Uncharted Territories: 2023 and 2024
Here’s what I’m going to discuss today:
The most successful articles of the year, the main themes we touched on, and how they are interconnected.
What Uncharted Territories is about and what you can expect in 2024.
Uncharted Territories as a business.
How you can support and get involved in Uncharted Territories, including as a Christmas gift.
Exciting stuff that’s coming.
If there’s one thing you should read, it’s this last point, so let me just start with that!
Breathing Life into Uncharted Territories
Meet in Real Life
Every time I call for contributors, I’m floored by your high profile: university professors, PhDs, hedge fund managers, tech CEOs, politicians, oscar-nominated producers… And you are from all over the world!
In the US:
But that’s not much information. I want to know you much better, and I want you to know each other. So I have a survey for you, to learn more about who you are and what interests you. I also ask where you spend time, so I can organize get-togethers when I visit. So please fill in this form:
Uncharted Territories Social Graph
But if you’re like me, you might think simple get-togethers are awkward: You go in, you don’t know many people, and you don’t know what you have in common. The result is that you end up talking about the weather when you could be nerding out about the latest innovations in the psychology of pop music or whatever. I discussed this in How to Prepare Dates and Find Business Partners:
Tragedies like this happen every day.
What if you knew who you are the most like, and what interests you both?
So I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to try this with the Uncharted Territories audience? There are 80,000 of us, already hyperselected. What if you could identify the handful of people who are closest to you in terms of interests within that. Would you like to meet these people? Would you like to have something like this?
AI now allows this. I’m thinking of hacking something along those lines. Are you interested in participating? Fill in the (same) form!
This is just the beginning. I want to innovate on everything we do, starting with the most fundamental part of Uncharted Territories: producing and consuming articles.
What if we could create articles together? Wouldn’t we write them faster? Wouldn’t they be more accurate?
What if we innovated in the way we collaborate to write these articles? What if they were more like Wikipedia and less like Google Docs?
What if instead of just reading articles, you could visualize the argument in a snapshot? Discuss with the article?
These are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself, and have been working on building all of this in the background. But I’m hitting the limits of what I can do without software engineers, so I’m looking for people who might be interested in helping. If you have some expertise in building AI-based web products, and are interested in spending 5-10h a week on this, please let me know by filling this form! If this is successful, it might lead to a full-time position.
How Is Uncharted Territories Going?
OK, that was the most important piece I wanted to get out of the way. Now, let’s review 2023 and see what’s coming in 2024.
One year ago, 44,000 of you were subscribed to the free version of Uncharted Territories.
Today, you are over 80,000.
80% more than last year!
Why did you come?
Many of you discovered me through my Twitter threads, which got about 350 million impressions. This led to Uncharted Territories articles being read 5 million times this year. Here are all the articles, followed by the Top 3 most popular, controversial, and underrated of 2023:
The Biggest Themes of UT in 2023 and What Will Come in 2024
This will always be at the heart of Uncharted Territories, because we don’t understand how much our lived experience is defined by our surroundings. We live sheltered lives with our houses and cars and highways and supermarkets and computers and phones… They have abstracted reality and put a veil of ignorance in front of us, so much so that we don’t understand why things are the way they are.
And a big region of the world, in Why 50% of the World's Population Lives in This Circle?
And of course, our Israel and Palestine series:
Will Israel Be at War? – The geopolitics of Israel.
Who Can Claim Palestine? – The history of the region and how that translates into claims from the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Do Arab States Support Palestine? – Why other Arab states are ambiguous (to say the least) about their support to Palestinians.
The Gaza Trap – The geopolitics of Gaza.
The Three State Solution – The geopolitics of the West Bank.
The Problem of West Bank Settlements – Details about Israel’s settlement strategy.
The Struggle for the Soul of Israel – How internal politics in Israel work, and how that affects the Palestinians.
Over a dozen of you contributed to this series in the background, reading my drafts, debating them, disagreeing with me... I didn’t ask if you wanted me to publicly acknowledge you, so I won’t. But I know who you are, and I thank you for making this important series so much better.
