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Six Key Trend Pillars shaping 2024

Posted by Flux on 

9 January 2024

Introduction

The annual Flux Trend briefing – The State We’re In – has become the definitive executive summary of where the world is, and where it’s going. 

Using the acronym T.R.E.N.D.S. – representing six trend pillars that will shape how we will live, work and connect in the coming year – Flux identifies new, game-changing trends and tracks the ripple effects from last year.

The State We’re In 2024 

AFTERSHOCKS: RETHINKING RESILIENCE 

The twilight zone can be described in two ways:

  1. A state of mind between reality and fantasy: a dreamlike or hallucinatory state.
  2. A vague or uncertain state or condition: a blurring of right and wrong

For the past three years it feels like we’ve been trapped in this state of limbo:

from a global pandemic to extreme weather, to not one, but two wars spreading geopolitical uncertainty. Adding insult to injury, Generative AI has been unleashed reinforcing this hallucinatory state.

We’ve acknowledged that we have entered into an era of polycrisis. Acceding to, rather than denying that the “Great Unravelling” is under way is ironically liberating. 

It helps us sidestep hope fatigue – a new mental health challenge – and reconsider what resilience means.

The article, “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure“, in The Harvard Business Review highlights the mindset required to live with the polycrisis.

The past three years have required endurance but South Africans have practically written the handbook on resilience. We have grown accustomed to aftershocks.

But acclimatisation is equally dangerous. It’s time to seek new perspectives.  “Resilience” erodes mental wellbeing and “endurance” depletes energy and focus. New mantras are needed: Recharging, not enduring. Rewiring, not enduring. Reinvention, not endurance.

The Great Unravelling creates a window of opportunity to reimagine and rebuild.

Mindful optimism is required. We are witnessing the death of old ideas and the birth of the new. There will be more aftershocks, but also new opportunities.

Here are some key trends emerging from our six pillars.

TECHNOLOGY: Interactive AI – when AI meets robotics

A year down the line and those in the know tell us that Generative AI is just a phase and that we should prepare for “Interactive AI”, the next level IoT where AI merges with robotics and bots carry out tasks determined by AI. What could go wrong?

We’re learning how to work with Generative AI and differentiate between the good, the bad and the hallucinatory states it can produce. We’re now grappling with the legal pitfalls of machine learning models and the synthetic data they generate: reviving the dead (with or without a family’s consent), political deepfakes, celebrity chatbots and the embedded bias that reduces the world into visual stereotypes. 

The fact that Generative AI can now to turn any image, or text, into a video adds a new dimension to the technological twilight zone. Political disinformation, fraud and cybertheft are about to be turbocharged.

Up next is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), an advanced form of AI that can learn to do a wide variety of tasks at a cognitive level equal to or greater than a human. Again, what could go wrong? 

RETAIL & MARKETING: Shrinkflation, skimpflation and Hermit Consumers.

The 2023 cost of living crisis was felt globally, and the ripple effect has reshaped the retail landscape. Brands and retailers – not just consumers – have also been struggling to keep afloat. A retailer’s survival handbook now includes terms like drip pricing, shrinkflation, surge pricing and skimpflation (cutting back on services).

A sign of the times is the steady disappearance of mom & pop shops who can’t compete with multinational brands or the “influencer farms” spreading across the globe, luring shoppers online. However, a push back is emerging in the form of “community-centric retail” where consumers actively support local brands and businesses in their neighbourhoods.

This is much needed because the “hermit consumer” is on the rise. The Economist reports that this is a $600bn-a-year shift in consumer behaviour. “Hermits” are consumers who are less interested in leisure activities that take place outside the home and are redirecting disposable income to durables like furniture and appliances as well as “homebound” comforts like food and wine. 

ECONOMY: Homeland Economics and Zombie firms

For many people 2023 was marred by the cost of living crisis and it seems that household budgets will be further affected by geopolitical dynamics in 2024.

Polycrisis aftershocks are pushing governments to adopt what The Economist calls, “Homeland Economics”. Countries have used terms like “strategic autonomy” or “economic security” but in essence it’s a focus on reducing the risks to a country’s economy from more black swans or a buffer to volatile geopolitics. This requires a convergence of national security and economic policy – a rethinking of a country’s industrial policy.

This comes against a backdrop of rising interest rates, which central bankers are calling a “higher-for longer” road ahead – aka the end of cheap money. This will affect many businesses like Netflix, Uber and delivery companies that flourished with below-cost pricing strategies.

The collapse of WeWork last year is a bellwether for hundreds of so-called “zombie firms”, who were kept afloat by low-rate loans. Economists predict that a slew of bankruptcies and defaults are inevitable in 2024.

NATURAL WORLD: Climate Litigation and Heat Resistant Cows

Three years ago, concepts like “climate litigation”, “climate refugees” and “heat insurance” were not part of the business and political narrative. Now companies and governments brace themselves for Green Swans just as they would Black Swans.

Australia is the first government to offer residents of the island nation of Tuvalu “climate change visas” to escape the rising sea levels and devastation from extreme weather. Farmers around the world are also seeking alternatives, from (reluctantly) changing the rigid rules of cheesemaking in France, to developing heat resistant crops (anything from apples to coffee beans) and even breeding heat resistant cows.

Climate change continues to affect supply chain logistics. Shipping on the Panama Canal was disrupted because a severe drought lowered the water level, making one of the world’s most crucial waterways impassable.  But at the same time new laws – like California’s SB 272 – are mandating that coastal cities actively plan for future sea-levels rising. Unsurprisingly, eco anxiety is emerging as a new mental health challenge.

DIPLOMACY: Polyamorous Diplomacy and Deepfake Politicians 

The IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) reported that 2023 was the 6th year in which democracies around the world continued to decline – the longest “democratic recession” in three decades. One reason for this decline is the rise of “polyamorous geopolitics”. The old East vs West political dynamic has given way to multipolarity: a world where most countries now lean more towards “à la carte diplomacy” – i.e. approval of democracy in principle but cherry picking elements from other political systems.

Violent civil protests, like those that emerged in Latin America in 2019, have continued to spread globally. Even teenagers are protesting on the online gaming platform, ROBLOX. This growing civil displeasure has resulted in more right wing parties winning elections, like in Argentina and The Netherlands. The swing to the right has been characterised by anti-immigration rhetoric, layered with promises to fight inflation and unemployment.

As Generative AI makes it easier to create hyper-realistic political deepfakes, a new, political twilight zone emerges just in time for pivotal elections around the world in 2024. 


SOCIO-CULTURAL: Celebrity Chatbots and AI Love Affairs

Socio-cultural aftershocks are becoming more pronounced, not to mention bizarre.

Not only has Generative AI given rise to virtual managers at work, but now celebrities are being paid fortunes to be converted into chatbots. It’s a lucrative business as more people are falling in love with AI chatbots on platforms like Replika or Glow, transforming the 2013 movie, Her, from science fiction into reality.

The pitfalls with starting a relationship with a chatbot is the risk of the company shutting the service down, which is what has started to happen. But grieving the “death” of your AI lover is no longer seen as strange, as “digital dying” and “ghost bots” are emerging under the umbrella of “grief tech”.

Grief tech platforms can now synthesise old text message conversations and then convert them into real-time conversations, so you can continue texting someone after they have died. 

Welcome to the twilight zone.

Arrow Up

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