It's not the end of the world

It's not the end of the world

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

He's right, of course, and I said so. I assured him that every time it's my turn to write a lead story, I think about that.

We do look for hopeful stories, or at least humor, every day — and they're not hard to find. But we usually end up writing about threats and crises because those stories seem so much more important and so urgent in a given week.

I was thinking about this as I combed through the news for a lead for today's edition of Signal. Here are the stories I considered:

Now, let's take a moment to question the clarity of our vision of today's world. Here's a thought experiment.

Think of a science-fiction film that takes place on Earth in the future. Any film that fits that description…

Got one?

A few options to consider: Blade Runner, Soylent Green, Mad Max, Metropolis, The Hunger Games, Strange Days, Escape from New York, A Clockwork Orange, V for Vendetta, Rollerball, District 9, Fahrenheit 451, THX1138, and 1984.

Notice a pattern?

Apparently, the future is a violent place of darkness, devastation, and dystopia. So, are the films listed above — and the books that many of them are based on — a prescient warning of collapsing societies and a coming new Dark Age? Or worse?

I'm old enough to remember The Day After, a TV movie that aired across America in 1983 which graphically depicted a nuclear war as very few people had seen it before. Here's a local New York City TV news story from 38 years ago that captured the horrified nationwide reaction.

Now for a sanity check.

Over the past several decades, global trade and the information age have helped lift billions of people out of poverty around the world, creating the first global middle class in human history.

Read any of the progress reports on UN Sustainable Development Goals from recent years, and you'll come away with new faith in what human beings can do, despite the COVID setbacks. People live longer, healthier lives than ever before. They have more and better opportunities to work, learn, invent new things, build, and prosper. Many people whom we consider poor have gadgets in their pockets that give them powers the Sun King could never have imagined.

Life just isn't as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" as it used to be, and nobody's eating Soylent Green — though it sure does seem like a bunch of our billionaires can't wait to get out of here.

Yes, the bad news is real too. Gains can be lost. Climate change is happening, and COVID continues to evolve and kill. Technological changes in the way we get information about the world can distort our vision, and political polarization is truly dangerous. Wars continue, refugee numbers are rising, and inequality of opportunity can't be ignored.

These are real threats and losses, and they're shaping our present and future. We must try to understand these threats, because there's nothing inevitable about human progress.

Yet, humans adapt, and our capacity to invent solutions should never be underestimated. The world has emerged more secure and more prosperous following the great wars of the past. Many people faced with crisis do cooperate to make things better. We survived the Cold War. We got through 1984 and 2001. Blade Runner was set in the year 2019.

Your Signal authors will keep writing about crises and turmoil, because these stories deserve your attention.

But we don't underestimate the human capacity for positive change, and neither should you.

Tell us what you think, Signal readers. Agree? Disagree? What are we missing?

An aerial view of a forest of trees

From accelerating our net zero timeline to creating digital tools for more sustainable consumer choice, Mastercard is working to build a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy. Watch and learn how we’re uniting in climate action with our network of banking customers, merchants and consumers – and helping to reforest the planet through the Priceless Planet Coalition.

A year of Biden

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Two children and a robot. We have to control AI before it controls us, warns former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen: Tech companies set the rules for the digital world through algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. But does Big Tech really understand AI? Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Ian Bremmer that we need to control AI before it controls us.

What's troubling about AI, he says, is that it’s still very new, and AI is learning by doing. Schmidt, co-author of “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” worries that AI exacerbates problems like anxiety, driving a human addiction cycle that leads to depression.

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.

COVID has accelerated our embrace of the digital world. The thing is, we don't always know who’s running it.

Instead of governments, Ian Bremmer says, so far a handful of Big Tech companies are writing the rules of digital space — through computer algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

The problem is that tech companies have set something in motion they don't fully understand, nor control.

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If omicron makes cases explode in China, the country's leaders will have to choose between weathering short-term or long-term pain.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that sticking to the zero-COVID approach at all costs will hurt the Chinese and global economy. In his view, learning to live with the virus is the way to go.

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The Graphic Truth: How do US presidents do in their first year?

Joe Biden's approval rating has taken a big hit during his first year as US president. Biden is now just slightly more popular than his predecessor Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency. While Biden has made a series of policy and political blunders that might be reflected in polling, this is also a sign of the times: US politics are now so polarized that presidential approval has a low ceiling. We compare the approval ratings of the last five US presidents in their first year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia January 19, 2022.

Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal