The year 2022 is about to end and the loud noise you are hearing from the technology sector is the sound of the hot air coming out of products, ideas and people that have been blown out of all proportion and deflated a little to their natural dimensions.
This hype, which characterizes the technology sector, is actively cultivated by entrepreneurs and investors in the field to attract interest, money and regulatory attention. But it can also be harmful, as it creates a basis for low standards, it produces great disappointments and suppresses interest, it distracts from the important things, and really hurts users and customers.
In 2022, the amount of these was extraordinary, and it seems that every day we were required to stand on the sidelines while the technological sector deals with itself and pathologically in the future it imagines for us: the future of banks, the future of transportation, the future of education, and the future of housing.
1. The old hype: autonomous vehicles
In recent months, newspaper headlines announced the launch of “driverless taxis” in the U.S., a project of Uber with a venture called Motional. “Users will receive a notification that an autonomous vehicle is available,” they wrote in the subtitle of one of the news items,” and “will be able to confirm the trip before the vehicle heads in their direction.” The idea that this is a limited project designed to train systems and that includes a human driver who constantly supervises the vehicle, or the broader context that Uber actually gave up on its autonomous vehicle ambitions a long time ago, do not change anything in the hype — Robo-Taxi has finally been launched.
Such is the relentless hype surrounding autonomous cars over the past 15 years. Year after year, players in the field and parts of the media shamelessly imply that the technology already exists, is working and is being deployed, and all that is left to do is just a little adjustment here and there.
“I would say that it is a bigger challenge than launching a rocket into orbit,” the CEO of Waymo told the Financial Times a year ago. “Creating an autonomous vehicle is as technologically complex as sending a spacecraft to the moon,” was the metaphor Israeli Amnon Shashua used in an interview with newspaper Yediot Ahronoth just a week ago.
This does not mean that there is no progress or that we are looking to crush dreams. It is possible to dream, explain and report on the topic even without guaranteeing every year that an autonomous vehicle is around the corner. It is not around the corner, it is not here, it is not deployed and the service does not exist.
This industry, as exciting as it is, has not yet been able to solve a number of large and complex problems without which it cannot move forward: among others, problems of image classification, continuous and incremental learning of the algorithms, questions of basic safety such as building explainable artificial intelligence systems, and questions concerning quality control and imposition of responsibility in the operation of the machines.
2. The recycled hype: The Metaverse
Last week, the general public was invited to take part in L’Oreal’s “innovative Metaverse experience”. After long minutes of wandering without depth or proportion, while the random avatar I had chosen plummeted down the stairs as if it were a world without knees, stuck in the unmarked void of the edge of the small universe, and passed through characters of other participants, I gave up. It was not an experience, not innovative, not Metaverse, but a sad demonstration of poor graphics and gnawing boredom similar to Second Life – a game from the early 2000s.
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have come to be associated with the realization of this vision. At the end of 2021, the social networking giant announced that it would divert all its attention to building this virtual reality, invest tens of billions of dollars in realizing the vision and change its name to “Meta”. The hype created a strange wave of buying “real estate” (pixels) in Metaverse, and collaborations with gaming platforms and Meta itself were announced. The buzz was so huge, that a series of entrepreneurs and venture capital investors started pushing an idea to the public that in fact we “already live in the Metaverse”.
In the last year the tower of cards collapsed. It was discovered that the virtual worlds and launches of Metaverse events attract a tiny number of users from all over the world. Facebook itself fired 11,000 employees worldwide to deal with the extreme change in its loss-making operations. “I was wrong”, Zuckerberg said as he summed up people’s lives.
There is no reason to rule out the assessment that the future will include more multiple uses of augmented reality, perhaps to optimize a hybrid work style or maintain connections with distant relatives. But there is no reasonable reason to listen to billionaires, who know nothing about the lives of the masses, while they assess which version of our existence we prefer.
3. The exploitative hype: Crypto NFT, P2E
Have you heard about the new products from the creator of Web3 that will save us from the predatory and exploitative world of the old internet tycoons? Did you know that unique cryptocurrencies (NFTs) will give the power back to creators? That game worlds on the blockchain will empower disadvantaged populations in the global south? Are you ready for the next social revolution? No? Don’t worry — Have Fun Staying Poor.
