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2023 in tech: Recounting the good, the bad, the ugly, and a lesson we can bring into 2024

Victor Barreiro Jr.

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

2023 in tech: Recounting the good, the bad, the ugly, and a lesson we can bring into 2024
The year 2023 was a lesson and reminder that every victory in tech for the little guy is hard-won and exasperatingly hard-fought

I can’t sugarcoat it: It’s been a rather bleak 2023 for the tech sphere.

There is much to rail against, even as we push ever more complex technological “advancements” forward without the requisite regard for whether we really need them.

To that end, this is an attempt to distill a lot of the badness that came about as a result of 2023’s tech developments. It’s also hoped that by trying to distill the bad and the ugly, we might find some good things to be thankful for in 2023 – and if not, then we will at least try to find some lessons to be learned for 2024.

The bad: Self-serving tech companies alienating their user bases

It’s hard to pin down what exactly made 2023 so bad, but I think the first distilled bad thought that comes to mind is how tech companies alienated their user bases.

Anti-consumer or anti-user practices have grown as a result of wanting to squeeze out more money from people using tech services or goods. There are plenty of instances of such behavior, but let’s drill down into two types of services – streaming services, and social media.

There’s the push among streaming video services to clamp down or monetize account sharing or by raising prices, or by creating fiefdoms of content through splintering the streaming services into pieces of a pie: Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Max, Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, Peacock, Paramount+… the list stretches ever onward.

There’s also the idea that streaming services are reneging on the ideal of becoming a repository for media by making it impossible to legally find a way to view specific media through timed content removals.

For social media like X, formerly Twitter, and Reddit, there are also changes made to alienate legitimate users through creation of paid API (application programming interface) calls that would make it very expensive for researchers to study X or for Reddit app developers to keep their apps usable.

Researchers studying X have mostly abandoned attempts to study social media using X or adjusted their studies accordingly as a result of the paid API changes, while Reddit app devs have pretty much given up on attempts to keep their apps afloat, leaving the inferior first-party Reddit app a survivor in the API debacle.

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Also the bad: AI reckoning with the truth

The world is likely to see further reckonings with artificial intelligence (AI) as we roll into another year, especially as it relates to truth-seeking.

For one thing, news publishers are having to reckon with AI scraping data from the news, creating a bottleneck in which an AI-reliant populace looks only to the AI headlines for their information instead of going to the source.

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For another, Generative AI development also threatens to throw into chaos an entirely different sector that search engines created: the SEO industry. As answers to questions are quickly regurgitated by AI, the written content mills and SEO industry that evolved from the search engine era may also promptly flare out.

All in all, this means AI is growing into something that is reckoning with the human perception of what is true – or at the very least what is accepted to be true.

There may be a time when AI will answer questions 100% correctly 100% of the time, but until then, the cultural shift towards accepting regurgitated hallucinations as truth has to be weaned, curiosity and the search for what is true should be fostered, and disinformation has to be actively fought on the frontlines of every information space.

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The ugly: Over 250,000 tech layoffs in 2023

The treating of hardworking people like cannon fodder has also led to massive job losses in the technology industry and tech-adjacent job sectors like journalism, as mentioned above.

According to layoffs.fyi, a site which tracked tech industry layoffs in 2022 and 2023, 257,538 employees (at least by its count) have been laid off as of December 9. By comparison, there were 164,969 tech layoffs recorded by the site in 2022.

This maddening figure comes amid layoffs in sectors like the entertainment and gaming sectors, and in upticks towards seeking unions to redress labor concerns, such as in the use of AI to capture the likeness of people and put actors in entertainment and gaming out of work, amid other job concerns.

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FILE PHOTO: Striking Writers Guild of America (WGA) members walk the picket line in front of Netflix offices in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 12, 2023.

The layoffs also come despite significant profits in the gaming industry, where plenty of high-quality games were shipped to record numbers yet still layoffs transpired. One notable example in the gaming sphere is the Embracer Group, which went on a game company buying spree across 2022 and 2023 but had to significantly restructure – and let go of at least 900 people – after a purported $2-billion deal with Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games collapsed.

Some good: Governments seeking accountability from tech companies

While I reckon this will be a continuing exercise moving into 2024 and beyond, governments seeking accountability from tech companies and looking to set up guardrails, especially as it relates to AI, is quite the bright spot.

Canada, with its Online News Act, and Australia, with its News Media Bargaining Code, have continuing dialogues with tech companies to make sure news publishers get properly compensated for the news that goes onto tech services. While there is some reticence among tech companies to pay for news, proper legislation and a government with a backbone that supports journalism is an encouraging enterprise.

There’s also a lot that’s been said about AI, but the EU is leading the charge on that front with regulations governing it. Among the provisos included in the agreement ban cognitive behavioral manipulation, the untargeted scrapping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage, social scoring, and biometric categorization systems to infer political, religious, philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation, and race.

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Of course, EU’s AI regulations aren’t perfect – The MIT Technology Review noted it was a moving target and subject to fine tuning, but if they’re the first to get this out on a larger scale, it is my hope that regulations and enforcement are also put in place sooner rather than later on AI.

The lesson: We cannot take for granted the ability to ask questions and fight for good things!

If there’s one thing I’ve personally picked up on in 2023 moving into the new year, it’s that every victory for the little guy is hard-won and exasperatingly hard-fought.

The splintering of social media – whether it be the result of users leaving Twitter-slash-X due to Elon Musk’s shenanigans on it (or things like Musk’s AI creation, Grok, roasting him, a highlight among lowlights) or the adoption of a new social media outlet for your daily outfits or ramblings – has led to the creation of safe spaces for marginalized people on smaller corners of the internet, whether it be on parts of Mastodon, or private Discord servers or BlueSky.

Anti-consumer practices among tech companies have led to quiet revolts against them, whether it be getting the right to repair purchased tech or the consumer using its purchasing power against streaming services to… well, not buy from them and instead reconsider the idea that piracy is in style again for media that’s deemed lost to the void.

The longstanding issue of job security and fair wages in many sectors, including in the technology and entertainment spheres, has also seen people repeatedly organizing for the right to get just and fair compensation for their work and security for their day-to-day.

Further than this, we cannot stop at allowing our governments to seek accountability from tech companies alone. Government actions are also a strong reminder that we must also keep our selfsame governments accountable for the types of legislation they make and pass. These should aspire to help the greatest good, be thoroughly researched and vetted, and accordingly reviewed – by the people and the organizations championing the people – in order to pass muster.

To that end, we also cannot stop being complacent and accepting just what is in front of us now, whether it be the seeming injustices brought about by bad business or the apparent truths put forth by artificial intelligence or disinformation peddlers.

Keep asking questions, keep reaching for the truth, and don’t stop fighting for progress in whatever shape or form it may take for you in 2024. And if you need help figuring out what’s real in 2024, don’t forget to read from reputable news sites instead of searching for an AI answer to your queries. – Rappler.com

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.