Uncharted Territories: What's Coming in 2023
What did we discuss in 2022? What themes are emerging? What will we discuss in 2023? In typical Uncharted Territories fashion, I finally tackle this at the end of January.
The theme of Uncharted Territories (UT) has always been the same: Understand the past and the present so we can foresee the future and prepare for it. You’ll see this is what we did in 2022, and what we’ll keep doing in 2023.
1. A Look Back at 2022
Understanding the past means that a big focus for UT is always history: How did we get where we are? Why?
That’s why in the past we discussed the big patterns of geography: It tends to drive the big patterns of history. So in 2021, we dove deep into China, India, Egypt, Mexico, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, the African Horn, and Switzerland.
In 2022, we looked at:
The EU’s future and what it would take for a United States of Europe.
How to Understand France and the most obscure but crucial point of its history and geography.
A brief history of Spain, Portugal, the weird parallel between Portugal and Catalonia, and the fascinating origins and patterns of Spanish vs Portuguese around the world.
Why Pakistan was drowning while China was in a drought this summer.
A brief history of the UK, and the weird link between the monarchy, its language, its early freedom, and the industrial revolution.
Why did the Vikings appear out of nowhere, and the link with incels today.
And very recently, why Indonesia’s Java Island is so weird.
We also looked at the very origin of everything—the stars, and how they influence everything around us to this day.
We saw how much geography has influenced us, not just through our history, but also through other means like our myths.
From GeoHistory to Technology
The reason that GeoHistory is so important is because it has been the main driver of why we are the way we are today. But technology is severing the link between geography and history. So to understand how the future will change, we must understand how technology is doing that, and how it has grown its influence on today’s world, so we can understand its influence in the future.
That’s why in 2021 I wrote about:
We then went into the specifics of a technology: communications, how they created different political systems, and how projecting that in the future means the end of nation-states—which are a recent illusion created by communications.
We then had a look at how Internet communications are already influencing culture wars.
Then, in 2022, we explored two big ways that technology is influencing the future.
One is how transport technologies influence our cities and countries:
How the internal setup of cities was completely determined by logistics.
How transportation technologies even shaped empires and spread humans.
How building and elevator technologies limit a crucial aspect of cities—density.
The other one is how technologies influence politics.
The surprising parallel between financial technologies and democracy, and how understanding financial technology better helps us understand the future of democracy.
We continued exploring this pattern of the future of democracy, which is decentralized, and explained why this change was inevitable given the gap in the speed of culture vs politics today.
Violence is a core element of politics, and it’s changing rapidly today. We started exploring this topic in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Another core aspect of politics is debate, and it’s broken today. This article explores better ways to debate.
We debated some of these issues, and the future of the EU, with Europarlamentarian Eva Maydell.
Along those lines, we explored a few other drivers of global politics:
How urbanization has made the world more progressive, and why it will continue.
Why structurally freedom is a better technology than authoritarianism for growth.
We discussed why we should stop blaming others for the sins of our forebears: We’re all assholes all the way down.
We explored why so many countries seem like they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
We discussed why the debate between regulation and deregulation is stupid.
We pushed for taking more risks as a society, in the name of our grandchildren.
As we realize the impact of technology on society, it becomes fundamental to understand the most important tech trends today.
The most important of these trends is AI, so I wrote:
A primer on Generative AI in January.
I explored which companies are more likely to win in Generative AI.
We also looked at the big patterns of successful businesses on the Internet: those with network effects, and SaaS.
We looked at NFTs, to understand what’s fundamentally valuable about them and what isn’t, so we could predict which ones would continue being valuable in the future. This article still rings true after the NFTs collapse.
We looked at how disruption works with new technologies like the Internet, and what that means for education.
We talked about the value of remote work vs the office, and how creating a better watercooler is crucial for the future of remote work.
We applied all these concepts to the future of media, specifically written news, and how that influences platforms like Substack. I made predictions on what their future strategy should be, and so far they’re 100% on point.
The future of media is so important that we spent a bit more time on it, first understanding Spotify, and then Twitter. The takeover from Elon Musk is so important for the future of media that we spent a bit of time understanding what the company should do next.
Musk is becoming such an important global figure, that we spent some time trying to understand him: his management style, his thinking, and even his approach to babies and procreation.
