10 Predictions for 2024: A.I. Explosion & D.E.I. Blowback
Expect a worse internet, LLM lawsuits, the de-wokening, and more green energy
Tahquitz Canyon Trail in Palm Springs California on my last hike of 2023
I hope holiday time has been restorative and not filled by product returns. I’ve been enjoying my time with family… and time with characters on screen. I absolutely loved Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction, one of the sharpest satires in many years. I was also blown away by Bradley Cooper’s writing, directing, and performing in Maestro alongside Carey Mulligan. And I’m currently making plans to see The Color Purple. I asked many of you to recommend your favorite corny Christmas movies, and you delivered. (My surprise favorites: Feast of the Seven Fishes and Four Christmases.)
As with every transition to a new year, it’s worth taking a moment to look back and appreciate the mere fact that we’re here, given that not everyone makes it across the finish line. This year, my reflections revolve around personal goals achieved and missed; how to face the volatility of the world without giving in to despair; and how to update the damn firmware on my webcam. Seriously, it’s been stuck for over a week, and I’m getting worried. Does this mean there’s spyware inside?!
But I also want to use this space to share my thoughts on the year ahead. I don’t need to tell you we’re at an inflection point. We’re all feeling a mix of apprehension, confusion, exhaustion, and some excitement as we face monumental transformations in politics, technology, and culture, plus the wars that capture our attention and the ones we don’t acknowledge.
Last year was, in a word, wild. We experienced the hottest climate ever, with smoke from Canadian wildfires pouring across the U.S. border. It was a hot labor summer, too, as workers went on strike from Hollywood to Detroit. We witnessed the brutal Hamas attack, the overwhelming Israeli response, and the ripple effects from Washington to our own workplaces. It was a year of severe anti-abortion movement crackdowns—and a powerful backlash. We read Donald Trump’s name on courtroom dockets across the country, and tried not to read his terrifying, authoritarian rants on Truth Social. We saw an explosion of A.I. and the attempted implosion of D.E.I.
Looking back on 2023, I almost forgot it was the year we shot down that Chinese spy balloon, and the year that Kevin McCarthy became Speaker of the House and un-became speaker, a truly remarkable achievement. For me, it was also the year I shared the stage with Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Kerry Washington, and Dwyane Wade (if I don’t brag about it, who will?); made my first-ever second season of a television series; and admitted that my body is, in fact, aging.
Of course, I’m also looking forward, with a mix of confident and cautious prognostication on a few of the topics that will likely define 2024: artificial intelligence, democracy, climate, crypto, and more.
I published this piece in Puck on Sunday night, and already the new year is delivering on one of the areas of my prediction, a continuation of the backlash against DEI. Today we learned that Harvard’s president — it’s second woman and first Black person to hold the job — Claudine Gay is resigning after just six months on the job, making her the shortest-serving president in Harvard history. I already shared many of my thoughts on her performance and perceived performance two newsletters ago. I had hoped she could survive in the short term to try to lead in the long term. But she was up against relentless and out-of-control forces determined to get rid of her in a spotlight few could ever have withstood. I encourage you to read the recent staff editorial from the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, which encouraged her to stay. I also encourage you to read the staff dissent demanding she leave. There’s valuable perspective in both.
What’s missing, and what I haven’t held much space for is the shear pain of seeing an extraordinarily talented Black woman taken down by such vicious efforts. She was not perfect. She bungled the initial response on campus and fumbled the testimony on Capitol Hill. Her technical answer to the moral question of “calls for genocide” got the attention, but she’d sent a series of wavering or unclear messages through October on campus that alarmed many Jewish students. She also made heartfelt efforts to reach out to the Jewish community on campus and made commitments to digging into Harvard’s long history of anti-semitism that no other university president, to my knowledge, had initiated. She was certainly not any version of the raging antisemite she’s been characterized to be.
I don’t know enough about academia to know if her lack of citation around technical methods and acknowledgments, also known as plagiarism, is common. I do know enough about humans to understand that you can find dirt in anyone’s closet if you’re motivated enough. And I’d love to see every university president and member of the U.S. Congress and Senate subjected to the same scrutiny as Gay, not to excuse her behavior but humble all who would ride in on a high horse. In the end, she lost the room and key members in it: donors, elected officials, shitposters, and exhausted students and faculty. She may also have simply lost her own will to face this mountain of scandals and hate-infused personal attacks.
Her case seems to be a microcosm of this larger moment we’re in around the Israel-Palestine war: that many things can be true at once. She can have made mistakes, and the attacks against her can be bad-faith, racist, sexist, strategically-timed acts of information warfare. Her case is also a microcosm of America’s race story: no matter how high a Black person, and particularly a Black woman, climbs, they will be targeted for destruction and made an example of. The Harvard shield could not protect her. If anything, it invited more spears to be launched at her. If she led a different institution, we would not know her name, her achievements, or her failures. If she led the same institution but wasn’t a Black woman, she’d likely still have her job. In moments like these it’s helpful to remember the many chances extended to men like Donald Trump or Elon Musk, people who’ve publicly trafficked in and amplified deeply antisemitic tropes, and who still command empires of influence in public and private. One lesson I’m taking from all this is reflected in a conversation I’ve been having and one well captured by Luvvie Ajayi Jones’s IG post today, challenging the concept of “Black Excellence.”
The lesson isn’t simply not to fall for the trap of thinking that being exceptional makes you an exception from society’s rules and inequities. It’s also a lesson to move through these spaces with community and not alone. These systems, from Harvard to America, were not designed to keep all of us equally safe or hold all of us equally accountable, despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary. Solo achievements won’t delivery collective liberation on their own. And painfully, a powerful symbol of efforts to bring more inclusion and equity to these traditionally unequal spaces was just made an example of.
For the remainder of my full 2024 set of predictions, see the full Puck essay. Meanwhile, here’s the topline set:
The Internet Will Get Worse
Proprietary Data Will Become More Valuable (thanks to A.I.)
OpenAI Will No Longer Dominate
A.I. Will Find You
Human Interaction Will Become a Luxury
People Will Return to Nature
Crypto’s Not Dead
The Climate Business Is About to Explode
The D.E.I. Backlash Will Continue Unabated
Democrats Can’t Rely on a “Save Democracy” Message