Listen: War in Ukraine. Global poverty on the rise. Hunger, too. Not to mention a persistent pandemic. It doesn't feel like a particularly good time to be alive. And yet, Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker argues that things are getting better today than ever across the world, based on the metrics that matter. Like laundry.
In 1920, the average American spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry (and that average American was almost always a woman, dudes just wore dirty clothes). By 2014, the number had dropped to 1.5 hours a week, thanks to what renowned public health scholar Hans Rosling called "greatest invention of the Industrial Revolution”: the washing machine. By freeing people of washing laundry by hand, this new technology allowed parents to devote more time to educating their children, and it allowed women to cultivate a life beyond the washboard.
The automation of laundry is just one of many metrics that Pinker, uses to measure human progress. But how does his optimistic view of the state of the world stack up against the brutality of the modern world? Ian Bremmers asks this "relentlessly optimistic macro thinker" to share his view of the world on the GZERO World podcast.Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform, to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.
During a Global Stage livestream conversation hosted by GZERO in partnership with Microsoft on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that when she reached for her phone to share the heartbreaking news of the Christchurch massacre, she found a horrifying surprise: A livestream of the massacre served to her on a social media platform.
For a period of 24 hours, copies of the footage were uploaded to YouTube as often as once per second, spreading the 17-minute massacre faster than tech companies could shut it down.
The experience drives her work at the Christchurch Call, combating online extremism and working with government and civil society to build guardrails against the exploitation of technology by extremists, , she explained during a Global Stage livestream conversation hosted by GZERO in partnership with Microsoft on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Watch the full Global Stage Livestream conversation here: Hearing the Christchurch Call
Human progress doesn’t have a finish line.
Our body clocks stop ticking at some point, but that’s not the same as reaching a destination, or achieving a goal. So how do we—as a community, as a country...as a world—define progress? What does “better” even look like?
In a word: laundry.
In 1920, the average American spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry (and that average American was almost always a woman). By 2014, the number had dropped to 1.5 hours a week, thanks to what renowned public health scholar Hans Rosling has called QUOTE "greatest invention of the Industrial Revolution,”: the washing machine. By freeing people of washing laundry by hand, this new technology allowed parents to devote more time to educating their children, and it allowed women to cultivate a life beyond the washboard.
So, as I always say to myself whenever I’m stuck in traffic or on hold with customer service, there has never been a better time to be alive. And yet...And yet...And yet... War in Europe. Famine in Africa. Global pandemics. Fake news. Conspiracy theories. Democracy dying in the bright light of day. And that’s just your average Tuesday. So how much is technology making our lives better, and how much is a part of the problem?
Find out in this week's episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer on US public television (check local listings) and at gzeromedia.com/gzeroworld.
Hard Numbers: Iran cracks down on women, bestsellers sue AI, Venezuelan migrants get right to work, India suspends Canadian visas, Turkey jacks up rates
10: Under a new law passed Wednesday, Iranian women could be jailed for up to ten years if they refuse to wear hijab. The crackdown comes just days after the one year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in state custody after the morality police arrested her for not wearing hijab properly.
17: A group of 17 prominent authors are suing OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, accusing the company of “systematic theft on a mass scale.” The suit says ChatGPT has violated their copyright protections because it draws upon their texts to build its language models and responses. The complaint also alleges that ChatGPT can be used to plagiarize them, and includes examples for each writer — including a Game of Thrones prequel called “Dawn of Direwolves”. (Can I read it? - Matt)
472,000: As President Joe Biden left the Big Apple late Wednesday, his administration announced that Venezuelans already in the country could legally live and work in the US for the next 18 months. The decision will affect 472,000 Venezuelans nationwide and roughly half of New York City’s migrants, letting them support themselves and easing the strain on New York’s social safety net. (For more on the situation in New York, see our explainer).
80,000: India announced it would suspend visas for Canadians amid the ongoing row over the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Last year about 80,000 Canadians visited India. Should Canada reciprocate, it could threaten the visa status of over 320,000 Indian students in Canadian universities.
30: The central bank in Turkey raised interest rates by an aggressive 5 percentage points to 30%, as official inflation rates topped 58%. It’s part of a major reversal of the Erdogan administration’s policy after winning re-election back in May: the previous economic team insisted on cutting rates even as prices soared.
(Department of Corrections: While we’re talking interest rates, in yesterday’s edition we mistakenly said the Fed’s rate pause was their first in 18 months. In fact, they decided on a pause in June, 2023 as well. We regret the error and hope it doesn’t affect your rate of interest in the Daily)
The global climate crisis is acute. In the last few months alone, Hawaii, Morocco and Libya have experienced climate-linked catastrophes that have wiped out communities and killed tens of thousands of people.
At the same time, emerging tech – notably artificial intelligence and data ecosystems – are becoming increasingly sophisticated and influential. There’s been much focus on the perils and threats posed by these scientific developments, but how can they be proactively harnessed to mitigate climate challenges and create a more resilient world?
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, GZERO Media held a Global Stage livestream event unpacking these complex challenges and opportunities, in collaboration with the United Nations, the Complex Risk Analytics Fund, and the Early Warnings for All initiative.
This urgent conversation was be moderated by Nick Thompson, CEO, The Atlantic; and featured Melinda Bohannon, Director General of Humanitarian and Development at the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office; Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media; Vilas Dhar, President and Trustee, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation; Dr. Comfort Ero, President and CEO of International Crisis Group; Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction; Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Amandeep Singh Gill, UN Envoy on Technology; Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President, Microsoft; Axel van Trostenburg, World Bank Managing Director; and Anne Witkowsky, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the US Department of State.
