extremely useful or humorous ways. And sure, it may likely replace structured text like sports summaries or earnings reports. But I don’t think tools like ChatGPT will ever be able to write like Sam Kriss, or Zeynep Tufecki, or Anil Dash.
When I write, I have no idea how the work is going to end, much less what ideas or points I’ll make as I pursue its composition. For a reader, the beauty in a piece of writing is its wholeness. It’s a complete thing – it starts, it blathers on for some period of time, it ends. But for a writer, an essay is a process, a living thing. You compose, you reflect, you edit, reject, reshape, and repeat. Once it’s finished, the piece quickly settles into an afterlife, a fossilized artifact of a process now complete. The principle joy** of writing for the writer isn’t in admiring what you’ve made (though there’s a bit of that as well), it’s in its creation.
And that process of creation – the struggle, the chuckles, the bloodied revisioning; the sense that a piece is starting to come together, the constant editing – all of it works together to make something that is distinctly human. Intelligences like ChatGPT can parrot that output, but by definition they cannot actually create it.*** What they can do is aid in its creation, but providing a muse-like response to the questions and hypotheses that naturally arise while one struggles to write.
About halfway through this piece I had the notion of illustrating this concept by asking ChatGPT for help in this essay’s composition, but alas, the service is not currently available – it’s overwhelmed by demand. That’s a huge opportunity for OpenAI, the service’s owner, and I doubt ChatGPT is going to end up a fad like Clubhouse or 99 percent of crypto. I think it’s got legs, because all of us, whether we’re professionals or not, could use someone smart whispering in our ear as we compose. We may even find new kinds of writing through the relationships we cultivate with services like ChatGPT, just as we will find new ways of coding, making art, or making music.
There is something special about how we humans create works like essays or a piece of music. It’s uniquely a product of how we think, and no other species – including machines – think quite like we do. That thought process is infinitely plastic, and will certainly incorporate tools like ChatGPT, remaining distinctly human as it does. By extension, a piece wrought from a human intelligence has a particular effect on humans, one that can’t be recreated by any other intelligence, artificial or not. In short, we’re people, and we like stuff made by people. If ChatGPT can help us make more people-made stuff, well then, I say bring it on.
*Of course most writers would argue with my choice of the word “joy”- perhaps “ecstasy” is more appropriate, in the second Oxford sense: “an emotional or religious frenzy or trance-like state, originally one involving an experience of mysticself-transcendence.” If the writing’s going well, I certainly do lose myself inside of it. Time is suspended, flow is found.
** I mean “thrown” as in “shaping a pot on the wheel,” not “thrown” as in “one throws a pot against the wall in frustration.” I chose the word intentionally, considered it, and then decided to keep it. “Thrown” is a word choice that, if made by an algorithm, could prove its inhumanity – an error made by a computer. Yet when a person pushes through the obvious and into an odd timbre or slightly discordant usage, well, that can make for good writing.
***I’ve used that word “intelligences” intentionally. I’m reading James Bridle’s Ways of Being. Part of its core argument is that there are many kinds of intelligences, and more likely than not, machines already have their own. Bridle also argues – pretty persuasively – that there’s nothing particularly special about ours.
Watching the hype cycle build around OpenAI’s ChatGPT, I can’t help but wonder when the first New York Times or Atlantic story comes out calling the top – declaring the whole thing just another busted Silicon Valley fantasy, this year’s version of crypto or the metaverse. Anything tagged as “the talk of Davos” is destined for a ritual media takedown, after all. We’re already seeing the hype start to fade, with stories reframing ChatGPT as a “co-pilot” that helps everyone from musicians to coders to regular folk create better work.
But I think there’s far more to the story. There’s something about ChatGPT that feels like a seminal moment in the history of tech – the launch of the Mac in 1984, for example, or the launch of the browser one decade later. Is this a fundamental, platform-level innovation that could unleash a new era in digital?
Possibly, but the simpler co-pilot concept also resonates. It reminds me of a conversation I had over the course of a year or so with Rob Reid, the author of the prescient 2017 novel After On. AI plays a central role in the novel, and Reid introduces the concept of “centaurs” – creatures that are part human, part AI – borrowed from Garry Kasparov, who imagined merging with Deep Blue’s chess AI back in 2014. More colloquially, Rob and I drained more than a few bourbons imagining how AI could be more like a smart friend or assistant, rather than an evil force hell bent on destroying humanity.
