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The Events that Defined 2023: Visualized

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This visual is part of our 2024 Global Forecast Series. For full access to the series, learn more here.

Visualization of the events that defined 2023

Visualizing the Major Events of 2023

Looking back at 2023, the year was defined by various international geopolitical events while the tech and business world kept a close eye on artificial intelligence’s advances in the first full year of the technology hitting its stride.

This graphic from our upcoming 2024 Global Forecast Report looks back at the major events that dominated the headlines and captured the world’s attention in 2023.

From the AI tech boom to the various hot and cold conflicts around the world, many of this past year’s pivotal events will have continuing aftershocks and developments to track in 2024.

This visual is from our forthcoming 2024 Global Forecast Series Report:

Global Forecast Series 2024

You can reserve full access to the forthcoming series, which compiles insights from 500+ expert predictions for what will happen in 2024, by becoming a VC+ member today.

The Major Geopolitical Events of 2023

Geopolitics were in the spotlight in 2023 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shifted global power dynamics and international relations towards a multipolar environment.

As a result, tensions remained high between the U.S. and China throughout the year while various conflicts continued and sprung up in other regions.

China’s COVID Reopening and Spy Balloon Amidst Russia-NATO entrenchment

In the first two months of the year China dominated news headlines as the country reopened its borders and business, ending its highly restrictive zero-COVID measures and policy. The world’s manufacturing powerhouse was one of the last nations to loosen restrictions, and many anticipated it would kickstart the final leg of the world’s post-pandemic recovery.

However, in early February the discovery of what was dubbed a “spy balloon” floating over the U.S. and Canada quickly put China-U.S. relations on edge while Russia also suspended its participation in New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty that would’ve allowed U.S. and NATO inspections of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Finland’s acceptance into NATO in April then doubled the alliance’s border with Russia, making it a key area to watch in 2024 as a senior Russian diplomat was quoted, saying that in the event of an escalation Finland would be the first to suffer.

BRICS Expansion and Xi Jinping’s Visit to the U.S.

June brought an unexpected internal clash in Russia as the Wagner Group briefly turned against the Russian military, with the mercenary group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin dying a couple months later in an airplane crash.

August also brought the BRICS bloc’s announcement of the addition of six new members starting in 2024, marking a key shift in geopolitical relations as the group added major oil producers Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Argentina.

After nearly a year of further entrenchment in the newly fractured geopolitical landscape, November saw U.S.-China relations thaw as Xi Jinping met with Joe Biden in his first visit to the U.S. since 2017.

Israel-Hamas War and Red Sea Shipping Attacks

While relations between U.S. and China improved in the last quarter of 2023, new conflicts sprung up in other parts of the world.

Hamas’ attacks on Israel on October 7th kicked off Israel’s war against Hamas, which has been followed by Houthi rebel attacks on shipping lines in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait of the Red Sea.

The low-cost drone attacks have resulted in many major shipping firms redirecting their container-ships around all of Africa (extending their journeys by as much as 25%), while the U.S. has grappled with the advent of low-cost drone warfare costing the country millions in missiles as they’ve looked to protect ships in the strait.

Both the Israel-Hamas war and rebel attacks in the Red Sea remain two of the largest question marks around global tensions and affecting supply chains going into 2024.

OpenAI’s Roller Coaster Year

It would be impossible to talk about 2023 without mentioning the roller coaster year OpenAI has had in the spotlight of the AI gold rush.

The year started with Microsoft extending its investment and partnership with OpenAI by $10 billion, as Sam Altman’s company went on to launch its more powerful GPT-4 model along with other key features throughout the year like image recognition, image generation, and deeper custom model instructions with custom GPTs.

While the year seemed to be progressing perfectly for OpenAI at the forefront of the AI hype wave, the end of November saw Sam Altman fired as CEO of the company in one of the most shocking board decisions in recent business history. Sam Altman was reinstated as CEO within 72 hours, giving the tech world just a few days of pause to reflect on the issues of governance and leadership in one of the fastest growing industries.

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Vintage Viz: World Cities With 1 Million Residents (1800–1930)

From someone born in the 19th century, in the midst of historic population growth, comes this vintage visualization showing world cities growing ever bigger.

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A cropped chart from our vintage viz series showing world cities with one million residents between 1800 and 1930.

World Cities With At Least 1 Million Residents (1800–1930)

This chart is the latest in our Vintage Viz series, which presents historical visualizations along with the context needed to understand them.

The explosive world population boom in the last 300 years is common knowledge today. Much and more has been written about how and why it happened, why it was unusual, and how the specter of a declining population for the first time in three centuries could impact human society.

However, equally compelling, is how people in the past—those living in the midst of the early waves of this boom—were fascinated by what they were witnessing.

Evidence of this comes from today’s vintage visualization, denoting the increasing number of world cities with at least one million inhabitants through the years.

The above pictogram was made by Austrian philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath (1882–1945), found in his book, Society and Economy, published in 1930.

World Population Doubles Between 1800 and 1930

In 1800, the world population crossed 1 billion for the first time ever.

In the next 130 years, it doubled past 2 billion.

The Second Agricultural Revolution, characterized by massive land and labor productivity, grew agricultural output more than the population and is one of the key drivers of this population growth.

And in the pictogram above, where one silhouette indicates one million inhabitants, this exponential population growth becomes far more vivid.

In 1800, for example, according to the creator’s estimates, only London had at least million residents. A century later, 15 cities now boasted of the same number. Then, three decades hence, 37 cities across the world had one million inhabitants.

YearCities with One Million Residents
18001
190015
193037

Importantly, the data above is based on the creator’s estimates from a century ago, and does not include Beijing (then referred to as Peking in English) in 1800. Historians now agree that the city had more than a million residents, and was the largest city in the world at the time.

Another phenomenon becoming increasingly apparent is growing urbanization—food surplus frees up large sections of the population from agriculture, driving specialization in other skills and trade, in turn leading to congregations in urban centers.

Other visualizations in the same book covered migration, Indigenous peoples, labor, religion, trade, and natural resources, reflecting the creator’s interest in the social life of individuals and their well-being.

Who Was Otto Neurath and What is His Legacy?

This vintage visualization might seem incredibly simple, simplistic even, considering how we map out population data today. But the creator Otto Neurath, and his wife Marie, were pioneers in the field of visual communication.

One of their notable achievements was the creation of the Vienna Method of pictorial statistics, which aimed to represent statistical information in a visually accessible way—the forerunner to modern-day infographics.

The Neuraths believed in using clear and simple visual language to convey complex information to a broad audience, an approach that laid the foundation for modern information design.

They fled Austria during the rise of the Nazi regime and spent their later years in various countries, including the UK. Otto Neurath’s influence on graphic design, visual communication, and the philosophy of language has endured, and his legacy is still recognized in these fields today.

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