But bits are not the only driver of the future. Atoms are too, especially energy. So given the war in Ukraine and the massive impact of energy in it, we spent a bunch of time on Germany’s nuclear plants: understanding why the German government wanted to close them despite the evidence, the ramifications of these decisions, and how you could help in these energy wars. We talked with the expert Mark Nelson on the topic, and celebrated when Germany reverted its position.
This type of real-world impact is what we’re striving for here. The fact that our articles on this topic of German nuclear reactors got several million impressions shows that we might be succeeding!
Another big trend that will impact the future is population.
We talked a bunch about fertility:
How culture influenced both fertility and politics in the past.
How this influence was so big that France lost its European hegemony.
How a country has been able to harness culture to revert this trend.
And then we contrasted it with aging, which might stop. What will happen then?
How to Improve Ourselves in This Changing World
As always, Uncharted Territories tries to prepare us for the future, so I wrote a lot about advanced techniques to improve ourselves:
How to give quality feedback, and how to do it tactfully.
Why it’s counter-intuitive, but you should let others speak over you.
Tactics to improve your dates and business meetings.
The importance of incorporating new, important information fast.
Why you shouldn’t judge workers by how they look, but rather by what they achieve.
I wrote a first piece on the source of happiness, and why it’s linked to accepting that life is terrible.
And finally, we wrote a couple of articles on COVID, explaining why the February wave was probably the last one of the pandemic phase, making some specific predictions about it, and exploring what would happen next.
2. What’s Coming in 2023
In 2023, my goal is to tackle some of the biggest forces that will shape the future:
Automation: What impact will it have on jobs and inequality? How can we fight it?
Generative AI: What will its role be in shaping humankind, and how can we take advantage of that as a society and as individuals?
Transport technologies: Now that we know how they’ve influenced the past, we are ready to explore how they will determine our future, through technologies such as remote work, space rockets, or VR.
Violence technologies: How have violence technologies like weapons and fortifications influenced our past, and how is the evolution of these technologies going to influence the future?
Energy: What is happening in energy today, and what can the past tell us about its influence on the future?
How all these technologies will influence our culture and politics, and what will replace our nation-states.
I also hope to tackle some of the changes that could revolutionize the most important industries:
The future of education, and how it will be completely different than it is today.
The future of healthcare.
The future of real estate, and why you shouldn’t invest in it anymore.
Along the way, I will continue touching some of the core themes of Uncharted Territories:
GeoHistory: I will probably continue doing some deep dives. I already have some thoughts on South East Asia—and China in particular—, Latin America, the Netherlands, Iran, Mexico, Turkey...
Why we should keep growing our population and our economy.
How to improve ourselves in this changing world.
Aging: Can we slow it down, and should we?
Morality: the geohistory of morality, the game theory of sex, how to design a religion, rituals of the 21st century…
COVID: Specifically, I’m hoping to check the accuracy of my past predictions, and might explore further long COVID or the current state of respiratory viruses (are you always sick like me?)
This week, I will send a survey to premium subscribers to gather their favorite topics, so I know how to prioritize them. Subscribe if you want to vote or drop me some specific requests!
Thomas, the number one issue I wish you would tackle is bureaucracy. I feel administrative managerial bloat is the #1 problem of our times preventing innovation, productivity growth, risk taking, and evolution in governance. In your career you must be constantly navigating the tension between building stable institutions and dynamism/creative destruction and yet you never mention this as a problem in the West writ large. I think this is the root cause of Baumol's cost disease, and it is also a class problem driving inequality. "If you want a problem solved, make it a project. If you want it managed, make it a career." We could free up vast amounts of GDP to spend solving problems if there was a countervailing force capable of reforming stagnant or self-serving institutions.
Wow, what an impressive summary of the very valuable articles you have written. The survey was really helpful for remembering the various 2022 articles. You covered a lot of territory (pun intended)! And, because you write on such a variety of topics, it's always helpful when you tie them together in a big picture way, as you did with this article. Really looking forward to the rest of your articles for 2023.
The piece on aloneness vs loneliness was very interesting. I would like to see you cover is more info on mental health. It seems there is an overall decline in mental health occurring. Increases in depression, narcissism, autism, etc. More mass shootings. Suicides. Etc. Is that really the case? And, are children and young people being seriously affected? If so, what is the cause and how can it best be turned around? Poor mental health causes individuals, families and society to suffer in many ways. If there is a trend towards an increase it's important to get to the root of why so solutions can be found. And, as you said in a comment on this page, "Psychology is at the core of everything about us and our future." So we need healthy psychological states.
Thanks so much for all you do, Tomas. I love reading your articles!!