A sunrise, or possibly a sunset, over silhouettes of hills.
There’s always tomorrow. Credit: Jordan Wozniak

Things I hope for in 2024

Amy J. Ko

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Things can get pretty dire on this blog. And that’s not without reason: things are pretty dire, depending on how you’re positioned in the world. The world is afire with horrific wars, people are losing the right to control their own bodies in the name of Christian nationalism, climate change and violence are displacing millions creating migration crises worldwide, democracies are dabbling in fascism, and AI looms in the background, threatening to destabilize and already unstable global economy. If you’re not already facing harm from the forces above, you may in the future as they play out. And if you’re privileged enough to be sheltered from all of the above, all of these forces will eventually affect you indirectly, as you depend intricately on the lives of everyone on this planet.

I’m fortunate to be mostly sheltered, primarily by where I live and my job. But not entirely sheltered. My country is smaller than its ever been — rural communities don’t feel safe due to their anti-trans legislation. In some states, it’s illegal for me to safely use the restroom, to visit schools and universities, to share my research. My family and I work in the caregiving professions — teachers, nurses, therapists— and the burnout is real, making it harder to connect with the people we love because they’re exhausted trying to support people who are suffering. My cousin died on the streets this year, hungry, homeless, and addicted, due to long broken mental health care support for schizophrenia. And as sheltered as Seattle is from climate change, it’s hard to imagine ever having a summer again that’s not full of wildfire smoke, drought, and +100°F days trapped in our non-air conditioned ground floor den. The idea that the climate will only stay this bad if we do everything we can to stop it is terrifying.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, though, it’s that I can’t live without hope. I have to find reasons to be optimistic, both to preserve my own motivation for life, but also to support those I care for. The most common thing that students ask me, for example, is why they should care about anything, with everything in collapse. I need answers for myself; I need answers for them.

So at the risk of making predictions that are bound to be wrong, here are the things giving me hope in 2024. I don’t know that these will all happen — no one does—but they are things I hold onto when I need to stay focused on building a better future, rather than collapsing in despair.

The climate bill.

For all its flaws, the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act promises so many changes we can’t yet fathom that promise a better future. Clean energy manufacturing, reduced electricity bills, drought and heat prevention measures, and environmental justice priorities in federal grants, resilience planning — the list of spending is almost unfathomable, and will unfold over the next decade in important ways, just in time. I’m really excited to start thinking about climate change in terms of concrete actions instead of abstract dread, and I’m excited to participate in those concrete actions. My only fear is that people won’t notice all of the work that is happening to advert disaster, and so they won’t fund more of it (or elect representatives and a president that will).

The infrastructure bill.

While not perfect, the U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is finally going to repair much of the United States, delivering clean water, increasing access to the internet in rural communities, fix 45,000 bridges, streamline ports, invest in more sustainable high speed rail and EV charging, and address pollution in low income communities. We can certainly complain about all of the things the bill doesn’t do — nothing would be more transformative for health, climate and safety than moving the U.S. away from car dependency, for example — but the things that it does do are largely good with respect to sustainability and poverty. I can’t wait to ride all of the new trains instead of flying, to breathe better around the country, and to not wonder if water is potable as I travel the country.

The resurrection of unions.

Unions have been dying in the U.S. for decades, and so this year, I was heartened by the sheer volume of public and private labor organizing. Baristas, writers, factory workers, postdocs, students, manufacturers, and more, all of these grassroots efforts to resist income inequality are powerful illustrations that the public broadly has no interest letting the wealthy reign. There’s no promise that any of it will stick, but I’m hoping that even when it doesn’t, there will be a generation of workers who see organizing as a viable option for negotiating their fair share of profit, when there is profit to share. I’m excited to participate in this in my leadership role in academia, trying to find ways to compensate students, postdocs, and adjuncts in ways that are sustainable for our not-for-profit institutions.

The securing of trans rights.

The past few years of trans civil rights has brought thousands of anti-trans bills fueled by disinformation and lies, many of which passed, denying youth, their parents, their doctors, and in some cases, adults, basic rights to be themselves. Exclusion from sports, from restrooms, from schools, from basic respect for our names and identities were all on the menu, envisioning not only a world that segregates trans folks from cis ones, but actively denies trans people participation in daily life. And this has displaced tens of thousands of youth and their families as they seek refuge. But while this horribleness has been happening, it’s also come with dozens of state-level court decisions that are flatly rejecting the constitutionality of any of these laws, since they’re in such blatant violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. I’m hopeful that these repeated and nearly universal wins, fought for by a very small number of not-for-profits with limited funding, will ultimately yield solid constitutional protections, as they have in the past. I will be giving a lot of money to make sure that happens, and continue serving trans youth losing their families and their health care, until they are safe.