We also looked at how the representations of the world can misdirect our perception of it:
And we’ve started looking at cultural differences in What Does the Free World Stand For?
I think I will cover the entire world with this series eventually. In 2024, I plan to publish articles about countries like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, and different parts of Africa. I can change these plans if any of you comes up with a strong thesis on any country.2
Many GeoHistory articles tie the history and geography of countries, but this is also true of cities. In the 7-part series on cities (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7), we explained how transportation was the decisive factor in determining which locations would become huge cities and which ones would remain villages. Specifically, this year we covered:
The Ceiling of Building Up: How technologies like the elevator and steel framing allowed cities to grow vertically, and how that has shaped other aspects of our lives.
With that, we were able to start understanding why specific cities are where they are, and why they’ve been so successful. We’ve started with Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis, St Paul, Kansas City, and New York (Why Is New York So Big and How It Beat Montréal and Québec).3
I then made a quick foray into urbanism, with How to Make Cities Safe and What’s Safer, Suburbs or Cities? I want to get back to this series, but I realized there are very few good resources and lots of opinions, which means I need to form my own. That will take time.
That said, the point of all these insights is never to simply understand the past. It’s to shape the future. So we started applying them in a couple of articles: How to Create a New City or State? and an Interview with Mark Lutter, who is actually creating a new city, maybe in the Caribbean.
This approaches a topic we discussed in the past: the future of nation-states. Expect much more on all this in the future! The interaction between cities, transportation technologies, and the future of nation-states is a huge topic that I’ve barely touched on, but will be very exciting.
Another way in which we’ve applied our GeoHistorical and Transportation insights is in space exploration. The most important article of the series was Starship Will Change Humanity Soon, where we explored how the drop in transportation costs to low-Earth orbit will usher in a new business era in space. Impossible business models suddenly become possible, and human civilization changes as a result.
We later saw that this is going to be limited to the Earth’s orbit for now. There’s no money to be made in deep space, so there won’t be much of a deep space economy for now.
As a result, colonizing Mars won’t be easy: Where’s the money going to come from? Luckily, rich people have enough money to fund it, so we will likely see settlements on Mars before the end of the century. Thinking ahead, we explored What Is the Best Real Estate on Mars, and for that we had to Understand Mars’s Surface Better. We will talk more about this in 2024, if Starship finally makes it to space intact.
Yet another way in which we’ve applied our GeoHistorical insights is in considering climate change.
When we looked into Brazil, we also dove into The Amazon Rainforest. We even made a Youtube video of it with one of you, Tito, and I’m super proud of it.
We explored the Megafloods of the Past4 and the potential Mythological Roots of Megafloods, which made me realize that we could engineer them now. This led to the article proposing the idea of Seaflooding parts of the world, and exploring precedents and future applications.
Something similar happened when I looked into how the oceans work:
First, I studied Why Are Tropical Waters Dead, and Can They Kill Europe?
And then more Fascinating Facts about the Oceans.
With that, it became clear that we could Farm the Ocean, which would increase food security, improve the climate, and create more life.
This led us to explore the roots of life on Earth: What Are the Nutrients of Life. This is, to me, the most underrated premium article of the year.
Energy & Climate Change
However, geography is not the only lens we should use to understand climate. The other one, of course, is energy.
In the Energy series, we first looked into ancient energy technological revolutions. Then, we extended our research into modern energy revolutions. This helped us understand What Future Energy Revolutions We Need.
Then we had to discern the root of the problem: How Bad Is CO2? and 24 Surprising Facts About Climate Change. We learned that CO2 is bad, but it’s not an existential risk. This surprising fact became even more surprising when we realized that Solar Energy Solves Global Warming. Meanwhile, we also noticed that hydrogen is not going to be very successful in Why Hydrogen Is Not the Answer.
In 2024, we will continue. We will look at nuclear energy and other ways we could end our climate change problems tomorrow, for example.
Since the COVID emergency is behind us, 2023 was a good time to take stock of past predictions. It turns out my predictions were quite accurate, but we learned along the way how easy it is to lie to ourselves.