Emerging tech is presenting huge opportunities to identify climate hotspots and scale damage and destruction. Indeed, Smith says that satellites are able to not only capture visual images, but also gather “data streams” on fossil fuel emissions. In addition, AI is also being harnessed to identify communities affected by climate calamities and see which “people have been rendered homeless.” Still, tech companies can’t do it alone. In order to identify what their exact needs are, Smith adds, partnerships with NGOs and other stakeholders are key.
Amandeep Singh Gill had much to say about how these processes are applied in real time, particularly when addressing world hunger. “Across 90 countries, 700-800 million people are at risk of food insecurity,” he notes, adding that using data across institutions has allowed the multilateral organization “to get assessments about where food insecurity is going to spike next, and that allows us to respond in a better way.”
Still, having access to copious amounts of data is one thing, but figuring out how to use it to effectuate change is quite another. “There's a real gap between the information that's out there and the ability to act upon the information that's out there,” Dr Ero says, adding that “lack of policy and action” and failure to act quickly when crises are identified are hindering these global efforts. Dr Ero points to the situation in Somalia, which is still grappling with an insurgency by the Al-Shabaab terror group while also facing floods and trying to rebuild its society. “All the data points are showing the stresses that Somalia has to deal with, but why aren't we able to respond to that?” she asks, highlighting poor governance and lack of political will as impediments to progress.
When asked about how these issues might be affected by the fact that heads of state from four out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council did not show up at the UN General Assembly this week, Amina Mohammed said there is “huge momentum” from governments and stakeholders. “The 2030 agenda is urgent, and we really do just feel that there is a movement to make that happen. There's a sense of determination … too many people are at stake.”
And there’s one elephant in the room when discussing climate change and tech advancements: China. One big issue, Bremmer notes, “is that China is really distracted by very significant domestic economic challenges and that has put real constraints, material constraints, on their foreign policy strategy over the long term,” he says.
It’s a trope of many a pulpy sci-fi story: Artificial intelligence runs amok, unleashing havoc and chaos on the hubristic humans who made it.
Melodramatic, maybe, but it’s becoming a serious concern with rapid advances in artificial intelligence, and Microsoft’s Chief Responsible AI Officer Natasha Crampton is tasked with keeping these powerful new tools on the rails.
She told GZERO’s Tony Maciulis her team is focused on keeping humans in the decision-making loop, ready to step in should the technology begin displaying unintended behaviors.
But it raises the question of whose hands are on the switch, and what tech companies need to accomplish alongside governments and regulators to ensure a safe environment and level playing field.
See more from Global Stage.
After a terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live-streamed on the internet in 2019, the Christchurch Call was launched to counter the increasing weaponization of the internet and to ensure that emerging tech is harnessed for good.
Since its inception, the Christchurch Call has evolved to include more than 120 government and private sector stakeholders. The organization, pioneered by the French and New Zealand governments, will hold its next major summit at the Paris Peace Forum in November.
Dame Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand who led the response to the Christchurch attack; Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media; and Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft sat down with CNN’s Rahel Solomon for a Global Stage livestream on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The event was hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft.
Reflecting on the catastrophic attack that prompted the formation of the Call and its mission, Dame Ardern recalled how, on that day, ”I reached for my phone to be able to share that message on a social media platform, I saw the live stream.” She notes how that became a galvanizing moment: In the “aftermath of that period, we were absolutely determined … we had the attention of social media platforms in particular to do something that would try and prevent any other nation from having that experience again.”
That led to the formation of the organization in a mere eight-week period, Ardern said. But identifying hate speech and extremism online that can fuel violence is no small feat, Ardern acknowledges, adding that while the goal can indeed appear “lofty,” the group’s focus is on “setting expectations” around what should and shouldn’t be tolerated online.
But what did tech companies learn from the Christchurch experience about their own roles in moderating content, overseeing algorithms, and mitigating potential radicalization and violence?
One major development that came out of the Christchurch Call, Smith notes, is what’s known as a content incident protocol. “Basically, you have the tech companies and governments and others literally on call like doctors being summoned to the emergency room at tech companies and in governments so that the moment there is such a shooting, everybody immediately is alerted.”
Emerging technologies – most notably artificial intelligence – mean that the Christchurch Call must remain nimble in the face of new threats. Still, Ardern says that’s not necessarily a bad thing because AI presents both challenges and opportunities for the organization. “On the one hand we may see an additional contribution from AI to our ability to better manage content moderation that may be an upside,” she says. But “a downside,” she notes, “is that we may see it continue to contribute to or expand on some of the disinformation which contributes to radicalization.”
Bremmer shared this view of AI, calling it both “a tool of extraordinary productivity and growth, indeed globalization 2.0,” while also acknowledging the threat of disinformation proliferation: “Fundamental to a democratic society, an open society, a civil society, fundamental to human rights and the United Nations Charter is the idea that people are able to exchange information that they know is true, that they know is real,” he says.
Four years after the Christchurch attack, there is indeed a sense of urgency surrounding the need for governments to better understand emerging technologies and their powers over politics and society. “Governments understand that this is systemic, it is transformative, and they're not ready,” Bremmer says, adding that “they don't have the expertise, they don't have the resources, and we don't yet have the architecture … we're late!”