- 2023 has been an exciting year for the technology sector, particularly the prospects of artificial intelligence as a game-changer for several industries.
- It is time for a preliminary assessment of what worked (the good), what did not (the bad), and what was downright woeful.
The year is (almost) up, and the opinions are in – it is time to look at the breakthroughs made by the technology sector in 2023. It is time for a preliminary assessment of what worked (the good) and what did not (the bad) and to adjust future plans and expectations.
Moreover, it is time to look back at some of the most controversial technology stories of the year and reassess strategies, whether you engage with the sector as a consumer, professional, or business executive.
Here’s Spiceworks News & Insights’ rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly in tech in 2023.
The Good in Tech in 2023
1. Generative AI
Artificial intelligence or AI was THE technological breakthrough that defined 2023, even if the product that led to its widespread organizational adoption and acclaim and sparked the ongoing regulatory discourse was released in November 2019.
Only a handful of companies have genuinely mastered large language models (LLMs), and even fewer when it comes to LLMs as advanced as the Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4 (GPT-4). Still, the API-based access to LLMs unleashed the potential for technical innovation and application for real-world scenarios.
Additionally, the emergence of multimodality in generative AI should open up many never-thought-of use cases. Multimodal generative AI is the ability to deliver multisensory immersive experiences by accepting inputs and generating outputs in multiple data types, such as text, images, audio, videos, depth, inertia, and more.
It is important to note that multimodal generative, while an exciting prospect, is limited in scope for development because of the need for more relevant training data.
2. Immersive technology
In 2023, Apple finally announced its arrival in the immersive tech space after years of reticence on the topic. But when it did, the company made sure to leave almost everyone impressed with the level of sophistication it could bring to its new product.
At the Worldwide Developers Conference 2023 in June, Apple announced the Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset, which made a mark on attendees. The new device’s most significant plus point? It’s M2 chip and spatial computing features that, despite the $3,499 price tag, make Apple Vision Pro a valuable proposition.
Reportedly marred by production delays, the Apple Vision Pro is expected to be available sometime next year. Only the Apple Car and its generative AI development efforts remain ‘secret’ now.
A few months down the line, in September, Meta unveiled the Meta Quest 3, which runs on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip. The third iteration of Meta’s AR/VR device has been met with positive feedback, especially considering its significantly competitive $500 price tag compared to both the $1,000 Quest Pro and Apple Vision Pro.
See More: Open Source vs. Proprietary AI: A Tussle for the Future of Artificial Intelligence
3. Frontier supercomputer
Developed in collaboration with HPE and located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Frontier supercomputer again topped the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers and broke the exascale barrier.
The ~$600 million Frontier supercomputer is the first exascale system, i.e., it can perform one quintillion (1018) floating point operations per second or an exaflop (1.194 exaflops to be precise). It is based on the latest HPE Cray EX235a architecture. It features approximately 9,402 nodes, including 50,000 processors (including AMD EPYC 64C 2GHz), custom AMD Radeon Instinct 250X accelerators, a combined GPU and CPU core count of 8,699,904, Slingshot-11 interconnect, housed at ORNL in Tennessee in a space roughly equivalent to two tennis courts.
The Frontier system’s number-crunching power is expected to come in handy for upcoming compute-intensive scientific innovations across biology (cancer research), pharmacology, meteorology (natural disaster predictions, climate change), designing energy-efficient engines, particle accelerators, and modular nuclear reactors, studying the origin of the universe (dark energy and dark matter), and more.
4. Gadgets and hardware
Every year, hundreds of new devices flood the consumer electronics market, though the truly memorable gadgets can be zeroed down to a number countable on your hands. The following hardware and devices, most of which were launched in the second half of 2023, stood out this year:
- Smartphones: Google Pixel 8 Pro and Apple iPhone 15 Pro — both Big Tech giants managed to hit the spot this year with respective offerings.
- Laptops: 15” MacBook Air and Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 — the former is successfully recuperating falling MacBook numbers over the years, while the latter has received a less-than-ideal but positive response from critics.
- Consumer chips: Intel debuted its Core i9-14900K in December, so we will move on to the next best value-for-money hardware the company offers to go toe-to-toe against Apple’s M2 Ultra Chip: the Core i7-14700K.
