Grey Swan Week — Our 2023 Grey Swan Report Card

Grey Swan Guild
17 min readJan 12, 2024

Evaluating and scrutinizing our 2023 Grey Swan performance

Author: Sean Moffitt, Grey Swan Guild Founder and CEO, Cygnus Ventures

Evaluating and Assessing 2023’s Edition of the Twenty-One Grey Swans 🦢:

Listen to the sound of ticker tape coming in as the data comes back from universe. Hear the staccato dings of a server hard drive computing what actually happened in 2023. Discern that heavy thud moment as the digital gavel comes down, and we finally render a judgment on our 2023 Grey Swan prognostications.

It’s report card time on our foresight work and our 2023 listing of Grey Swans. For those that want to know what a Grey Swan is, read our first post from Grey Swan Week that expands on the topic.

As a sidebar, ever notice how so many trendoids and researchers never go back to their predictions from yesteryear and evaluate how well they performed. They treat their work like an Etch-o-Sketch and when suitably far enough away from their initial report, pave over history, shake it up and start over. Tabula rasa for the next year. It feels more like play than a serious professional discipline.

A Grey Swan Guild Start of The Year Ritual, read up on 2023 list:

We might be wired a little differently but if we’re ever going to get any better, we better grade what has been done before. We’ll give one of our colleagues Scott Galloway credit here. He stands out as an anomaly to his non self-evaluating peers. He has just graded his own eleven 2023 predictions before turning the page on the year for 2024 (he ended up with 7 wins, 2 not yets and 2 wrongs).

With our annual list of Grey Swans, we have a different challenge. Our initial ingoing assumption every year is that all of these prognostications has less than a 25% chance of happening (some less than 1%) . So, in our case, if we don’t have a lot of wrongs, we might not be pushing ourselves far enough. Ergo, yes we want to evaluate whether or not our opinions came true, but we also should answer the lingering question “even if we missed the mark, did our thinking stand up to scrutiny?”

Our Grey Swan Report Card — Evaluation Time

We distinguished our gradings on two different parameters.

  • The Outcomes — did the outcome happen? is it on the way there and we were just too early? or does it look like we blew it?
  • The Thinking — was the thinking behind the Grey Swan still solid? did we get some of it right, and some it wrong? were we completely off the mark?

So when we net out our 21 Grey Swan predictions, here’s are our overall 2023 results:

  • Outcomes Nailed It — 5, On the Way — 10, Off the Mark - 6
  • Thinking — Spot On — 14, Semi-Accurate — 6, Chasm in Thinking — 1

Overall, we liked the thinking we had twelve months back, but we might have been pushing the world too hard to make it all happen. This year, and very soon, we are looking to get 100 Grey Swans in the tank. For now, let’s rationalize our 2023 work.

2023 Grey Swans #1–11 — The First Half

2023 Grey Swan Report Card Review — Grey Swans #1–11
  1. Culture.Creatives : Flashpoints as tech drifts across the culture lens. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

AI definitely hit a flashpoint in 2023 both in adoption, media interest, investment and people resisting it for its misappropriation, ethics and lack of humanity. 2023 was truly the year of AI. We did however fall a little short on some key measures:

Rising Search Interest in AI for 2023 (Source: Google Trends)

2.Culture.Sport: Sex scandals and bad behaviors front-paged. Outcome: On the Way, Thinking: Got it Right.

Although there is a much higher sensitivity to sexual harassment and sex scandals in sport, there were less dramatic disclosures in 2023. Baseball & Basketball had with their Wander Franco and Josh Giddey underage scandal moments. Soccer had a tarnished soccer World Cup moment with the Spanish Women’s winning team kissing scandal. Conor McGregor had his dark moment too.

Generally, sports had a much cleaner face in 2023, however many might say “too soon” and many more might say “other scandals are around the corner waiting to be revealed”. Sponsorship money magically returned. Deshaun Watson accused of harassment by twenty-six women sure enough was installed as the Cleveland Brown’s quarterback in 2023.

Thankfully, most of the gender-based sport headlines in 2023 were about equal pay (with respect to soccer) and new positive developments (like the new women’s hockey league PWHL, new women’s Premier Women’s Cricket League and success of the female Rugby World Cup. Stay tuned for a big future gender-based headline that will spark much debate in our 2024 Grey Swans.

