24 Jan 2024

Tom Standage's annual predictions for the year ahead

From Afternoons, 3:10 pm on 24 January 2024

If 2023 was the year of unpredictability, speed will be the hallmark of 2024, says British journalist Tom Standage.

Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, edits the magazine's annual forward-looking special edition called The World Ahead.

Tom Standage, author and Technology Editor of The Economist magazine.

Photo: Judah Passow / Network Photographers

Standage joined Jesse Mulligan for his yearly chat about what the year ahead might bring.

“There's a lot of things that are changing very fast. Technology is moving very fast, climate change seems to be accelerating.

"And there's also a sense that the kind of geopolitical stability, that relatively speaking we've had, for the last 30 years, people have called it a holiday from history, we now realise that actually, things were pretty quiet on the geopolitical front for quite a long time. And now that really does all seem to be coming apart. And so that's changing very rapidly as well.”


In what he calls “voterama”, half the people on the planet will be voting in elections this year. About 75 national elections involving 4.2 billion people are to take place.

Although it is not necessarily a triumph for democracy across the world, he says.

“What you can see from all these different elections, some of them are free and fair and the people get to choose their leaders and other elections, some not so free and fair and it's all a bit of a farce.”

All eyes are on the US, he says, which he calls a flawed democracy.

“There has been a sort of wholesale loss of confidence in the whole democratic system. Both the Republican side and the Democratic side think that the other side is rigging it.”

It is a political system characterised by sclerosis, he says

“It's really hard to get anything done. And so again, that's a sort of sign that the democracy is not working properly.”

If Donald Trump wins this time, which the The Economist says is one-in two-chance it will have far reaching and negative impacts on the world, Standage says.

Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump arrives for a "Commit to Caucus" rally in Clinton, Iowa, on January 6, 2024. (Photo by TANNEN MAURY / AFP)

Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump arrives for a "Commit to Caucus" rally in Clinton, Iowa, on 6 January 6, 2024. Photo: TANNEN MAURY / AFP

“Can American democracy get through this year? Because Donald Trump's made it pretty clear that if he does win the election, then he wants to dismantle an awful lot of the things that stopped him doing what he wanted to do last time around.

"He wants to put his own people in to the Department of Justice and essentially sue all of his enemies. And he wants to get rid of what he calls the “deep state”, which means what most people would say are the sort of usual checks and balances you get in a democracy to stop a president from doing whatever the hell they want to.”

It will cast a shadow over the whole year, he says

"That's the biggest unresolved question in geopolitics. And everyone is trying to Trump-proof whatever they're doing, and trying to find ways to have insurance policies in case he wins.”


“Technology to address climate change is actually developing faster than most people expect it to.

“And the deployment of solar energy is happening much faster than people expect. I think ultimately, climate change gets sorted by technology developing rapidly, as much as it is sorted by policy makers changing rules.”


Industrial drilling machine

Photo: 123RF

“A shift from here is the oil and gas, and have we got enough access to the oil and gas, we're now shifting to where is the lithium? Where's the nickel? Where's the copper? Where’s the manganese and the rarer earth elements?

This shifts geo-politics on its axis, he says.

"They're in very, very different places from the oil and gas, and a lot of them are in the global south.

“They are in countries that are not necessarily aligned with either the American or the Chinese block in the new cold war that we now seem to be finding ourselves in.”

Artificial intelligence

Elon Musk at The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on 29 November, 2023 in New York City.

Elon Musk Photo: SLAVEN VLASIC / AFP

The whole “killer robot” debate has been something of a decoy up till now, he says.

“If you look at the tech bros, like Sam Altman and Elon Musk and people like that, they have a reason to talk up the existential risk of killer robots, that AI going to wipe us all out angle, because that's quite a theoretical risk in the future.

They're saying we need a sort of IAEA, which is the body that regulates nuclear weapons around the world. And this is all very convenient for them, because that will take years.

“In the meantime, nobody will be paying attention to the fact that these AI systems have got real problems right now that need to be addressed. Like bias and discrimination, and the fact that they're trained on data that in many cases has just essentially been stolen, and privacy and all of these kinds of things.

“It's a kind of oh nevermind the fact that this facial recognition system is racist, look over there, there could be killer robot. It's a bit of a decoy.”


An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on December 26, 2023.

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on 26 December, 2023. Photo: AFP / Alberto Pizzoli

"I think the general view until a few months ago was that inflation was on the way down, and that we would see interest rates starting to come down in 2024.

“The thing that has rather upset that has been disruption in the Red Sea. And the fact that container ships and tankers going through the Red Sea are having missiles fired at them.

“That means we’ve got a lot more shipping going from China around the bottom of Africa. And this is increasing the cost of freight. And that is going to be inflationary, that is going to add cost for the people in some parts of the world.”

Super franchise movies

Oppenheimer (2023), directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Cillian Murphy.

Oppenheimer (2023), directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Cillian Murphy. Photo: Universal Pictures - Atlas Enter / Collection ChristopheL via AFP

“I think we're starting to see the domination of the Marvel franchises is going down.

“But I think it's a bit of a litmus test this year, we've got various superhero movies coming out., 2023 was interesting, because we had Barbie and we had Oppenheimer, which were not franchises, they weren't sequels.

“Who knows, maybe they'll find a way to do Oppenheimer II. But I find it unlikely.”

Paris Olympics

This photograph shows the entrance of the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics (Cojo) headquarters as Police raided just over a year out from the opening ceremony of the quadrennial sporting showpiece, in Saint-Denis, northern Paris, on June 20, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)


"I've been looking for something kind of inspiring and optimistic about the coming year. And I have to say, there really aren't an awful lot of things to choose from.

“But the Olympics is one of those things that that can make even jaded old cynics like me, put that aside and say, it's really cool to see that as a planet the human race can get all the people who are best at particular athletic disciplines. And we can get them together in one place and say, let's see who's best."

But on a more downbeat note, he says.

“As with many previous Olympics Paris is going to be overshadowed by political arguments, particularly in this case about the participation of athletes from Russia, and Belarus and what flag they should compete under.

“But it will be great because Paris has a tough time and Notre Dame after that terrible fire has been restored. And the 'city is feeling much more upbeat and optimistic.

"And so, it would be great if that was something that sort of spread to the rest of the world.  But I think optimism and unity is going to be in short supply in 2024.”