The end of (this round of) inflation.

Every sign is pointing to us reaching our 2% inflation targets soon, which is astounding, given how hard it is to steer an economy as large as ours. The economic pressure has been painful, predictable, and intentional, but 2024 might be the year where prices stabilize, interest rates go back down, and we can finally get back to the business of buying the things we need. This might also come with other indirect benefits, like securing Congress and the White House, since November voting in the U.S. is always so irrationally dependent on pricing trends that presidents don’t control. I’ll be spending the year spreading the good news about the economy with anyone who will listen.

The end of generative AI hype.

There were a lot of investments in generative AI this year, and a lot of the more fantastical, misguided ones are going to fade away for lack of value. That will help the hype machine fade, and let us get down to the regular business of figuring out what technologies are actually useful for (which is sometimes nothing). What I hope will be left for large language models will be a small set of narrow applications where synthesizing text, images, and audio from a corpus of data is incrementally valuable (e.g., some aspects of software development, boring enterprise information worker tasks, somewhat faster generation of notes in health care settings, some prediction tasks in health care). As part of this, I’m also excited about the numerous law suits against OpenAI, where we’ll sort through the boundaries of copyright law and fair use when content that people own is used without permission to generate adaptions. I think all of this will likely lead to a much narrower set of mundane applications of generative AI. I’m hopeful that allows us to put our attention back on the core issues of health, wellness, and sustainability that I mentioned above, rather than obsessing over a sweaty illusion that has little part our survival.

The redesign of workspaces.

If the pandemic lockdowns brought us into the horrible darkness of endless video chats, the last year has brought us into the chaos of hybrid. I don’t know about you, but it really has felt like the worst of everything, largely because most workplaces haven’t invested in doing it well. (And doing it well is possible, by the way, but it requires support). My day is full of Zoom meetings, mostly with people who are less than a few hundred feet away from me, and my lab space is nearly always empty as students choose to work from home and call in remotely. With that, however, brings opportunity. I’m excited to reimagine how we use space on campus. I’m excited to reinvest in learning in person, and how the new flexibility around space might change learning. I’m excited to shape new norms around when, why, and how we come together in physical space. I suspect this isn’t going to be just colleges and universities, but all workspaces finally deciding what they want to do with all of the physical buildings they’ve invested in. I’m excited to lead some of these conversations at my own institution, and maybe find a way through our space crunch through creativity.

The rejection of fascism.

As scary as it has been to see fascists be warmly embraced by such large groups of people across the globe, the underlying trends thus far have been pretty clear: mostly they don’t win elections, and even when they do, they move to the center, after realizing that can’t govern a democracy without a majority coalition. It’s not that I think our institutions will save us —it’s already clear how easily they can be exploited and destroyed, since most of them are norms and people—I just think the majorities in many countries generally doesn’t want a self-serving dictator constantly making everyone afraid of nothing in particular. I do think that the inevitable rise of climate migration is going to test this, because people have generally reacted to immigration with nationalist tendencies. But this trend won’t be localized, it will be comprehensive and global. My part will be vocally reject fascism to whomever I can, especially with the thousands of students I teach, who often don’t vote, but might find a reason to this year.

The normalization of “woke”.

If 2023 has been the year of rejecting and outlawing “woke,” I think 2024 is going to be the broad acceptance of it as a mundane, unremarkable part of culture. And by “it” (and the scare quotes around it), I mean the general idea that everyone deserves to participate in society, and that some people are particularly excluded, historically, and now. It will never be everyone that adopts that value, but the basic trend is the same: when people actually learn history and meet people marginalied in some way, or they see media about people unlike them, they tend to soften their rejection of their basic humanity. There are absolutely limits to representation, but I also think that normalization through representation is a necessary but insufficient part of systems change. I think Gandhi had it right: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. Although this process can take centuries, 2024 feels like a year, at least in the U.S., where we reach a milestone win in an almost invisible way, as culture shifts left.

I’ll end with a reminder that these are things I hope will happen and that I focus on to preserve my wellness. That doesn’t mean they will happen. Don’t waste your time messaging me about how I’m wrong or naive about them; that would miss the point. Hope is about pointing to a future and then working towards it, however unlikely they might be. What you can do is hold me accountable to working towards the 2024 above. Because it won’t happen unless we all fight for it, and I will be part of that fight.

What gives you hope for 2024? And what are you going to do to make it happen?

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Amy J. Ko

Professor, University of Washington iSchool (she/her). Code, learning, design, justice. Trans, queer, parent, and lover of learning.