Women’s World Cup Soccer Scandal

3.Economics: Unemployment jumps. Outcome — Off the Mark, Thinking — Got it Right.

Global unemployment went from 5.1% to 5.3% — higher but hardly the jump over the 6% we expected. 2024 forecasts continue to suggest higher unemployment. There was a lot of pressure among wages as 17 of the top 20 G20 countries had real wages decrease. OECD youth unemployment increased to 10.8% but not to the levels we thought. Female participation rates in the global labour force have not recovered, declining 1 pt. to 47.8% over the last decade but not below the 46% expected. Stay tuned to 2024 Grey Swans on the effects of AI and automation in this area.

4.Economics: Insufficient Labour, Tough Economy Drive Robots Inc. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

Given wage demands, technology efficiency and greater scope of tasks, automation and robots will affect labour markets. A Hollywood writers’ strike this year was over the role of AI in entertainment. Round 1 goes to the humans. More rounds to follow. Finding skilled workers still represents a collossal challenge but there was no watershed moment here in 2023.

Skilled Talent Shortages Source; Manpower

5.Economics: The first days of tomorrow’s energy. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

Whereas average global temperature increases have continued to go up (see visual), we overestimated society’s reaction to the energy gap. Last year only three countries developed an emissions trading system (vs. the 14 more we expected, although 20 new ones are in some stage of development).

We were a little too ambitious by one year on renewables. Renewable power will climb to above 25% of world energy output in 2024 (from 20% in 2020), not in 2023 as we had expected. Like the glaciers it is affecting, bringing on renewables all feels a little too slow for our liking, but at least some milestones were achieved in 2023.

6.Economics: Bitcoin goes beyond 50k USD and is a common method of savings. Outcome — Got it Right, Thinking — Got it Right.

Bitcoin valuation made it to $47,179 so we are claiming it as acheived as it peaked so close to our $50k USD prediction (this was not a popular bet back in Jan’23). A foundation of investor optimism, macroeconomic factors, and upcoming events like Bitcoin halving and ETFs drive are creating some stability and real upward momentum.

Investment advisors are providing some direction for bitcoin now, but less than 20% are recommending it and most cannot (by company policy) access it. More cloudiness in 2024 on how to use Bitcoin as a savings tool.

7.Health: mRNA vaccines are created that massively impacts either coronaviruses, cancer, malaria, HIV or flu to the benefit of all of society. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

In late 2023, the Nobel Prize caught up to mRNA awarding pioneers Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. Coronavirus unlocked a tidal wave of interest in mRNA as the courier for a number of conditions.

Although a little but slower than expected. Moderna is taken an mRNA to phase 3 clinical trials for flu. Twenty-seven ongoing trial developments for vaccines associated with coronavirus continue. The real win could be cancer mRNA treatment with numerous clinical trials in development, and early wins in a Genentech pancreatic cancer movement to phase 2 clinical trial. Five other cancer trials are progressing into phase 2s or 3s. Big mRNA progress across a variety of fronts will continue to be a theme in 2024. In the meantime, read about some of good news that did happen in 2023.

8.Politics.Society: Silk Road vs. Main Street — Europe tilts West, Middle East/Africa torn. Outcome — Got it Right, Thinking — Got it Right.

Given regional conflicts in Russia-Ukraine and Israel/Gaza, countries are having to choose sides. Sweden and Finland made their choice to join NATO. Italy turned its back on China’s Silk Road. China however is getting chummier with Africa and BRICS nations in 2023.

Rising geopolitical tensions, supply chain disruptions, protectionist polices, and the lingering effects of the pandemic are impeding global trade. Countries caught in the middle are having to balance growing emphasis on diversifying trade partners and strengthening regional trade agreements to mitigate the risks associated with over-reliance with offeing either side. China and Australia stand as a great example of frenemies and saw a softening of tension by the end of 2023. The Middle East still needs to decide who their best trade friend is.

9.Politics.Crime: The UN creates an international court for information surveillance crimes. Outcome — Off the mark, Thinking —Somewhat flawed.

The issue of global disinformation, buoyed by technology is not a Grey Swan in dispute. It’s a very real concern. The challenge for the UN, despite an announced plan for global social media platforms, is that it has shown less-than-even handedness in regional war and conflicts within 2023 and may not have the moral authority or global consensus to pull a new internationl court off.

10.Tech.AI: ChatGPT and clones get funded. Outcome — Got it right, Thinking —Got it right.

Massive funding took place with AI in 2023. We have AI Unicorns and more AI unicorns but most of the attention and money is now going to the big players.

Cheap capital dried up in with VC investments dropping 31% in startups. Investment in AI-based startups at least grew 9%. We had predicted one massive independent outside big tech company would arise as an AI champion. One AI titan independent of FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) actually did rise in 2023. It’s called called OpenAI, but is it its own thing or is it merely Microsoft? There are 40 other AI contenders listed here, most with escalating values, but they will need to scale fast in 2024 or be swallowed up?

11.Tech.Ownership: A form of AI is incorporated as a business (or religion) in multiple countries. Outcome — Off the Mark, Thinking — Somewhat Flawed.

Although a company in certain jurisdictions could become an AI legally, it really didn’t push ahead with any vigor in 2023. Most of the narrative in major media was more around how to reign in AI and ensure it does not dehunanize us. Newspapers are using AI, but no massive AI-only entities have really formed yet.

2023 Grey Swans #12–21 — The Second Half

12.Tech.Business: Meta collapses, Google bruised, Twitter off the canvas. Outcome — Off the Mark, Thinking — Somewhat Flawed.

There was no merger of top incumbent tech companies in 2023. Meta did not collapse, in fact its stock value tripled last year. Google fluttered but was rendered okay by the end of the year. And Twitter (now X) fizzled based on founder’s lack of understanding on what he actually bought.

The long term prospects and business model of selling people’s data is being compromised, but when there is no other good option for companies to be part of the conversation, media spending will continue.

13.Tech.Streaming: streaming services looking older and older; a downturn in followership turns the innovation button on to tweak business models. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Somewhat Flawed.

By quarter three of 2023, subscribers were back into streaming (see visual below) and many platforms were nudging toward better profitability. News of their extinction were likely greatly exaggerated (although clouds on the horizon) on our part, as cord cutters continued to find safe hiberanting havens within the ‘stream.

No platform of platform emerged in 2023. No significant new business models emerged — although some existing ones got more into live events and sports, and creator-focused Nebula looks interesting. Expect one-two 2024 Grey Swans about streaming to follow and not how you might think.

Quarter 3 2023 Streaming Subscriber Results

14.Tech.Elon & Social: A competitor to Twitter emerges to take half of its market share in ads. Outcome — Off the Mark, Thinking — Off the Mark.

Yes Twitter’s capitalization went in the tank. No, it was not because somebody came along and stole their lunch; most of the drop was self-inflicted.

People simply didn’t need a me-too social/micro blogging network. Meta’s Threads launched to great fanfare but users did not stay (some didn’t even know they were there in the first place).

15.Tech.Crime: Drone Civil Crime Events. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

We hope we’re wrong about this, but drone terrorism that is civilian-directed remains a huge risk. In 2023, the majority of drone usage as weaponry was mainly military, country-on-country-based, with increasing risks in Africa.

In late 2023, Yemen’s Houthi rebels are terrorizing Red Sea shipping lanes with drone attacks but our prediction was in using drones to create mayhem at big public and civic gatherings. Unfortunately, this will likely be on our 2024 Grey Swan radar and the ongoing economic challenge will be how to most affordability take down unethical drones before they do harm.

16.Tech.Space: “Private-Secularization” of Space in full swing. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Got it Right.

There were 223 orbital missions in 2023, and over 90% of them were successful. Hardly the Wild West, however a new record for people simultaneously in space was reached on May 25th, 2023 with 20 people with eleven people aboard the ISS, three on Tiangong, and six on VSS Unity.

NATO collaboration is improving on protecting space infrastructure and across the world in the new venue. Other countries, in particular India, are getting involved (2023 was their patriotic moon moment). Space does not look like an LA-based traffic jam … at least not yet.

Space launches in 2023 by Country

17.Tech.Space2: A horrific private company space disaster occurs. Outcome — On the Way, Thinking — Somewhat Flawed.