When news exploded about masks not working, I was well positioned to check that statement, and in Do Masks Work?, we learned three things: That they do work, that asking the right question is super important (masks work… when worn properly!), and that even the best meta-analyses can have glaring holes.5
Other epidemics are more important than COVID now, like the Opioid Crisis or the mental health issues of young adults. What entices me about the topic of mental health issues is that there are many culprits, but no clear cause. This is an ideal scenario for people to project their biases. They have done so by blaming loneliness. So I tackled that in A Mental Epidemic, proving that we don’t feel more loneliness, only more aloneness, and that we actually like that. The root problem is elsewhere.6
This is perfectly suited to Uncharted Territories: A topic that straddles disciplines—in this case epidemiology, mental health, and behavioral psychology—and with plenty of data available. We applied a similar approach to two other articles: How to Fight Your Own Biases, in the context of the masks study, and What Most People Still Get Wrong About COVID Management, highlighting the five biggest failures.
How to Think
In the vein of how to improve our thinking, we explored:
Why people don’t Incorporate Information Immediately, and why it’s so important to do so.
How to Create a Masterpiece (in one word: volume).
Why our current culture is infantilized and how to think more maturely in 50 Shades Against the Gods.
How blaming is useless to you in It’s Your Fault Too
The most daring series I wrote was the Game Theory of Sex:
What Makes Men and Women Different explores core biological differences.
Other Ways Men Have Evolved to Have More Children focuses on men.
Where Is The Game Theory of Sex Series Going? explains the aims of the series.
How Have Women Evolved to Attract Men? focuses on women.
Article 4 covers a bunch of questions, like short-term vs long-term mating strategies, why we have sex while women are not fertile, why we love, and why we enjoy sex.
The Shape of Us explores what types of body shapes are attractive in men and women.
Bestial Kingdom dives into the animal kingdom to draw lessons for humans.
The Hidden Patterns of Sexual Selection highlights the fundamental sexual forces that have shaped animals—and humans.
Many of you were surprised by this topic; some were uncomfortable. But a majority asked me to keep going. Why did I tackle it?
Because everything humans do is driven by how we think.
How we think is driven by evolution.
And the two biggest drivers of evolution are survival and reproduction.
Therefore, understanding sex is crucial to understanding how we think and make decisions.
In other words, psychology is a fundamental piece of the puzzle of how the world works, and sexual psychology is the cornerstone of psychology, so we’ll continue with this series in 2024, with pieces covering topics like slut-shaming, kinks, how to seduce women, monogamy vs polygamy, and more.
But the most important topic of all is AI.
I’ve been writing about it for years now8, but in 2023 we started really spending time on it.
A big focus has been on its future impact on jobs and economics:
We also had a look at a future world with lots of AI, how it solves most problems, and what humans will become when AI replaces us. That is, if we survive. I explored the possibility that we don’t in OpenAI and the Biggest Threat in the History of Humanity, and then, in The Singularity Is Fear, explained why this risk is the single most important topic in the world today.
This is so fundamental that I’ll write more articles on it. More importantly, I’ve started playing with AI myself. I am hoping to embed AI in many of our articles, so you can learn to use it, too. Remember to fill in the survey!
OK, of all these articles, which ones were the most popular, controversial, and underrated?
Most Popular UT Articles of 2023
Based on number of views:
Maps Distort How We See the World: 227k views
The Israel & Palestine Series (most articles garnered over 100k views), but especially Who Can Claim Palestine?: 160k views
Most Controversial UT Articles of 2023
Based on number of comments and excepting the most popular articles:
The Sexual Evolution series, most notably What Makes Men and Women Different?: 157 comments
Starship Will Change Humanity Soon: 138 comments
When Will AI Take Your Job?: 113 comments
Most Underrated UT Articles of 2023
This is a mix of what I consider the most underrated and the content that blew up on Twitter more than in the newsletter:
GeoHistory: These topics got to ~20 million views each on Twitter: The Megaflood that Created the Mediterranean and Why 50% of the World's Population Lives in This Circle?
