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2024: With Expectations and Trepidation

This is the time when every thinking person begins to be apprehensive about what is in store in the coming year while retaining some optimism about the emerging possibilities and opportunities. A daunting event that will affect us is the Indian elections of 2024. Will the changes initiated in 2014 by the BJP coming to power be sustained beyond a decade or will the voting public have a change of heart, opting for a kinder, gentler and less jingoistic government?

In 2024, elections will take place in 70 countries — including the US, European Union, UK and Russia — where a change in political power could have a discernible global impact. These countries collectively are home to more than half the global population. Most of these countries have a polarised social fabric torn between progressive and conservative narratives.

Generative AI appeared on the global stage in 2023 with the concurrent emergence of new products and corporate configurations. The evolution of GenAI to Artificial General Intelligence will enable it to perform any task performed by a human according to Sam Altmann, the CEO of OpenAI during his recent visit to India.

While spearheading innovation in many fields, AI is also a source of apprehension to many. The potential loss of jobs is one cause for this. However, while causing redundancies, AI will also create new opportunities. A life controlled by algorithms is one potentially susceptible to societal inequalities. How we guide AI towards a path of global good is critical.

The threat of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial levels has caused an urgency to find the means of mitigation. Innovations like Hydrogen, Solar and other green energy options appear promising. Direct air capture (DAC) to scavenge CO2 from the atmosphere will be part of the solution. DAC technology is seeing significantly improved efficiency, paving the way for carbon removal at less than $100 per ton. The DAC leaders, Carbon Engineering, Climeworks and Global Thermostat, are committed to scaling up their technologies in the next five years (1). While Climeworks and Global Thermostat are scaling up in small steps, Carbon Engineering has ambitious plans for a 1 million ton/year plant by 2024 — a gigantic scale-up over the current largest ever built. Operation at this scale will allow DAC players to sell their Carbon offsets to firms unable to reduce their emissions. Climeworks is exploring CO2-to-fuels.

Global economic growth is predicted to continue to slow down in 2024. A harsh economic climate results in less spending on public services and utilities, job loss, hardships and growing civil unrest. This also negatively impacts efforts to hit carbon net zero targets, with serious fallouts. The threat of a recession in the USA and the slowdown in China contrasts with growth in emerging economies like Brazil, India, Mexico and Turkey.

Work styles are changing which will affect our lifestyles. Remote and hybrid working styles will dominate in contrast to the pre-pandemic options. This will improve mobility, with workers no longer compelled to live in areas close to work However, this may also lead to increased social isolation. Dealing with this conflict will be an important challenge in 2024.

Change in work styles in turn drives change in the methods of education needed to prepare for work. A promise of life-long learning is made possible through online classes made possible by the advancement of digital technologies. Hybrid models capable of delivering education to both megacities as well as remote rural areas will be needed. Skill regeneration of workers as well as their upskilling will be essential, particularly as later retirement due to longer lifespans creates an older workforce.

Social media is the platform where debates on social polarization (left vs right or liberal vs conservative) are largely conducted. How this influences society is amplified by the emergence of the internet as a tool for fake news and propaganda. Audiences are drawn towards content that’s likely to confirm their biases. Comments of a polarising nature propagated by social media appear to influence political policy. The rise of populism and exclusion happening across the globe is an unwelcome outcome.

1.32 million Indian students went abroad for studies in 2022, up from 1.14 million in 2021. Surveys expect the number to go up to 1.8 million by 2024. An exodus of a more permanent nature is happening to wealthy Indians who are seeking foreign shores for many reasons. This trend is likely to continue in 2024.

One of the consequences of the transition to green energy is the rise of a new breed of ‘green sheikhs’ and the redrawing of the energy-resources map. Lithium, copper and nickel are more valuable than petroleum and the countries hoarding them matter more than countries with oil and gas reserves. Competition for solar and Hydrogen is redrawing the contours of global trade and commerce. Parallel to this is the pushback among people who view climate mitigation policies as an elitist conspiracy against the poor.

The first UN Summit of the Future, promising a ‘global pact for the future’ is proposed to be held in September 2024. Many decisions made today will affect millennials or even geological periods. Preference for economic growth without ethical perspectives driven by concerns for the planet cannot be allowed anymore. The 2024 Summit will attempt to stress the importance of safeguarding the future of people and the planet.

The Net-Zero Future project will create an international collaboration to conduct research and training for net-zero buildings. The project involves five academic institutions and industry partners from Norway, Germany, India, South Africa, and the USA, aiming to create knowledge and inspire a new generation of engineers and researchers to minimize carbon footprints in the built environment. This international alliance will advance net-zero structures, benefiting civil infrastructures and societal ecosystems (2). The Net-Zero Future 2024 Conference in June 2024 in Oslo, Norway, marks the beginning of an annual series.

NASA is implementing the Space Policy Directive-1 to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system (3).” 2024 will see NASA revisiting the Moon, this time to stay. The Gateway lunar command module in lunar orbit will form the infrastructure, with the Gateway enabling extended lunar exploration.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning the Gaganyaan mission to take Indians to space in December 2024 (4). ISRO and NASA are collaborating to develop the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite to be launched in 2024. NISAR will monitor the globe to track how the planetscape changes over time. In particular, NISAR will focus on Earth’s vital Carbond sinks, the forests and wetlands because of their value to climate scientists.

Web3 is at the top of the tech trends in 2024. This version of the Internet hosts decentralised applications like Blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS), tokenization, and decentralization offering many benefits to businesses. Moreover, companies will have real-time access to their supply chain processes. As there is no data stored anywhere, security risks will also be mitigated.

The future of Web3 finance shall transcend the present value transfers. It represents a complete reimagining of finance, heralding an era of widespread access to financial services. DeFi is restructuring the realms of borrowing, lending, trading, and income generation. Smart contracts are streamlining agreements and transactions, reducing the need for intermediaries. NFTs are leading the way in redefining digital ownership.

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