What does one actually need to be part of this world? Throw in some vision, acquire some servers, open a hot wallet, buy a cold wallet, understand yield farming, learn to read white papers and distinguish types of tokens, that’s the bad actors, know how to spot FUD, avoid FOMO, find a community, pay attention for suspicious movements of wallets, follow whales, maybe launch your own coin, or NFT series, change the future of the art world, build games that aim to generate profit and bam – we will all get rich quick together.
This year’s enthusiasm around crypto, NFT and P2E (Play-To-Earn games) was ignited like a match in the form of a pop doll: a large, rapidly igniting head sitting on a small, disproportionate body that cannot support the flame.
The intense fire left great destruction, as many expected. A series of huge companies collapsed while generating losses of billions of dollars to the dreamers; NFT trading crashed after failing to generate profits for anyone except a few large projects; The largest NFT trading platform — OpenSea, found itself at the heart of an insider trading scandal. And many other trading platforms have made it possible for buyers not to pay royalties to NFT creators on repeat sales. At the same time, it turned out that the largest P2E company, one Axie Infinity, is actually a pyramid scheme, which took advantage of those it claimed to help with their financial inclusion.
Who knows what will happen to the crypto market in the future? As of today, we must concentrate on the lessons. For example, pay attention to who is talking about new eras of diversity and inclusion, be careful if they all look the same – white men from the technology, marketing and financial industries. Do not listen to those who claim that “banks are not your friends”, and that “the future belongs to the brave”. Be suspicious if instead of receiving an explanation you are scolded to “go study”. Do not be tempted by the idea that the crypto market is decentralized, it is run by a cartel of big players, and if someone announces that they have found a new method of spreading wealth and without any risk, look for the characteristics of a pyramid scheme – they are there.
4. The human hype: we cling to geniuses with all our might
When Musk offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion, everyone was surprised by the excessive price, but they gave the richest man in the world the benefit of the doubt. When he tried to avoid the deal in a legal battle, they explained that it was a “trick” to negotiate the price. When he realized that he was not above the law and declared that “bankruptcy” was possible just after completing the purchase at the full price, they explained that it was part of the genius’ plan to dismantle a liberal stronghold; When he quickly introduced a new product “Twitter Blue” — a blue V for anyone who wants it for eight dollars, which led to expected scams, they said that the depth of his thinking is simply not clear to us; When he blocked users according to his biases and ideologies and banned the sharing of content from a handful of social networks, they explained that censorship by him is reasonable.
In recent years, Musk has been seen as the lonesome genius of his generation. “The man who strives to save our planet and bring us to a new one: a clown, a genius, a master, a visionary, an industrialist, a showman,” they wrote in Time magazine last year when they named him Man of the Year.
However, these exaggerated descriptions and Musk’s status as a savior have never been consistent with his business history. For example, when he was removed from all CEO positions in his early years, under his leadership Tesla was fined for fraud and creative accounting, and neither it nor SpaceX under his management would have survived without billions of dollars in public subsidies. He is a serial tax evader, and a boss who pays very little attention to the safety and well-being of his employees.
But if one can point to one healthy thing created by Musk’s takeover of Twitter, it would be the demystification of the businessman who in recent weeks has embarked on a display of business delusional chaos, toxic employee management, and the spreading of manipulation and bad spirit everywhere.
The crushing of Twitter’s reputation and revenues by him reverberated to the more prosperous company under his management: Tesla, whose stock crashed and fell by 66% in the last six months. His behavior in the second half of the year made it clear how unnecessary it is to believe in self-anointed messiahs and how destructive billionaires without fear, mercy or restraint can be.
5. The expected hype: artificial intelligence and robots
There is no escape from generative artificial intelligence, which, after having initially impressed, is now looking for a winning financial model for itself. Already today, many see tools like Dall-E 2 and ChatGPT as the biggest challenge for the labor market, artists, Google, the education system, the care professions, the content, the press and more. Be prepared for a year where we will participate in the collective, irresponsible and inaccurate imagination of the capabilities of these tools. We will take part in a disproportionate conversation about smart robots that are coming to take our jobs, and we will indulge in false imaginations that we are a little closer today to self-aware computers.
Immediately afterwards we will deal with the dramatic change in the management of the technology companies, which are trying to deal with the spreading economic stagnation. We will learn how instead of rapid and unrestrained growth, fueled by “cheap money”, a more responsible and mature management approach of startups will come. And in no way will we deal with the failed and ongoing management decisions of venture capital investors who invested irresponsibly, or entrepreneurs who did not know how to manage. Instead we will focus on the employees that can finally be restrained by managers.