How will this year unfold before us?



Looking at the world right now, it would not take a genius to predict how 2023 might unfold for the now eight billion of us. This time last year — and although the signs were there — who would have thought that within weeks Russia would invade Ukraine, leading to an energy supply crisis and contributing to, with other factors, rampant inflation? Or that the Russian invaders would prove an inept and murderous lot?

This year is likely another year of uncertainty, with economic and geopolitical turmoil casting a long shadow. We can expect intermittent disruptions with fuel shortages and continued economic inertia. As the onslaught on Ukraine continues will an increasingly desperate Putin resort to nuclear options and what would be the West’s response? The jury is still out on this but, suffice to say, we have not been as close to nuclear confrontation since the Sixties and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

As consumers in a consumerist world, constant upgrading and change makes us feel good. Many people already replace their smartphone every time a new model is released. Modern manufacturing works on the principle of ‘product obsolescence’ and, in a very real way, many of us actually conspire in the non-durability of the products we buy, simply because we’re happy to constantly upgrade.

Our world will keep changing at a quickening pace simply because we have the tools and capacity to keep things changing and because there are increasingly more of us involved in this accelerated change.

AI and robotics will change our world dramatically this year.

Covid has brought about change, too. Since the pandemic, public spaces, transportation and, for most, even our homes have been through the ultimate spring cleaning. Diligent, clean practices are now an essential element of our daily routines and crucial to combating the threat of future outbreaks, with China posing problems. And a highly immune-evasive omicron XBB.1.5 variant is quickly becoming dominant in the US and parts of Europe.

The pandemic fallout, however, is contributing to cleaning our planet too, with the UN this year likely to deliver a plan to reduce emissions caused by global transport. That’s said, there are still huge issues regarding climate. (We Irish use more plastic packaging than other EU members — 1.12 million tonnes in 2020). This year will see pressure on our Government to put its promises into practice and reverse delayed action and missed targets.

So to transport, where business travel has gone from a high-status activity to an unnecessary evil. In 2020, air travel represented one of the largest industries in the world. Yet, Covid forced people to cut back travelling by plane. As dreadful and debilitating as it was — still perhaps is — the coronavirus taught us that, yes, we can accomplish tasks together even though we are apart, and spurred us to take the first steps on the long journey to work together no matter where we are.

Remote working is the new buzz word. And, with the incredible speed in technology advancement, business travel this year may well virtually stop. And who needs all that airport chaos, anyway?

Instead visual rooms, better than Zoom, will provide us with a ‘physical’ presence together. Even, online hugs may well be ‘felt’, I would venture.

This year will see 80% of people in the West have a digital presence online, with 90% having a supercomputer in our pocket.

The opportunity of multi-sensory virtual interaction has opened an overwhelming new frontier. Today, we attend virtual and holographic concerts from the safety of our homes. Dare I suggest we have stepped into a world where we have realised we could very easily live inside the machine. Our homes will be that machine.

This year we can expect big leaps in the fields of medicine and genetics, with increasingly more breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy and, likely, a big breakthrough in treating Alzheimer’s disease. In the last six months scientists are using new tools to help develop new drugs and vaccines.

We will see increasing famine and diseases in Africa, further political divisiveness globally and increasing human migration. Keep, too, an eye on North Korea.

In Ireland, and elsewhere, an increasingly ageing population will put further pressure on an already challenged and seemingly broken health system and on pensions.

Homelessness is not about to vanish overnight. And the lack of housing, and the inability of many to afford ramped-up rents, let alone get up on the mortgage ladder, will see us, sadly, lose many of our best and brightest to emigration.

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