Two Sigma Ventures Salon: What will the '20s be known for?

By Lauren Xandra on December 8, 2022

Every year (pandemic excepted), we host a ‘Salon,’ a rowdy, four-sided participatory debate on big, thorny issues that impact our future. Our 2022 fourth annual Salon centered on predicting what the lasting legacy of the 2020s will be, from exponential technology advancement, to geopolitical turbulence, a culture in flux, and climate issues.

Many things come to define an era, from historical events to innovations or pop culture. Of course, it’s still early days for the 2020s, which will be known through a much broader frame than just the post-pandemic period. It remains to be seen if the 20s will be roaring or raging–whether political and social institutions can keep pace with the incredible amount of transformation brought about by technology.

For our debate, event attendees self-selected which of the four sides they wanted to defend–geopolitics, climate, technology, and culture–and collaborated to present an insightful argument (and often to insult the other groups’ foolishness). Here are key ideas that emerged from each debate corner:

Geopolitics: The ’20s will be remembered for geopolitics because the escalation of current tensions will have profound implications across multiple dimensions of our lives

  • The confluence of geopolitics with technology and economics: The team emphasized the importance of fast-changing U.S.-China relations, and how the U.S. implementing tough controls on the export of American chip technology to China will have concrete implications for us all.
  • How resources will be impacted: The team spoke to how we saw this in Russia, where one of the underlying fundamental drivers for the war on Ukraine was indeed Germany’s dependence on Russia for oil, and how now we’re experiencing a strong setback to commodity markets due to challenges related to importing grain from Ukraine.
  • Changing travel and immigration patterns: From what countries we can visit, to immigration patterns impacting labor shortages, a trend towards disintegration is at risk of defining the 20s, the team argued.

Climate: This is the decade to decide the fate of climate action or inaction

  • The next generation is experiencing profound climate anxiety: The team argued that Gen Z and Gen Y are disproportionately impacted by climate issues, which could manifest in health problems that for the first time would be attributable to climate change. Their burden of anxiety may continue to manifest itself in different and more intense ways than in the past, including activists throwing food at priceless paintings.
  • Climate issues are changing how we organize as a society: From rising energy bills to the death of flood insurance, the team believes that the ways society is organizing (and the economic incentives attached to those choices) are being shaken up right now, and will only continue to change more markedly over the coming years.
  • Unicorn companies that emerge in the ’20s will solve problems related to climate change and a more sustainable future: From developing renewable energies to moving away from lithium batteries, innovations in technology can truly move the needle for climate change. Those innovations could come to define the 2020s and “alter the course of human fate,” the team claimed.

Technology: Not only the enabler, but also the driver for changes we’re experiencing in the ’20s across geopolitics, culture and climate

  • Geopolitics are shaped by technology: From supplying energy to countries in need in innovative ways, to introducing new battlefield tech, technology can change the course of history, argued the team.
  • Culture is playing out through communication platforms: People all over the world, including protesters, need platforms and mediums to help them organize, spread their message, and draw awareness.
  • When it comes to climate action, at the end of the day, the tech geeks are going to figure it out: The team echoed the climate team’s belief that ultimately technology would play a significant part in combating climate change.

Culture: There has never been a more culturally responsive generation

  • Culture comes first, and public opinion and policy follows: The team cited Margaret Thatcher, who famously said, “Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and their families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
  • The phrase ‘culture wars’ dominates contemporary discourse: The team highlighted how many people raised their hands when asked if they have heard that expression within the past 48 hours. In an age of instant communication, people are taking to platforms like Twitter and expressing their views and changing power dynamics through cultural artifacts like memes.
  • Culture will cue public response to issues like climate change: From Greta Thunberg’s public presence to the more radical actions activists are taking today, the next generation is turning to culture to truly move the needle (echoing the climate team’s belief).

Ultimately, the votes were cast in favor of geopolitics–are they right?

Only time will tell. But in the meantime, we would love to know your take, too–please reach out and share our thoughts (laurenx@twosigmaventures.com)!

And to summarize, we would like to share this rap to close: https://vimeo.com/778577458

“Emissions are really getting bigger;

Culture is getting mixed up;

Geopolitical

Forces are fickle

Especially technological

But in the end it’s probably all geopolitical”

And another take on a rap, by chatGPT:
“Some say the 2020s will be defined by AI

With robots and automation taking over the way we buy

Others predict a shift towards renewable energy

As we look for ways to combat climate change and its instability

One thing is for sure, the 2020s will be a time

Of unprecedented change, as we climb

Towards a new future, full of possibilities

The 2020s, a decade of progress and opportunities”

Thank you for joining us and we can’t wait for the next Salon.

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