Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? AI everywhere

Plus, wins for pregnant women and women who don’t want to get pregnant.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 6am ET. You can read past issues here.

This week we have a quick hits-style roundup of things that went right around the world under two main topics: artificial intelligence (AI) and women’s health.

Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll send out a list of the 50 animals that have been rebounding so far in 2023, including photos of the cute ones—and maybe some of the ugly ones, too.

AI everywhere

To update a line from South Park, “the robots will take yer jobs” may be the current vibe. But for what it’s worth, there are some signs that AI is different, economically speaking, than previous technologies that have increased inequality and shrunk the middle class. Time will tell. In the meantime, AI is popping up everywhere as a force for good:

  • It’s making drugs: Biotech firm Insilico Medicine is the first to begin Phase 2 clinical trials for a drug that was both discovered and designed by AI. The oral drug is a potential treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a condition that scars the lungs and causes difficulty breathing, tiredness, and persistent coughing, particularly in people older than 70. While treatments exist to slow down IPF’s progression, none does to stop or undo the damage it causes to the lungs, and the median rate of survival for patients is three years. 

    There’s no telling yet if Insilico’s “anti-scarring” drug will succeed, but it’s the first AI one that has gotten as far as it has, and it’s likely a matter of time until one makes its way to market since AI greatly speeds up the drug discovery process. Another 15 AI-made drugs are in clinical trials.
  • It’s unburdening doctors: AI is learning to read eye scans () in the United Kingdom so as to prioritize the patients most in danger of blindness to overwhelmed ophthalmologists and eye hospitals. It’s also helping doctors cut down on their patient documentation time () by recording visits and summarizing them, which means some of these harried doctors can enjoy a better work-life balance.

    New tools, like one from Abridge, also provide summaries of doctors’ visits for patients to access and even translate difficult medical terminology into plain English. Handy for anyone who has forgotten most of what the doctor said as soon as they leave the office. That’s all of us, right?
  • It’s supporting polyglotism: AI chatbots now exist to help you learn a language. They double as a speaking partner and quasi-tutor, correcting your mistakes. Some can explain grammatical concepts.

    I gave one, LangAI, a try. I’m an adult learner of Greek and have a harder time than one would think finding people to practice with, especially when my tutor is booked up. My review: It’s not perfect, and it’s not a replacement for human interaction, but it’s undeniably useful. You can restart your response if you trip up, which is great for practicing new vocabulary or attempting conversations that are a touch above your speaking level. I would have loved this as a beginner to practice everyday conversations!
A sample of my voice-to-text conversation with the chatbot LangAI. I had to speak clearly for it to transcribe my words correctly, and at one point the bot became confused, asking me, “when will you come to LangAI?” Afterward it apologized for the misunderstanding, and we moved on.

Man, it’s a little easier to be a woman

  • Pregnancy in the US: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took effect on Tuesday, an important piece of civil rights legislation that was signed by President Biden in November 2022. The law guarantees reasonable accommodations requested by women in order for them to keep working while pregnant, like bathroom breaks, flexible scheduling for doctors’ appointments or morning sickness, or a maternity-friendly uniform. Workers can also request post-childbirth time off, or for other pregnancy-related issues like a miscarriage. 

    The law applies to any business that has at least 15 employees, a common standard for workplace discrimination laws. The 19th has a good FAQ here.
  • Birth control in Japan: European and American readers are used to emergency contraceptives like Plan B being sold over the counter. Not in Japan, where a clinic or hospital visit was required until this week. On Tuesday the country began an eight-month trial of allowing the drugs to be sold without a prescription, a decision that is broadly supported by the public. The birth control pill was approved in 1999, and the abortion pill in April of this year.

    Japan’s legislators have been busy lately. Two weeks ago they updated several sex crime laws, broadening the definition of rape, raising the age of consent from 13 to 16, and banning upskirting, among other changes. And after a World Economic Forum report ranked Japan among the world’s lowest for gender parity in political and economic empowerment, efforts are beginning to boost women’s numbers in politics and business.

One more for the road

When it comes to psychedelics in the United States, a new world draws ever nearer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released draft guidance on Friday for researchers studying psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD—and empathogens like MDMA—and their effect on mental health conditions. This doesn’t make the compounds federally legal, but it does seem to be an opening for companies who may eventually seek federal approval for psychedelic drugs.

Only Oregon and Colorado have decriminalized psychedelics, although half of states are considering it. Colorado’s governor has said he will pardon criminal convictions for psychedelics, and the state will see its first “healing center” likely in 2025. Axios has a full explainer here.

Editor’s note: Our edition two weeks ago on cancer linked to a British study that showed that the risk of death for women diagnosed with breast cancer has dropped. Author of the forthcoming book Curing Cancerphobia, David Ropeik, wrote in that those numbers may be affected by a “misleading artifact in the data.”

Since “roughly one in five breast cancers detected by mammography” finds cancer cells that will never cause harm, this artificially decreases the ratio between incidence and mortality. The risk of death, then, has still dropped, but potentially not as much as the study found. Ropeik writes for STAT News that our fear of cancer hasn’t caught up with the progress we have made in treating it, which has led to excessive screening and overdiagnosis.

Below in the links section, transplanted rat organs, an air pollution satellite, an underground navigation system, and more.

A new Gallup poll gauging the world’s emotional temperature asked participants if they had smiled or laughed a lot the previous day. The darker greens in the map above show the high percentage of “yes” responses. Vietnam tops the list with 95 percent yeses and 5 percent nos, while Afghanistan ranks worst, with 23 percent yeses and 76 percent nos.

Progress, Please

(Found good news? Tweet at us @progressntwrk or email.)

Other good stuff in the news 📱

Energy & Environment:

Public Health:

Science & Tech:

Politics & Policy:

Society & Culture:


TPN Member originals 🧠

(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)


The Rest:

Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

The end of the “vibecession”?Noahpinion
Maybe people are being irrationally pessimistic. Or maybe it’s just all about real wages.

Why we picked it: The economy is good. The economy doesn’t feel good. How could both these statements be true? Noah Smith has one theory above, and here’s a second that focuses on the semi-rich. —Emma Varvaloucas

Until Next Time

One last AI-produced social good: Darth Vader dancing. 😉


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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.