Centaur-like behavior is already emerging across the nerdosphere. I was on a call with a scholarly colleague just yesterday, and he showed me two applications that leveraged large-language models (LLMs) to both supplant and enhance human communications – both of them in multi-billion dollar markets that currently support millions of workers. I’ve no doubt that AI-enhanced models are just getting started, and we’ll likely see huge VC investment in the space this year.
What I’m interested in is the nature of those investments. While OpenAI is positioned as the alpha startup in the space – reportedly negotiating a $10 billion injection of capital from Microsoft at a $29 billion valuation – I find the ecosystem that’s developing around the APIs these large-language models enable to be far more fascinating. For AI to reach the historical status of the Mac/PC or the browser, it will have to spark a massive surge of new companies and economic activity. Six years ago, Kevin Kelly predicted an explosion of startups that would “just add AI” – similar to the surge of Web 2.0 startups in the mid 2000s that “just added AJAX” or mobile startups in the 2010s that “just added social.” He was wrong on timing – but I think he’s onto something in the long run.
What might an ecosystem leveraging ChatGPT-like functions look like, I wonder? What categories are poised for true disruption? Where might “ChatGPT as a service” re-imagine large industries? Here are a few that come to mind…
Customer service. Computers and script-driven voice mail trees already dominate this space, but we still have to deal with outsourced customer service agents who feel … worlds away and not particularly good. With clever parameters and programming, LLMs could truly change the game here. This firm is already leveraging ChatGPT in automated customer service and creating “super agents,” which sound a lot like centaurs.
Search. I’ve already written a fair bit about this (and so have many others), but search is a huge business, and the potential for “conversational search” is tantalizing.
Law. A lot of the current grunt work in law – essentially, what paralegals do all day, billed at $400 an hour – is just recombination of a massive, interlinked reference set of cases and precedents. I imagine there’s plenty of opportunity to code that into parameters for a ChatGPT-driven platform that enables massive efficiencies in legal costs (which sounds good to me…).
Healthcare. Ditto here. Of course, as with law (and pretty much every other case here) we’ve got to be careful, but LLM’s ability to find patterns and report them out could truly disrupt healthcare, from the ridiculous maze of paperwork and insurance bureaucracy to diagnosis, novel protein and molecule discovery, and more.
Media. I don’t think any AI system will create the equivalent of a well thought out article (and I’ll be writing a piece on why soon), but AI is already being used for clearly structured pieces in finance, sports, and the like. I expect that trend to continue. When I was coming up as a tech reporter in the late 80s, my first assignments were to rewrite press releases. I stood out because I actually called the companies and asked follow up questions – but that wasn’t industry standard practice, and it still isn’t. ChatGPT, with the right guardrails, could probably do the same job – and for nearly no cost. I’m not sure that’s a huge, investable market, but it’s a leading indicator. Plus, tons of “real” writers and creators will use AI like centaurs – as muses and prompts. Media will certainly be changed forever by this technology.
Coding. This is obvious, and well-reported, but like media, a lot of coding these days is repetitive and rote. Plus, just like with writers, coders are using AI to prompt their work to another level.
OK, I’m going to stop here and ask what you think might change thanks to ChatGPT and LLMs. Does ChatGPT mark a truly historic breakthrough, like the Mac/PC or the web browser? Let me know in comments, or email me direct – jbat at this domain (battellemedia.com). Happy prompting, folks…
Let’s start our 2023 predictions off with some thoughts on artificial intelligence. With ChatGPT, Silicon Valley seems to have gotten a bit of its mojo back. After two decades spent simmering the magic of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook into a sticky lucre of corporate profit, here was the kind of technological marvel the industry seemed to have forgotten how to make – a magical tour de force that surprised, mystified, and delighted millions.
Even better, ChatGPT didn’t come from any of those corporate titans – not directly, anyway. Instead it came from a non-profit artificial intelligence research laboratory called OpenAI. Founded in 2015 with a mission of furthering “responsible AI,” OpenAI is backed by some of the most celebrated names in Valley technology – LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, PayPal’s Peter Theil, Tesla’s Elon Musk among them. Now this was more like it!
ChatGPT seemed to burst from nowhere – but of course, like Google or TikTok before it, its success leverages years of consumer behavioral data and decades of academic research in mathematics, artificial intelligence, and linguistic models. Over the past seven years, OpenAI has evolved its corporate structure to incorporate a for-profit model and more traditional venture investment schemes – with all their attendant complexities. Now owned in large part by the very investors who gave us tech’s last two decades of mixed blessings, it remains to be seen if OpenAI will remain true to its mission of ensuring “that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”
But let’s be real here: It takes capital to build at-scale AI applications – a lot of it. For all its tickling of the popular imagination, ChatGPT lacks a business model. And one of the most ironclad mandates of money is that money sown must become money reaped. Which takes us to the question driving my first predictions for the coming year: ChatGPT will drive several significant innovations in digital business models. The first will be for ChatGPT itself – it will start to license its technology to at-scale clients, initially to OEMs who will blend ChatGPT with their own offerings. The next two will come via ChatGPTs first big new clients. Google, which played an integral – if largely unsung – role in the technology behind ChatGPT – will launch a ChatGPT-like version of its core search offering. In enterprise markets, Microsoft, which invested a cool billion in the for-profit iteration of OpenAI – will launch a ChatGPT-inspired service aimed at its largest corporate clients.
Ouch. I tend to disagree with all those hot takes, but as the old Valley trope states, only the paranoid survive, and certainly ChatGPT’s success is a reason for the folks at Google to be looking over their shoulders. Or perhaps more fittingly, into the mirror, where they likely see a company that’s developed an unflattering middle-age paunch. Could it really be outrun by a smaller, more agile version of itself? Is that even possible anymore?
I’m quite sure the board and major investors in Alphabet, Google’s parent company, are not only asking these questions, they’re demanding answers. And those answers will most likely take the form of a new product from Google in 2023 that I’ll call “Conversational Search.” (If you’ve read this site for the past two decades, that term will certainly resonate!).
Here’s how I imagine it might work. Pairing the open APIs and source code of OpenAI (assuming the newly for-profit company will allow it), Google’s massive trove of voice data, and/or its own internal chat platform, Google will build a novel conversational interface to its flagship Google search application. Text-based search has always had what I call a “modal” problem: often the first answer to a query isn’t accurate. Many in the search field wish they could pop up a modal dialog after an unsuccessful search, asking “Did you mean…?” This would allow the engine to both refine results, and gather critical data that would allow it to better answer the query next time. But there’s a problem: More than 50 percent of users will abandon their search when they see a modal dialog box.
The ChatGPT model of conversational “prompt and response” solves for this problem, providing a fresh context for how humans like to gather information (in essence, by talking to each other). The company will probably dub its first efforts in conversation search as “experimental” – Gmail was famously in beta for five years – but this will be deadly serious project.
Plus, it’ll be fun. Imagine a mashup of Google’s high-fidelity search with the serendipity and human-like conversational tone of ChatGPT. Unlike the stilted voice prompts of Alexa, Google Home, or (shudder) Siri, Conversational Search would be like talking with endlessly wise, patient, and intelligent guru. Pulling such a feat off would take and extraordinary amount of work, CPU cycles, and scale, but…Google is capable of all that and more. Plus, Google is strongly motivated to figure out a business model for Conversational Search, and it’s the one company both most likely to pull it off, and with the most to lose if it doesn’t. Marketers have been crying out for brand-friendly innovations in digital advertising, and Conversational Search could be just the ticket (for more on that, I’ll link to a future post here, once I’ve written it).
Microsoft: Enterprise Explorer
Microsoft also has a consumer search business (Bing, anyone?) but the company makes its money in enterprise software, and it’s already in the business of selling AI solutions to big companies worldwide. What I’ll call “Enterprise Explorer” could be a hugely successful – and profitable – upsell to its top clients, who wouldn’t mind paying, say, another $10 million or so a year to have a useful, sexy, and energizing new application at their disposal.
So what would Enterprise Explorer (E2, to be corporate cute) be? Built, again, from a mashup of OpenAI technology and Microsoft’s Azure compute platform, E2 would address some of ChatGPT’s most annoying problems – its indifference to truth, for example, or the biases inherent to its Web-scale training corpus. The idea would be this: Train a specific ChatGPT instance on just the body of data owned or operated by a particular corporation. Most large companies have access to petabytes of internal data – everything from customer databases to internal messaging and document management platforms, all accreted over decades. Add in partner data – cleaned and secured through industry-standard methods like data safe havens – and you could hit a tipping point in terms of pattern recognition and results. E2 could spark a revolution in accessing, querying, and delivering enterprise- and industry-specific intelligence – finally paying off decades of empty promises about the power of digitization and “executive information systems.” Imagine every employee being able to – quite literally – ask the enterprise questions about itself. The mind…boggles. As with Google and Conversational Search, pulling off such a feat would require a staggering amount of innovation and work. And again, just as with Google, Microsoft is deeply motivated to do exactly that.
So to summarize, my first three predictions are this: One, that ChatGPT finds a business model, two, that Google launches an initially experimental Conversational Search interface, and three, that Microsoft announces or launches an Enterprise Explorer-like application for its major Azure clients.
Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions, which means….holy cow, twenty years of writing at this site. Searchblog has been neglected of late, running a media startup during a pandemic will do that to thoughtful writing. I hope to change that in 2022, starting with this bout of chin stroking. If you’re an old timer here, you know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it.
Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT/gaming portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash – ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look the f*ck out. Crypto is a far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage. Apple will try to capitalize on all of this FUD as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts the change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Post and Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
Tik Tok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of Tik Tok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that Tik Tok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes Tik Tok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing. Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.
Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year’s, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.
As has been my practice for nearly two decades, I penned a post full of prognostications at the end of last year. As 2021 subsequently rolled by, I stashed away news items that might prove (or disprove) those predictions – knowing that this week, I’d take a look at how I did. How’d things turn out? Let’s roll the tape…
My first prediction: Disinformation becomes the most important story of the year. At the time I wrote those words, Trump’s Big Lie was only two months old, and January 6th was just another day on the calendar. A year later, that Big Lie has spawned countless others, culminating in one of the most damaging shifts in our nation’s politics since the Civil War. The Republican party is now fully captured by bullshit, and countless numbers of local, state, and national politicians are busy undermining democracy thanks to the Big Lie’s power. A significant percentage of the US population has become unmoored from truth – and an equally significant group of us have simply thrown our hands up about it. Trust is at an all time low. This Barton Gellman piece in The Atlantic served as a wake up call late in the year – and its conclusions are terrifying: “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” Gellman quotes an observer stating. “But urgent action is not happening.” I’m not happy about getting this one right, but as far as I’m concerned, this is still the most important story of the year – and the most terrifying.
My next prediction: Facebook’s chickens come home to roost…2021 will be a dismal year for Facebook. Oh my, was it ever. Facebook’s year was so terrible, the company decided to change its name as a result. Because I took notes all year, here’s a brief review of Facebook’s 2021:
January: Facebook kicks off the year with a WhatsApp privacy disaster, sparking outrage both inside and outside the company. Apple CEO Tim Cook pounces, leveraging his bully pulpit to pummel Zuck & Co. Also in January, Facebook outsources the single most important decision it’s ever made- de-platforming a sitting President – to its “oversight board.” (PS, the Board essentially kicked the decision back to Facebook).
February: Facebook decides to down-rank political news, which as many pointed out, is itself a deeply political act. This does not have the intended effect, instead driving even more insanity into its poorly considered “Groups” feature.
August: Facebook is taken to task for its practice of silencing its employees. This is before the publication of the Facebook Files/Papers – Facebook’s most damaging leak – next month. Oh, and the company’s ads business is busted for allowing promotion of ivermectin. Never one to misplay a comms response, Facebook continues its PR offensive by releasing internal studies on “widely used content.” Turns out, it cherry picked which report it decided to release, and buried the one it didn’t like.
October: The Facebook platform goes down, for everyone – the company’s worst outage ever. Meanwhile, the think pieces based on Haugen’s revelations begin to seep into public conversation: “Facebook is Weaker Than We Knew” is one of an endlessbarrage of chin stroking, most of it negative. The company’s own “oversight board” rebukes Facebook for the XCheck debacle. The Facebook Files expand into the Facebook Papers, as Haugen’s redacted documents are leaked, and the Post carries the Journal’s work into fresh allegations of indefensible behavior by the company. The FTC gets into the action. Clearly, a pivot is in order. And by the end of this horrific month, Facebook changes the conversation, and its name, to Meta.
I’ve left off dozens of ugly narratives while compiling this list – and admittedly, I’ve also left off a fair number of pro-Facebook responses as well. But overall, I think this particular prediction was pretty spot on. Let’s call it a win and move on…
My third prediction: AI has a mid-life crisis. This one bears a bit more explanation. From my post: “2021 will be the year society takes a step back and thinks hard about where this is all going … by year’s end, the AI narrative will be as much about hand wringing and regulatory oversight as it is about revolutionary breakthroughs.” I think I got this right as well, but I can’t prove it. The year started with a leading AI researcher calling the entire space a “dumpster fire.” Numerous fatal crashes with Teslas in self driving mode gave observers pause – perhaps this technology was not as ready as Elon Musk had claimed (and who the fuck is stupid enough to sleep in the back seat of a driverless Tesla, but…people are stupid sometimes). Furthermore, AI’s great proof – that it was better at reading X-rays than trained radiologists – was debunked. Academic journals continued to question whether “super intelligence” can ever be contained. Meanwhile, the bloom came off the “smart home” rose – “Alexa has turned out to be a voice-activated clock/radio with low retention” quips noted tech analyst Benedict Evans. This AI stuff is hard – and while the tech is hard enough, the policy issues are even harder. 2021 was the year legislators were pummeled with Silicon Valley lobbying around how China is about to kill the US with its insurmountable lead in artificial intelligence. (And hey, China’s got the Minority Report market in the bag!) But it certainly wasn’t the year legislators did anything about AI, other than voice concerns. So, yes, we got the hand wringing and the focus on policy, but it’s a bit of a push on the prediction overall. Not enough proof points to give myself either a passing or a failing grade.