The Nutrients of Life and a Better Alternative to Iron Fertilization: One of the most exciting things I learned this year is why life grows where it does, and what its limitations are. Once I understood that, many things became clear: Why we use the fertilizer we do, why some plants are more special than others, why life develops in some parts of oceans and not others… This article explores that.
Before sharing the risks of AI, I shared its potential: Infinite Intelligence Solves Most Problems and Future Humans Are Sporadic Indulgences. The second one is especially interesting, as it posits what humans can become in a world after friendly AI.
If you enjoy this type of content, and you think others might too, Uncharted Territories would make a great Christmas gift. It not only gives a friend access to all the Uncharted Territories content; it also allows me to do this full time. I took an 80% cut in income to work on UT and don’t employ anyone to help. The more you support me, the more I’ll be able to build.
If the recipient fears a cluttered email, let them know that this is only two emails a week, and if they cancel, they get a prorated refund. Reach out if you have any problem.
And what can they expect from Uncharted Territories?
What Is Uncharted Territories About?
I want us to understand how the world works, so we can navigate it and nudge it in the right direction. This entails a few things:
We must pick the most relevant drivers of the world and ditch other topics. This is why I mostly don’t cover news, sports, gossip, or daily politics: They don’t really matter in the long term, and already occupy an inordinate amount of people’s attention.
To predict the future, we must understand the history of these drivers to see how they project into the future. This is why I cover topics that have determined our past, like history, geography, transportation, or psychology, and why I also explore the future, like space, climate, and AI.
We can’t shy away from any important driver. This is why I have covered such controversial topics as Israel & Palestine, the values of the Free World, and sexual psychology.
We must reflect on how to better think, to make our predictions more accurate. This is why I always go back to important mistakes people make when thinking.
We must act on our insights.
Our Commitments to Each Other
But for us to honestly cover controversial topics like sex, race, morals, AI, Israel & Palestine, or climate change, we must commit to some rules. Here’s my commitment to you:
I don’t have a hidden agenda. I just want to understand how the world works to nudge it in the right direction.
I will always try to be candid, honest, sincere, and constructive.
I won’t avoid touchy subjects. If I think we must cover them, we will.
I won’t tell you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it. Doing so would be good for my business, but bad for our souls. I prioritize our souls.
I will always try to make our insights actionable.
So when you open an Uncharted Territories newsletter, you are making a commitment too:
That you’ll be open-minded.
That you’ll assume honest intent in me and in other readers.
That you know more in some areas than I do, and you should share your knowledge with me and everybody else.
That you’ll be demanding of the intellectual standards of UT and each other.
That you want me to push boundaries.
I hope you enjoyed Uncharted Territories in 2023, and you’ll enjoy 2024 even more! If you want to contribute, fill the survey or give Uncharted Territories as a gift. What you’ll get is a thorough, entertaining, open-minded way to explore the world in an actionable way, across topics like AI, geopolitics, space, climate, epidemics, psychology, and more.
They convert each person’s interest into a multidimensional vector through something called “embeddings”, and then they look at how close each vector is to others. The closer they are across all these dimensions, the closer they represent them in 2D (they basically take the cosine of the vectors).
or if my attention gets drawn elsewhere, like AI.
North-American cities are interesting because the process of building them is well documented, so we don’t just guess why they’re where they are: We know.
We also made a video of this one, but I never published it… I will!
Statistical approaches mixing a quality study of 300,000 people with a handful of poorly-done, 1,000-people studies tend to put much more weight on the small studies, which biases everything.
Likely social media
I don’t think this quote is perfectly true, but it’s very memorable and does have a lot of truth in it. A more accurate but less memorable one would be “A lot in the world is about sex, and some sex has a big power component.”
I first referenced the AI singularity 2.5 years ago, and wrote my first full-length article on it two years ago: I had been playing with Generative AI for a few years already at that point. So when Midjourney and ChatGPT took the world by storm, you were already aware that we had to watch the space.