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It's not all doom and gloom: 8 experts on their reasons to be optimistic in 2024

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Eight experts from the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Future Councils have shared their positive outlooks for 2024.

Eight experts from the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Future Councils have shared their positive outlooks for 2024. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lea Weibel
Specialist, Global Future Councils, Knowledge Communities, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Experts from the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Future Councils have shared their positive outlooks for 2024.
  • In the face of critical challenges facing humanity, it's essential to recognize that there is hope and reason for optimism.
  • From successful governance to innovations against climate change, progress is being made to address the risks and challenges we face.

For over five decades, the World Economic Forum has partnered with global leaders to catalyze significant positive change—unleashing initiatives, pioneering industry advancements, furthering economic innovations and fostering projects and collaborations, all working towards improving the state of the world.

In the face of a world undergoing profound transformation, individuals, communities and businesses are dealing with the challenges brought about by a multitude of shocks. From geopolitical shifts to the pressing concerns of climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence, deep structural changes are unmistakably underway.

While navigating this complex terrain, optimism may seem elusive. But even amidst a world fraught with problems and challenges, there are still reasons to find hope and things worth being optimistic about.

As the World Economic Forum gathers for its 54th Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, experts from the Forum’s Network of Global Future Councils offer insights into what opportunities and breakthroughs in their area of expertise spark their enthusiasm for 2024.

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'In 2024 we can hope for the global adoption of some of the AI Act’s basic provisions, including the right to know if one is interacting with a human or a machine'

Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley, GFC on the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley, GFC on the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Working in AI, it is hard to imagine that 2024 could be a more eventful year than 2023 — but you never know!

Last year saw major advances in AI capabilities with GPT-4, the “pause letter” signed by tens of thousands, the “extinction letter” signed by many major research and industry leaders, an emergency White House summit, many US Senate hearings, stringent AI regulation in China, the global AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park and the final negotiations on the EU AI Act.

In 2024 we can hope for the global adoption of some of the AI Act’s basic provisions, including the right to know if one is interacting with a human or a machine and clear labelling of artificially generated content. I’m also hoping for a transition from making AI safe—that is, after-the-fact attempts to reduce unacceptable behaviour—to making safe AI, where safety is designed-in rather than an afterthought. This transition could be accelerated by rules that require developers to prove to regulators that their systems will not exhibit obviously unacceptable behaviours, such as self-replication and advising terrorists on bioweapon design.

Finally, I would love to see AI start to deliver on its promise for better education and healthcare.

'Government leaders understand the critical relationship between housing and health, education and economic stability'

Jonathan Reckford, Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity (HFH) International, GFC on the Future of Cities

Jonathan Reckford, Chief Executive Officer, Habitat for Humanity (HFH) International, GFC on the Future of Cities

Amid a global housing crisis, it is easy to focus on the many obstacles we need to overcome to meaningfully reduce the housing deficit and ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to live. However, I am encouraged every day to see that change is happening.

Government leaders understand the critical relationship between housing and health, education and economic stability — not just for individuals but for strong communities. And all levels of government are partnering with the private sector to help supply catch up with demand, especially for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and renters, which the market struggles the most to serve. Some states in the US, like California and Oregon, have adopted land-use requirements to make it easier to increase housing density. Meanwhile, across the Global South, where people often construct their homes incrementally, more microfinance institutions are offering housing loans that allow greater numbers of families to build safe, secure structures.

Certainly, more investment is needed to meet short- and long-term demand for housing. But I take heart in knowing that new solutions are taking hold every day. We simply need a sustained commitment to scale them up so that everyone has a decent place to call home.

'Businesses are taking stock of the scale of the change needed, aided by more integrated reporting, to plan for how it can be delivered'

Amy M. Brachio, EY Global Vice Chair, Sustainability, GFC on the Future of Economics of Equitable Transition

Amy M. Brachio, EY Global Vice Chair, Sustainability, GFC on the Future of Economics of Equitable Transition

Optimism has a strong relationship with pragmatism for me this year. COP28 is a good example: near-term targets for renewables, finance, food security and the long-term signal for fossil fuels have created a practical to-do list for policy and business including 2030 targets. This needs to translate capital expenditure and strategy discussions this year into seeds for systemic change and collaboration.

The years of incremental progress are at an end, with our research showing some companies moving out their median deadline for climate commitments by 14 years. On the surface, this could seem like a negative development, but it could also be a sign that businesses are taking stock of the scale of the change needed, aided by more integrated reporting, to plan for how it can be delivered over a sustained timeframe.

It’s a crucial year for nature, with a global treaty on plastic expected, and a global biodiversity summit with profound long-term implications for health, consumption and our wider industrial transition.

AI’s potential can’t be ignored, along with the emerging regulatory responses. How business engages with policy makers and informs the public on its use is a critical opportunity to secure people’s trust in its potential transformative impact for industry and work.

I want to look back on this year as the one where equity’s integration in business and policy broke through, and we asked ourselves harder and more precise questions about the human impact and potential of our plans and actions, or the unintended consequences of delaying or choosing not to act at all.

'Major changes and transformations need strong unions and constructive cooperation between unions, governments and employers as equals'

Atle Hoie, General Secretary, IndustriAll Global Union, GFC on the Future of Economics of Equitable Transition

Atle Hoie, General Secretary, IndustriAll Global Union, GFC on the Future of Economics of Equitable Transition

The cost-of-living crisis we have seen over the last couple of years is putting more pressure on the trade unions to come up with sustained strategies to improve wages and working conditions for their members. While workers have seen their real wages decline in most countries, the richest 1% have had unprecedented growth in their fortunes, and this sparks strong reactions and new strategies from trade unions.

The United Autoworkers Union in the US showed this resolve and innovative tactics in their strike against the three American OEMs: GM, Stellantis and Ford. With a clever strategy of taking on all three at the same time and calling out workers subsequent to the evolvement of the negotiations with the big three, they managed to win major record-breaking improvements in their contracts. This is bound to spread throughout the US and also to the rest of the world.

The result is hopefully a stronger labour movement in the US, and if this spreads, a shift in organizing worldwide. If this happens there is a chance for a number of breakthroughs on a number of important topics such as climate change, energy transition, mobility, inequality and more. Major changes and transformations need strong unions and constructive cooperation between unions, governments and employers as equals. Governments and employers unfortunately seem to have to learn this the hard way.

'Leaders in government, business and civil society have a crucial role to play in protecting the integrity and effectiveness of existing well-governed institutions'

Jane Nelson, Director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, GFC on the Future of Good Governance

Jane Nelson, Director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, GFC on the Future of Good Governance

2024 is shaping up to be one of the most critical years in history for determining the future of good governance from a global, national and corporate perspective. Rising geopolitical tensions and threats to multilateral cooperation are influencing and being influenced by over 50 forthcoming national elections and threats to rule of law and accountability. At the same time, there is a more urgent need than ever for collective leadership to tackle complex and systemic challenges such as climate change, digital transformation, inequality, global health, corruption and economic uncertainty.

Leaders in government, business and civil society have a crucial role to play in protecting the integrity and effectiveness of existing well-governed institutions and in developing new governance models that respect people’s rights, protect the planet and ensure justice and rule of law.

Certain emerging models of governance offer hope in a challenging context.

For example, sector-led global coalitions are being jointly established by governments and companies to drive systemic change and good governance in the industries that are most crucial to more inclusive and sustainable growth. Examples include initiatives such as the AI Governance Alliance, the First Movers Coalitions for Industry and Food and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.

Elsewhere, subnational multistakeholder coalitions are being formed by public and private leaders in cities and regions to ramp up collective advocacy and action in areas such as green policy reforms and industrial models, anti-corruption integrity pacts and local resilience and livelihood initiatives.

Stakeholder models of corporate governance are also being implemented by a growing number of global corporations, with a focus on integrating material environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities into corporate strategy, operations and reporting.

While none of these are sufficient on their own, they are increasingly important to supporting a broader ecosystem of good governance.

'Today, some of the most forward-looking actors recognize the importance of creating and renewing more inclusive and legitimate institutions'

Peter Maurer, President of the Board, Basel Institute on Governance, GFC on the Future of Good Governance

Peter Maurer, President of the Board, Basel Institute on Governance, GFC on the Future of Good Governance

Commentators of international affairs certainly have a point in highlighting today's “polycrisis”, “permacrisis” and fragilities; but describing the complexities and finding sector-specific solutions is only a starting point.

It is encouraging, therefore, to see governance issues increasingly moving centre stage. Today, some of the most forward-looking actors recognize the importance of creating and renewing more inclusive and legitimate institutions, defining principles and rules for decision-making in multi-stakeholder environments, leveraging technologies to build and connect communities of practice and defining new instruments for the financing of global public goods.

It is encouraging also to see that beyond the mechanics of governance, more actors endeavour to strengthen ethical frameworks, connecting public and corporate governance practices and delivering faster on the sustainable development goals. And while finding broadly acceptable solutions will still need much more work and effort, it should be positively recognized that so many actors — private and public, institutional and individual — are singing from the same song sheet. They are working cooperatively and creatively for governance systems, and are thus able to manage the “goods” and contain the “bads”.

'We have a solemn obligation and a golden opportunity to take meaningful action towards a net zero and nature-positive existence'

Badr Jafar, Chief Executive Officer, Crescent Enterprises, GFC on the Future of Philanthropy for Climate and Nature

Badr Jafar, Chief Executive Officer, Crescent Enterprises, GFC on the Future of Philanthropy for Climate and Nature

As we look to 2024, I am optimistic about the increased engagement from the private sector on the global climate action agenda. The recent COP28 Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum represented an historic inflection point where over 1,300 business leaders and philanthropists from 82 countries convened with heads of state to exchange ideas, foster collaboration and generate climate and nature action.

Since public financing alone won’t suffice to cover the tens of trillions of dollars needed to meet global climate and nature goals, business must play a pivotal role in addressing the climate finance gap. Philanthropy also has a unique role to play, with its greater flexibility and higher tolerance for risk creating a powerful multiplier effect when deployed alongside business and government capital.

Moreover, the private sector's growing role as an enabler of climate innovation and technology transfer at scale, particularly to developing countries, is also essential. Entrepreneurs are key in driving climate solutions, and by investing in climate-focused startups, including throughout the Global South, we can debunk the myth that ‘green’ and profitable cannot go hand in hand.

As the private sector community, we have a solemn obligation and a golden opportunity to take meaningful action towards a net zero and nature-positive existence. To realize this opportunity, we must work together and across sectors, collaborating wherever we can while always playing to our respective strengths.

'We can now use physics calculations to run millions of AI-driven simulations that find optimal solutions'

Jack Hidary, Chief Executive Officer, SandboxAQ, GFC on the Future of the Quantum Economy

Jack Hidary, Chief Executive Officer, SandboxAQ, GFC on the Future of the Quantum Economy

If 2023 was the year of Generative AI, 2024 and 2025 will be the years of AI simulation. Generative AI works well on large amounts of data — but what do we do when there’s insufficient data? For example, in healthcare, we need more data at the subatomic level of how candidate drugs act on various targets to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s or brain cancer. We can now use physics calculations to run millions of AI-driven simulations that find optimal solutions.

In 2024, we’ll also confront a rapid increase in AI-driven cybercrimes. Adversaries are using AI to penetrate firewalls and threaten critical infrastructures such as the banking systems, telco networks and the energy grid with ransomware.

Transitioning to a Zero Trust cyber architecture ensures more powerful encryption technologies protect every single piece of data and network infrastructure. The industry will be using more AI to counter increased attacks in a cyber arms race unlike any we’ve seen in the past.

Critical to all organizations will be upskilling in AI. We’ll see personalized AI-driven training and education tools flourish to give students and employees the skills needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced world.

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