- Smart home devices: Amazon Echo Hub’s compatibility with 140,000 smart devices through both Matter and Thread standards is a winner in itself. Add an infrared sensor, a home Map View feature, and a centralized control, and you have a winner.
- Smart glasses: With the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, Meta wanted to clear the criticism it received for Ray-Ban Stories, and boy, did it succeed.
5. Quantum computing
In December 2023, almost two dozen researchers from Harvard University, supported by QuEra Computing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Maryland scientists achieved a major breakthrough to usher in the quantum computing age.
Under Optimization with Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (ONISQ) devices, a program funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), researchers could build the first quantum circuit with logical quantum bits (qubits) that could “accelerate fault-tolerant quantum computing and revolutionize concepts for designing quantum computer processors.”
See More: The State of AI in Cybersecurity 2023: Insights About Use Cases
The Bad in Tech in 2023
1. The sensational LK-99, until it wasn’t
LK-99, the supposed room-temperature superconductor, turned out to be a damp squib. Research on the material, which was claimed to exhibit lossless electric flow at 127 °C (260 °F) and ambient pressure without needing a coolant, went viral on social media in July.
Potential benefits of lossless electricity include highly efficient electricity grids, faster digital interconnects for computer systems, and efficient, not to mention economical magnets used to build faster trains, particle accelerators, MRI machines, and even fusion reactors.
The claim, made by Sukbae Lee, Ji-Hoon Kim, and their team at South Korean startup Quantum Energy Research Centre, was extraordinary, considering the highest superconducting temperatures at ambient pressure is near -138℃ -10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-23 Celsius).
Made of lead, phosphorus, oxygen, and copper, an unorthodox mix to achieve magnetism, it was later concluded that LK-99’s copper sulfide impurities caused partial levitation of the material and thus led the researchers to superconductivity.
“While nobody has proven the LK-99 samples studied in the original reports don’t superconduct, the balance of evidence right now strongly favors other explanations. Most scientists studying superconductivity don’t see much reason to continue looking at LK-99,” noted Michael Fuhrer, professor at Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.
2. Apple’s patent infringement dispute with Masimo
This week, Apple will hold off selling two of its latest smartwatches — Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 — from December 21 over a patent dispute medical device maker Masimo filed in the International Trade Commission (ITC). First reported by 9to5Mac, Apple is preemptively halting sales the week before Christmas to comply with an import ban the ITC instituted in October.
In two cases, Masimo has alleged that Apple has infringed ten patents, including the blood oxygen sensor (SpO2) one. The iPhone maker entered into a working relationship with Masimo in 2013 for a possible collaboration with or an acquisition of the company. Instead, it poached Michael O’Reilly, the current head of Apple’s Health Special Projects, as alleged by Masimo, not to mention multiple other employees, including engineers.
Apple doesn’t delineate what percentage of its $39.8 billion (12 months ended September 2023) Wearables, Home, and Accessories revenue is contributed by smartwatch sales. Nevertheless, it can seriously dent its holiday season numbers when Apple stops sales at 3 PM (EST) on December 21. The only saving grace for Apple could be third-party retailers and a presidential review on the matter, whose deadline runs until Christmas Eve.
The developments can ring alarm bells with smaller tech players, who could begin to ask: is it a sound strategy to associate with Apple or other Big Tech companies?
3. Generative AI
This is the only tech featured on the good and the bad sides. Generative AI tech isn’t bad per se, but developers playing fast and loose with implementation and a devil-may-care attitude toward using proprietary or publicly available data certainly has been a cause of concern for regulators, proponents of responsible AI development, and others.
Lax or nonexistent AI regulations have so far fostered data privacy issues, harmful content, web data scraping, copyright infringement issues, opaque development standards, AI bias, lack of accountability, and other topics of concern.
European Union’s AI Act, the first AI regulation passed anywhere, aims to address some or all of these concerns. But even that isn’t expected to go into effect until 2025, meaning development is expected to go unchecked for now. Admittedly, that is a recipe for innovation, among other things, to flourish.
See More: AI and Automation: The Cornerstone of Cloud Investments in 2024
The Ugly in Tech in 2023
1. OpenAI board vs. Sam Altman
Sam Altman returned to OpenAI as the CEO just four days after the board of the company he co-founded fired him and fellow co-founder and president Greg Brockman. Altman attests that the four days helped the company achieve mainstream significance, at par with ChatGPT.
However, the series of events that transpired in the run-up to and during those four days have etched the entire saga into the corporate hall of fame. The entire episode divided stakeholders, including consumers, investors, and fans, right down to employees, to argue along the lines of betrayal, the emergence of a savior, provision of proof for Altman’s ouster, a messiah-like resurrection, rapid advancement to artificial general intelligence evoking concerns of an existential threat to humanity, and the company’s commercialization initiatives.
To OpenAI’s dismay, almost 700 of the 770 employees vowed to follow Altman to Microsoft, the company’s principal investor ($13 billion) and owner of 49% of the stake in OpenAI’s for-profit enterprise. After negotiations facilitated by former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, who was roped in to lead OpenAI, the board reinstated Altman.
OpenAI now has a new board, with only Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo retaining his position as a member. Microsoft also gained an observer seat on the OpenAI board.
2. Reddit controversy
Reddit changed its API pricing policy in April 2023, meaning third-party apps would have to pay for access to Reddit’s data, which was free until July 1, 2023. The move was essentially a death knell for multiple third-party developers, including Apollo, which shut down on June 30.
Apollo successfully rallied support behind free access to data and against Reddit’s new policy, but the company’s leadership remained adamant, turning the situation sour. At one point, more than 8,200 subreddits with tens of thousands of moderators pledged to go private to protest against Reddit’s new API policy, causing a massive outage.
More importantly, Reddit’s treatment of said moderators eroded community trust, leading to an exodus of knowledge users away from the platform.
The resultant effect it had was forcing multiple third-party developers to charge a subscription from users to access Reddit. For instance, Narwhal for Reddit now charges $3.99 per month to iOS users, Infinity for Reddit charges at least $2.99 per month (it’s cheapest), Relay for Reddit charges between $0.99 to $4.99, and Now for Reddit charges $3.99. Meanwhile, others, such as Atom for Reddit, have capped the post-viewing limit based on the free API requests limit.
Reddit’s monetization efforts of its valuable data followed those by X, which, under Elon Musk, aimed at opening another revenue stream by introducing API pricing tiers in March 2023. Clearly, the two companies wanted to cease offering a free hand to AI companies scraping and using free data to train large language models. Reddit has even threatened to block web search crawlers from Google and Bing.
In fact, 30.4% of the top 1,000 websites have blocked the GPTBot, OpenAI’s web crawler, according to Originality.ai. Meanwhile, 16.5% of the top 1,000 websites have blocked CCBot, 8.5% have blocked Google-Extended, and 2.4% have blocked anthropic-ai.
In hindsight, Reddit wasn’t wrong in identifying and acting on a strategic choice, but it could have handled it better.
3. “GFY” — Elon Musk
At the DealBook conference late in November this year, Elon Musk recommended advertisers “go f*** yourself” with CEO Linda Yaccarino present in the audience.
Musk’s comments came after Andrew Ross Sorkin asked Musk about the advertising boycott companies are undertaking on X following Musk’s controversial X post supporting an antisemitic post on the platform.
Singling out Disney’s Bob Iger, Musk said, “If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money? Go fuck yourself,” Musk said. “Go. Fuck. Yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is.”
The controversial frontman at X, Tesla, SpaceX, and multiple other ventures claims to be at war with the media. X has sued liberal advocacy group Media Matters for America, claiming that it fabricated a report that asserted advertisers’ posts are shown besides neo-Nazi and white nationalist posts on the platform.
As a result, Musk’s post and the report (released in the same week) led Disney, Apple, IBM, Paramount Global, Warner Bros. Discovery, Lions Gate Entertainment, Comcast, and others to suspend advertising on X.
Media Matters has retaliated by suing the Texas Attorney General, who opened an investigation into the group over potential fraudulent activity. Attorney General Andrew Bailey also initiated an investigation into Media Matters in December.
Musk is working hard to turn X’s balance sheet in the green by instituting multiple changes at the company formerly known as Twitter. This includes creating Twitter Blue subscriptions, incentivizing content creation on the platform, bringing API pricing tiers, and axing thousands of employees since acquiring the company for $44 billion.
Image source: Shutterstock
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