Prediction #4: A wave of optimism around tech-driven innovation takes root. Yep, it’s pretty bold to predict a rebound in tech optimism when Big Tech is taking heavy fire, but I think I got this one right as well, thanks in large part to the world of crypto. It’s been three decades since I’ve seen an outburst of pure technology euphoria like the vibes coming off the crypto/web3/blockchain space. I’ve been monitoring crypto for years (one of my 2018 predictions was “Crypto/blockchain dies as a major story”), and went pretty deep this past 18 months or so. I am a cautious proponent of crypto’s technology, philosophy, and new governance models, but there’s a hell of a lot of bullshit in there as well. Then again, the same was true three decades ago, back when the web was young. The difference this time? Scale. In the early 1990s, the web was an anomaly, and you could count its adherents in the tens of thousands. It took five years for that to scale to tens of millions, and the industry represented a tiny percentage of overall GDP. But in 2021, web3 scaled to impressive (some might say scary) numbers. Total cryptocurrency holdings rocketed from roughly $500 billion to more than $3 trillion this year. Crypto wallet Metamask, often (roughly) compared to the Netscape browser of Web 1, zoomed from half a million monthly active users to more than 21 million. And NFTs – the web3 equivalent of dot com stocks – grew into a massive market as well, clocking more than $10 billion in purchases last quarter. The overall vibe of the crypto space is summed up in one catchphrase: “We’re all going to make it (WAGMI).” Perhaps (and yes, I do see a crash in our future), but if WAGMI doesn’t reflect a “wave of optimism,” I don’t know what does.
Prediction #5: Google does in 2021 what I predicted it would in 2020: It zags. And what does a zag look like? From my piece: “Google will make a deeply surprising and game changing move.” And in fact, Google made two game changing moves in 2021, either of which might defend my assertion. In March, the company announced it would, as the WSJ covered it: “stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry.” This was a major shift in how the world’s largest advertising platform plied its trade, and while I’ll leave it to others to opine on the impact (and timing, which remains in flux), the reasoning behind it is crystal clear. As I wrote in my prediction “Google is fighting off a terrifying array of massive regulatory actions, and desperately needs to avoid looking like Facebook in the eyes of its employees, consumers, and business partners.” Changing the core of its data policies is a move designed to do just that.
The second big move targeted Apple. In March the company lowered some fees that developers pay to use its Play store. And in October, it slashed all fees in half, effective next week. This is a major ecosystem shift – one that may well drive new and existing developers into building for Android first. And again, it positions Google to be the good guy in the eyes of developers, customers, and critically, regulators, who have been sizing up Apple for its monopolistic control of the iOS app store.
My sixth prediction? Nothing will get done on tech regulation in the US. This one was far too easy to get right – with a pandemic raging, Congress deadlocked, and an agenda that included multiple trillion-dollar pieces of legislation, there was no way tech legislation would have passed this year. The Biden administration did heavy up on anti-Big Tech talent (Khan, Wu, et al), but they’ve not had either the time or the support to get much done, yet.
Lucky #7: A “new” social platform breaks out in 2021. I’ll admit, I was scratching my head around this one for months, nervous I’d take a whiff here. But then I got on Discord. From my original prediction: “Given the handcuffs 2021 will place on the traditional players in Big Tech, this coming year presents a perfect opportunity for a breakout player to redefine the social media category… It won’t be some ripoff version of what already exists. I’d either look to something like an evolved Signal, an app that already has a growing user base, or a from-nowhere startup that gets super hot, super fast.” Discord is kind of a combination of the two – a six-year-old startup with a dedicated user base that is focused on communications. The platform rethinks nearly everything about the “social graph,” and yes, it’s kind of a hot mess. But by summer of this year, Discord had reached 150 million daily users, putting it within spitting distance of Twitter (200m+) in terms of size. Discord is now valued at $15 billion – and it does not take advertising. For a deep dive on the company, I recommend reading Casey Newton and Packy McCormick.