Eventually things do mess up in space but 2023 had a relatively clean ledger. SpaceX is exploding things in the stratosphere but this is somewhat intended. Although there are a tonne of candidates as seen by list of private companies below, no one is acting too reckless.

In fact, NASA and its network of contractors are taking a conservative approach to safety with its recent Artemis mission, by delaying efforts on its lunar launch for another year. Crossed fingers, safety remains the rule.

18.War: Unexpected War in the Middle East. Outcome — Got it right, Thinking —Got it right.

We expected it and it happened, and damn it, we wish we were wrong. Horrific events starting October 7th of 2023 and continued from there. Two of our expected combatants — Iran (by extension) and Israel (very directly) were involved, which may still still bring in the other two expeected countries/groups of countries into the conflict’s orbit (predictions were Turkey and the Arabian peninsula).

Beyond the tactical timing and ideological pursuit, the geo-political concerns of Iran were one of the core strategic reasons we predicted for the conflict coming about, heading off any expansion and benefits to the signatories of the Abraham accords. Regrettably, this is only a couple of chapters of a very long and drawn out Middle East book.

19.War: Traditional Russia-Ukraine conflict goes guerrilla. Outcome —Got it Right, Thinking —Got it Right.

Ukraine has moved to using guerrilla smaller skirmishes to get retribution on Russia. This shows no signs of abating, especially with forecasted gaps in NATO weaponry anticipated for 2024.

Crimea was the main theatre of this smaller scale effort making deeper in-roads into Russain-occup[ied land. The guerrilla effort has spread to Russia and Belarus. Cyber warfare has expanded across eastern Europe and Nordic countries, how long will it take to spread to real-life guerrilla war?

20.War.Economics: Geopolitics and massive rebuilding campaigns in the post-Russo-Ukranian War. Outcome — Off the mark, Thinking — Somewhat flawed.

The feeling on our behalf might have been a successful counteroffensive by the Ukraine in summer 2023 and perhaps the beginning of some type of negotiations. At best it’s been an onstainate stalemate. So any massive Marshall Plan-like rebuilding effort is well off into the future, and may face waning US and European interest. Having said that, when you look a lot of the in-war aid to Ukraine that is coming in, a majority of it is currently humanitarian and financial.

21.Culture. Music. Chart Topping bands will be AI-Stars, even with irate artisans resisting the AI musicians. Outcome — On the way, Thinking — Got it right.

Heart On My Sleeve was released by an anonymous source producer Ghostwriter. The song features an AI version of Drake and The Weeknd singing with irritatingly catchy voice and lyrics. The song lit up social media in March 2024 and became the first ever completely computer generated song to reach the Billboard Hot 100.

Despite early acceptance, the music industry shut it down on as many platforms as it could weeks later. More recently, the Grammy Awards just turned its nomination down.

Underneath this artist resistance and formal industry response, there is an undercurrent of more AI-fused entertainment coming down the road. Estates are resurrecting dead artists. Grimes is onboard. Korean music studios are translating works quickly into other languages. Harrison Ford at 81 years old in Indiana Jones can still legitimately play an AI-powered action hero.

In 2024, we’re looking for songs that not just made the Billboard chart, we’re looking for songs that top the Billboard chart. Markovate has an in-depth view on how media and entertainment houses are using AI now and the future.

This Week’s Posts:

Now that we have defined what a Grey Swan actually is and how our 2023 Grey Swan predictions performed, we want to pay more credence and attention to the world of the Grey Swan with a collection of posts:

Stay tuned with us here, as well as on our website for all the rundowns.

Participate in our Hunt for Grey Swans

Don’t worry it’s a humane hunt. We have already invited some of our regular contributors to provide us the seeds of what will be our authoritative list of one hundred 2024 Grey Swans.

These are the improbable, disruptive and remote developments that decision makers better keep at least one eye peeled open for so they don’t blindside them. Perhaps you have some you’ve considered yourself.

Be among the most talented and wide-eyed observers. Let us know your Grey Swan additions and we will add them to our annual collection with our 2024 Grey Swan Guild Subnmission Form. Other benefits and collabroations may follow.

Grey Swan Submission From:

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