Must Read Blog January 19, 2024

Impact Investing, Philanthropy, and the Quest for a Just Transition in the AI Era

My reading at the end of 2023 was The Coming Wave – Mustafa Suleyman and Michael Bhaskar’s much-praised book about artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and a range of other transformational technologies. It’s an accessible and compelling exploration of where we all might end up in the coming years. However, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as holiday reading. It’s pretty scary at points, and probably best left for right now: the hopefully clearer, future-facing days of January.

The book has made me think a lot about the relationship between impact investing, philanthropy and the uncertain future which is unfolding. As many others have noted, what’s perhaps most new here is the pace of change. I have to confess, I remember the introduction of broadband internet in the early 2000s, which took several years to become mainstream, particularly in educational settings (and even now it’s still not present in some). Back then, we had decent time to think about what was going on with the technology, try things out, and learn from our mistakes. 


The accelerating pace of AI innovation and its implications 

By contrast, ChatGPT and its family of innovations are significantly updated every month. It feels like navigating a disorienting mountain snowstorm in which any step could be perilous – or lead us to sunshine and a wonderful view. 

Many are helping by analysing developments as they happen. For example, I try to keep up with Isabelle Hau, Kristen DiCerbo, and lists like this one from Emerge Education. TeachAI’s principles are helpful. I’m also closely watching what the European Commission is doing about regulation – this could have dramatic implications for who can do what with the technology, where, not least as education is currently classified as “high risk AI”. 

But, as I see another ten notifications of developments pop up, I wonder how we best step away from the everyday and think clearly and calmly about the long term. We need to assess not just the immediate effects and uses of new tools; we also need to think hard about what they might and should evolve into, and the consequences, intended and otherwise, of that evolution. I am particularly preoccupied by how AI simultaneously offers unprecedented power – to governments, to the Big Technology companies, to individuals around the world with the skills and agency to use it, and to investors and philanthropists – and yet at the same time could rapidly take us into a world where many are disenfranchised, disempowered and left without the resources they need to live safe, fulfilling lives. 


Harnessing artificial intelligence for a circular, regenerative society 

So, my challenge for 2024 is: how do we constantly keep our cherished values and clear goals top of mind as we navigate the blizzard of technological developments? In particular, how do we ensure that we harness artificial intelligence to accelerate and facilitate a just transition in our societies?  

We must move from our current linear, extractive, unequal ways to something better: a circular, regenerative economy in which everyone has the opportunity for good work and a fulfilling life. Education – at all levels – is an essential part of ensuring that this happens, from transforming K-12 to providing lifelong learning to everyone. The extraordinary speed at which our societies, work, and everyday lives are now being changed by technology makes this transition even more urgent, given the uncertainties and terrifying range of future possibilities we face. 

The Coming Wave is uncompromising about the issues ahead of us, and the dramatic implications of failing to act responsibly. Yet, it also highlights the extraordinary abilities we now have to drive urgent, positive change through and with education and learning.  


I hope that we can work together in 2024 carefully to discover some amazing ways to act. If you have any questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out at