Unlucky #8: The markets take a breather, and SPACs get a bloody nose. Well, I was right on the latter, but wrong on the former. The markets only got hotter all year long, taking only the shortest of breaks to dip and then roar right back. But SPACs most definitely got bloodied – as early as as February, I noticed the concern in the financial press, and that narrative builtallyearlong, with many high profile SPACs either failing or limping across the finish line. When the bright spot in the SPAC world is Donald Trump’s mostly fictional “social media company” – and that deal draws the interest of the SEC – well, the space ain’t exactly crushing it. But as I said, the markets did not take a breather – the Dow Jones and the S&P delivered nearly 20 percent gains. So I got one part right, and one part wrong. A push.
Prediction #9: 2021 will be prove to be the last year of growth in gas-powered automobiles. Well, there’s no way I can prove this until the numbers come in for 2022, so I won’t bother trying to grade myself on this one. Call it a push, but I’ve been monitoring related news, and I’d say the prediction is certainly on trend. As usual, the Nordic countries led the way. In Norway, EV sales now account for an astounding 90+ percent of new car sales. Cities around the world are banning new gas stations. And GM, one of the largest automakers in the world, announced it will phase out the combustion engine by 2035. NB: One of the best places to get and stay smart on EVs and de-carbonization in general is Azeem’s Exponential View.
Proving I should really stay away from geopolitics, Prediction #10: Africa rising, China…in question. I got the headline right – Africa is certainly rising, and China is a big question mark – but my detail was very wrong: “the breakout continent of 2021 will be Africa, home to many of the fastest growing countries in the world, and the focus of years of Chinese investment and diplomacy. After four years of US neglect, the Biden administration will realize it’s dangerously close to losing Africa altogether, and announce a massive investment in the continent.” Nope, did not happen. In fact, Biden decided to counter China in Africa with…an initiative in South America. Whiff. Moving on to my last, and possibly most depressing prediction:
Prediction #11: Everyone loses their shit, in a good way. This was my way of saying that we’d get through the pandemic, and we’d all party like we deserve to party after 18 months of isolation and fear. We had the “hot vax summer” memes but….Delta and vaccine hesitancy killed that cold, then Omicron smacked us once more, even as we looked forward to what could have been a relatively normal holiday season. Ending on a rough note, but – this one was a whiff as well. I’m optimistic we’ll get through this, but I’m done trying to predict the course of this wily virus.
So that’s the scorecard: Two whiffs, three pushes, and six scores. Not bad, in fact better than my average over these past 17 years. Maybe I should do this again. Look for my 2022 musings sometime later this week. And have a happy, safe, and sane New Years everybody. Thanks for reading.
Two years ago The Recount moved out of beta with our first daily product. A short summary of national news, The Daily Recount was designed to cut through the bullshit endemic to mainstream media. As we grew, The Recount cultivated an incisive voice that never wastes time, rejects tired tropes, and focuses on the core values of journalism: Identifying the truth, holding powerful interests to account, and reflecting the world as it is today, not the way it used to be.
Twelve months later, that voice had found a huge audience on Twitter – which in 2020 was pretty much the white-hot center of the political narrative we were covering. In my post summarizing that first year, I laid out what we’d learned, and how the audience who had gathered around our work was responding. And I indulged in a bit of boasting: “Since launch one year ago,” I crowed, “our work has been viewed more than half a billion times.”
We’ve shot well past the billion mark since then, with more than 3 billion audience impressions along the way. The past year has been full of milestones, lessons learned, and big plans for the future. Here are a few of them:
First and foremost: THANK YOU TEAM RECOUNT! We made it through the worst of a pandemic that shut down production, sparked confusion and contraction in media markets, and forced our entire team into their homes for the past 20 months. I can’t say enough about how extraordinary the folks at The Recount are – and how happy we were to re-open our new offices earlier this month.
Since then, we’ve doubled the size of our team, including nearly 50 full time editors and producers focused on our unique brand of visual journalism. And we brought on Ryan Kadro as our Chief Content Officer. Among many other things, Ryan will oversee our editorial strategy and lead the expansion of our streaming product.
The Recount Wire, an expression of our editorial voice which I described last year as the “human algorithm” underpinning all of our work, has expanded its coverage of “moments that matter” to the people and narratives driving business, technology, and culture.
You can view all our work on our newly redesigned site, which got a refresh for the first time since its launch two years ago.
We added two extraordinary people to our Board of Directors: Maya Wiley, a respected legal expert and social justice advocate who recently ran for Mayor of New York, and Elisabeth Sami, a savvy veteran of the television and news industries’ shift to streaming who recently left NBC.
We completely redesigned our daily newsletter, which has grown significantly and become my morning ritual for understanding the stories that matter across our four pillars of coverage. Sign up here!
We launched our podcast unit straight into the teeth of the pandemic last year, and since then, have logged 7 million downloads. If you’re not listening to John Heilemann’s signature pod Hell & High Water, for example, you’re really missing out – it’s a gem.
We kicked off new partnerships with amazing companies like P&G, Comcast, Yahoo!, Acast, Roku, YouTube and more.
It’s been a hell of a year – one that John Heilemann and I will recount in our annual “Recounting 2021” conversation this December – but the next 12 months promise to be even more eventful. We’ll be debuting a new streaming service, launching new programming (like The Long Game featuring LZ Granderson and Will Leitch, coming next month), and adding even more talented journalists to our ranks. We’ll expand our presence on selected social platforms like Snap and TikTok. And we’ve got a few curveballs working as well – more on those as they land. And throughout the coming year, we’ll continue to keep close and knowing tabs on the worlds of politics, business, tech, and culture in order to help viewers beat back information overload – and keep the bullshit at bay.
Never in my five-plus decades has a year been so eagerly anticipated, which makes this business of prediction particularly daunting. I’m generally inclined to be optimistic, but rose-colored glasses stretch time. Good things always take longer to emerge than any of us would wish. Over 18 years of doing this I’ve learned that it’s best to not predict what I wish would happen, instead, it’s wise to go with what feels most likely in the worlds I find fascinating (for me, that’s media, technology, and business, with a dash of politics given my last two years at The Recount). As I do each year, I avoid reading other folks’ year-end predictions (though I plan on getting to them as soon as I hit publish!). Instead, I just sit down at my desk, and in one rather long session, I think out loud and see where things land.
And off we go….
1. Disinformation becomes the most important story of the year. In some ways, this is foolhardy – like predicting that the election would drive 2020, only to see it overwhelmed by COVID-19. The topic of disinformation feels a bit cerebral and hard to pin down – not as concrete as a pandemic or an election cycle. But I’m convinced 2021 will be the year we all realize that our media/information ecosystem is broken – with disinformation, propaganda, and brazen falsehood its most pernicious externality. Businesses are waking up to the threat this poses to their bottom lines (and to society at large), most scholars and policymakers are already there. In the words of former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, speaking on a recent Recount podcast: “In a society where there is no ability to distinguish between the truth and the lie, democracy will be lost.” 2021 will be a year where we search for the root causes of our failures over the past few years, and at the center of that failure is a communication system that mindlessly manufactures disinformation. A free and open democratic economy can’t run on bullshit. I’m personally devoting 2021 to exploring how we can navigate the collision of technology platforms, unfettered capitalism, broken media models, and feckless regulatory oversight. More on that soon…
2. Facebook’s chickens come home to roost. Related to #1, yes, and it’s certainly passé to beat up on Facebook. As an OG in the space (“Facebook Can’t Be Fixed,” et al), I’m reluctant to go there once more – our troubles are bigger than one company alone. And for years the company has steamed ever forward, its fortunes unaffected by endless cycles of bad PR. But in 2021, the good ship Facebook will start taking on serious water. Incoming President Joe Biden will set the tone with his distaste for the company, and company’s tone deaf approach to communications will finally fail to deliver the company a pass. (If you missed it, you must watch this insanely scripted game of dodgeball between journalist Tamron Hall and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg). The company’s own employees are increasingly uncomfortable with their leadership, and its consumers and marketing partners are increasingly looking for alternatives to a platform they see as toxic and unwilling to change. Toss in policymakers’ thirst for an easy target and a media industry tired of the doubletalk, false narratives, and outright lies, and 2021 will be a dismal year for Facebook – in particular in the United States, where the company will likely admit that it has failed to grow user engagement. And that, to put a fine point on it, will tank the stock, full stop.
3. AI has a mid-life crisis. The past few years have witnessed the shining resurgence of artificial intelligence – breakthrough after breakthrough has led to justifiable optimism that AI-driven innovation will solve both the mundane (Look! It can untangle corporate supply chains!) as well as the divine (Look! It can cure every disease known to humankind!). All of this and more is likely true, but humanity has yet to fully comprehend the potential negative externalities of AI, much less mitigate them. Chastened by our last bout with externality ignorance (see Facebook, above), 2021 will be the year society takes a step back and thinks hard about where this is all going. Setting up the narrative is Google’s mishandling of its relationship with leading AI critic Timit Gebru, but by year’s end, the AI narrative will be as much about hand wringing and regulatory oversight as it is about revolutionary breakthroughs.
