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Breakdown or breakthrough: currents to watch in 2023

SEI Currents 2023 taps the institute’s expertise and insights from all our centres on five continents to examine trends emerging in 2023 and beyond. SEI Communications Director and Head of Strategic Policy Engagement Robert Watt introduces the series, which examines trends to watch as 2023 unfolds. These issues will serve as a springboard for a look at the year ahead. Watch SEI’s online Currents 2023 event as we and selected panellists discuss these and other key issues.

Robert Watt / Published on 20 December 2022
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Robert Watt /

An oar paddles in the current. Photo: Aitor Diago / Getty Images.

Future gazing is a centuries-old human urge. Crystal balls have been owned by fourth-century Merovingian kings and 19th-century Chinese emperors. The 16th-century scryer and mathematician Dr John Dee chose the date of Elizabeth I’s coronation. Governments, militaries and companies are constantly on the lookout for trends, looping their foresight back into planning, infrastructure, and investment.

What does a scientific organization like SEI have to offer by squinting into the future? What is in our crystal ball?

Two features make SEI’s crystal ball unique. The first is perspective. Our foresight is based on insights from eight offices on five continents. The second is expertise. SEI has leading experts in a wide range of scientific fields, all seeking to use their expertise to provide relevant and practical knowledge.

The four interweaving trends on SEI’s horizon for 2023 are starting points for debate and discussion. These currents weave in and out of each other – pulling and pushing, diverting and accelerating. Should we go with the flow? Swim against the current? Or prepare for a dangerous rip tide?

Our look into what 2023 will hold takes place at a time of growing risks. War is ongoing. The cost of living is skyrocketing. The reach of democracy is shrinking. Trust is falling victim to technological tools that hold promise to help solve the world’s crises, but are also being weaponized to warp the truth. How will the world move forward in its efforts to contain climate change and make sustainable development a reality?

SEI Currents 2023 emerges against this backdrop. The trends put forward here  are the product of insights from experts from across SEI and feedback of the Institute’s Science Advisory Council. These currents reflect a survey of opinions, not a quantitative analysis.

Watch our event recorded 11 January, where we explored these and other issues on the horizon for 2023.

Watch the full event recording.

Watch the keynote remarks by UN General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi.

SEI Currents 2023:

The democracy deficit: What does a global decline in freedom portend for climate and sustainability agendas?

More than two-thirds of the world’s population now lives under a dictatorship. Autocracy is rising. Democracy is waning. What are the causes and consequences of this rising authoritarianism? And what are the implications for sustainable development and climate change – which require monumental and united efforts to address? 

The cost-of-living crisis: accelerating or delaying a green transition?

The world is in the throes of a cost-of-living crisis. Prices of energy and food are soaring, with devastating effects on the poor. A complex combination of forces has given rise to a grim economic picture and a whole new vocabulary: “climateflation, fossilflation and greenflation ”. Can the world address these crises of the present and, at the same time, invest in a better future? Will the global upheaval of 2023 give rise to a turning point for a green energy transition?

Technological disruption: Will artificial intelligence solve global problems or widen equity gaps?

A Fourth Industrial Revolution  has begun, created by technological advances that have radically altered how we live, work and interact. Artificial intelligence (AI) is  a key driver of this disruption, and is forging ahead, largely in the absence of regulation. (Indeed, one could wonder whether this was written by a human or  ChatGPT .)  What are the implications for society? Will humanity wield AI in ways that help solve climate challenges? Or will this tool widen existing global disparities?

Reality check: coming to grips with the “meaning” crisis

The world is drowning in lies: misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and pseudo-science. Manipulation of the truth, much of it “computational propaganda”, is an industrial-scale problem and a money-making enterprise. The casualty is trust – in governments, institutions, media, leaders, and even our fellow citizens. What are the implications? How can the world combat the new technologies and the tried-and-true rhetoric used to manipulate the facts – and all of us?


Written by

Robert Watt
Robert Watt

Engagement Director

SEI Headquarters

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