4. Then again, a wave of optimism around tech-driven innovation takes root. This is the counter narrative to five-plus years of a “tech as bogeyman” trope. 2021’s optimism will be driven by two major factors: First, a belief that we’re on a path to correct the worst mistakes of the past decade (see #1 – #3 above). And second, a slew of long-developing and real world proofs that technology-driven breakthroughs will bring serious benefits to society at scale. Candidates include biotech and bioinformatics (the core technologies behind the COVID vaccine), blockchain (though I’m certain bitcoin will have at least one of its several crashes this year), and lithium batteries (giving us hope on climate change and driving my otherwise random prediction on gas-powered cars, below).
5. Google does in 2021 what I predicted it would in 2020. And what was that? That Google zags. I wrote: “Saddled with increasingly negative public opinion and driven in large part by concerns over retaining its workforce, Google will make a deeply surprising and game changing move in 2020.” I think this is even more likely given Google is fighting off a terrifying array of massive regulatory actions, and desperately needs to avoid looking like Facebook in the eyes of its employees, consumers, and business partners.
6. Nothing will get done on tech regulation in the US. Blame antitrust. Whether or not Biden decides to continue Trump’s FTC and DOJ actions, he will likely start his own, and keep the focus on antitrust, rather than more thoughtful legislation around disinformation, machine readable data portability, or privacy. There will be some movement – net neutrality will probably get reaffirmed and we’ll fix Trump’s H1-B messes, for example. But by year’s end folks will realize that antitrust suits are essentially kabuki, an exercise designed to go nowhere and maintain the status quo. When Facebook is aggressively calling on Washington to regulate the Internet, you know they’ve done the math and concluded nothing is really going to change. Everyone’s talking about how it’s about time for the government to step up and do something, but I’m deeply cynical about anything changing in 2021. That doesn’t mean we won’t (or shouldn’t) make progress…just that it won’t happen in a year.
7. A “new” social platform breaks out in 2021. I’ve made versions of this prediction in the past, but my timing was off. Given the handcuffs 2021 will place on the traditional players in Big Tech, this coming year presents a perfect opportunity for a breakout player to redefine the social media category. There’s plenty of VC money ready to invest here, and both Tik Tok and Snap have had their moments in the sun. It won’t be some ripoff version of what already exists (sorry, Parler). I’d either look to something like an evolved Signal, an app that already has a growing user base, or a from-nowhere startup that gets super hot, super fast because it’s fundamentally rethought social media’s traditional, serotonin-driven models for engagement and advertising .
8. The markets take a breather, and SPACs get a bloody nose. Back in 1987 I was a cub reporter covering the technology industry. One of the first stories I ever wrote involved a software startup run by a fellow I immediately judged to be a hustler. In our initial interview, he laid out how he was going to use financial engineering to take his small company public via a shell company. It struck me as dodgy then, and it strikes me as dodgy now. I have plenty of industry pals who are involved in SPAC mania now, and as far as I can tell, they’re on the up and up. SPACs can be a healthy and innovative approach to financing companies. But alas, this SPAC trend stinks of easy money and honeytraps for unsophisticated investors and shady operators. So in 2021, SPACs will lose their luster, driven in large part by several spectacular failures (or worse). Related, overall stock markets won’t crash, but by year’s end, they’ll sputter as tech stocks fall out of favor and society begins to realize how much debt needs to be worked through before true growth can reassert itself.
9. 2021 will be prove to be the last year of growth in gas-powered automobiles. There, I did it – I wrote a prediction I wish for, rather than one I can back up with my own lived experience. That said, the aforementioned breakthroughs in lithium battery technology will lead to a wave of new options for vehicle buyers, and in the long lens of history, the early 2020s will be celebrated as the period where we finally overcame our addiction to burning fossil fuels. Please, MAKE IT SO.
10. Africa rising, China…in question. A few years ago, I predicted China was going to crash, but I now realize the world needs China to counter US hegemony. With that in mind, the breakout continent of 2021 will be Africa, home to many of the fastest growing countries in the world, and the focus of years of Chinese investment and diplomacy. After four years of US neglect, the Biden administration will realize it’s dangerously close to losing Africa altogether, and announce a massive investment in the continent. Biden’s China policy will be fascinating to watch, but I’d not wager a cent on where it lands this year.
11. Everyone loses their shit, in a good way. Because we deserve one big ass party, damnit, when this pandemic finally lifts. This is the easiest one to predict, because, well….I’ll be right there with you. Until then, folks, stay safe, wear a f*cking mask when in public, and do what you can to help others get through what is still a dark damn time in our history. See you on the other side.