Some good news from this year in tech • TechCrunch
when you think Among the biggest tech stories of the year, you’re probably thinking of something like Elon Musk buying Twitter, former crypto prodigy Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX bankruptcy filing, all the people who lost their life savings. during the UST implosion, or the tens of thousands of tech workers who were laid off. It wasn’t the most bullish year we’ve ever had in the tech world. And yet, from advances in climate technology to breakthroughs in AI technology, to the most awe-inspiring images of outer space we could dream of, there’s plenty to be excited about as we approach of 2022.
Climate technology boosted by the Inflation Reduction Act
After years of inaction, Congress has finally taken a step toward tackling climate change with a surprise — and surprisingly important — bill that funds everything from green hydrogen to cold weather heat pumps. The Inflation Reduction Act seemed doomed, like all climate bills before it, until it wasn’t. Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) intransigence seemed like a calculated effort to kill the bill, but in reality, it may just have been an attempt to secure American competitiveness in some of the most difficult industries. most important of the 21st century. The law provides $369 billion for a variety of climate initiatives, and while that’s not enough to address the scale of the problem, it’s far better than nothing. And if investor sentiment is any indication, this may be the lure needed to get them to rush into climate tech.
Generative AI makes sense
Generative AI has its problems, of course. But it also has an undeniably positive disruptive potential. As generative AI came to the fore this year, bolstered by emerging AI techniques, we got a glimpse of the labor it can save the art world (see: Stable Diffusion, DALL- E 2), programming (GitHub Copilot) and writing (GPT-3, ChatGPT). Art-generating AI can eliminate mundane tasks like sketching backgrounds for portrait photos, while code-generating AI can reduce the amount of repetitive coding a programmer must complete. The jury is out on whether this is a net good, but if social media is any indication, generative AI is already powering white-collar workflows.
Orbital internet helps bring the world online
The promise of satellite internet connections is being realized, although as usual the technology is not yet evenly distributed. But we’ve already seen Starlink connect Antarctica and war-torn Ukraine, two rather extreme test cases. If they can make it there (or on a yacht, for that matter), they can also make it in rural America, in regions affected by natural disasters, or in remote villages in developing countries. We can even see pirate internet connections popping up in places like China and North Korea, circumventing their control over information. It’s a hugely enabling technology and 2022 was the year it went from experimentation to product. And wait until you can do it with your phone!
One of the biggest mainstream criticisms of crypto is how power-hungry it can be. Depending on how a blockchain validates its transactions, simply purchasing an NFT could use an inordinate amount of energy, and as more people embark on space in 2021, the environmental impact of l he crypto industry has become of growing concern. For years, the team behind the Ethereum blockchain has been promising a monumental event called The Merge, which would take Ethereum from the energy-intensive proof-of-work protocol to the more environmentally-friendly proof-of-stake process. In September, that change – The Merge, with a capital M – finally succeeded after a years-long coding effort.
Are we saying crypto is inherently good? Don’t @ me. But is it good news that the second most popular blockchain has recently become around 99% more energy efficient? Shit yeah.
A year of historic firsts in organizing
This year seems to have lasted…several years, but believe it or not, it was last April that the Amazon Labor Union, led by future folk hero Christian Smalls, won the first union election victory at Amazon in the United States. United. like a David and Goliath situation, and that’s not an exaggeration. Amazon has gone to great lengths — like violating labor laws and spending millions on union-busting consultants — to prevent the Staten Island fulfillment center from defending itself. But against all odds, Amazon must now deal with a union.
Meanwhile, in the video game industry, Raven Software’s QA testers at Activision Blizzard have won the historic first syndicate of a major US game company. And just a few weeks ago, a second group of QA testers from the gaming giant also formed a union. A handful of Apple Stores also won their first US unions this year. Outside of the tech sphere, we’ve seen more than 250 Starbucks stores unionize in the past two years, as union campaigns at franchises like Trader Joe’s gain momentum.
And in the world of the gig economy, small gains are being made domestically. Usually the fight over classification of gig workers takes place at the state level, but this year the Department of Labor proposed a ruling that, if passed, would allow delivery drivers and based delivery drivers on applications to more easily become employees if they can prove that they are economically dependent on a company.
–Amanda Silberling and Rebecca Bellan
Open source text-generating AI flourishes
AI models capable of generating text were once the exclusive domain of well-funded labs and companies (think OpenAI and Alphabet’s DeepMind). But over the past year, the open source AI community has risen to the challenge of developing free and permissively licensed alternatives. BigScience, a community project with the goal of making natural language systems widely available for research, released Bloom, which is roughly on par with OpenAI’s GPT-3 in capabilities. More recently, BigScience launched Project Petals, which allows volunteers to donate their hardware power to tackle one part of a text-generating workload and harness others to perform more important tasks. similar to Folding@home and other distributed computing setups. It’s a promising turn of events, of course, especially as progress in the field of text generation accelerates.
This summer, the JWST delivered its first deep-field images, representing the culmination of 26 years of hard work. It’s hard not to get lost in the breathtaking images of Stephan’s Quintet or the Carina Nebula, but what these incredible photographs represent is even more spectacular. As our own Aria Alamalhodaei says, “These accomplishments are just the beginning. Scientists still have plenty of questions – about exoplanets, the formation of the universe and more – and now they have a powerful new tool in their arsenal to search for answers.
A real braille tablet
The Dot Pad is a huge step forward in the world of braille displays, which have traditionally been bulky, expensive and feature limited. Not only can the Dot Pad display multiple lines of text at once, but its touchscreen can mirror that of a phone or computer, displaying icons and images in touchscreen form. It’s still moving from development to full-scale manufacturing, but the American Printing House for the Blind has already licensed the technology and built its own version – we’ll be testing it at CES.
Momentum for the Fediverse
Here’s a not-so-hot take: maybe it’s not a good thing when the social media companies driving the public conversation are for-profit entities that can be traded on the stock exchange and/or taken private by self-serving billionaires. ! It’s been a big year for Mastodon, an open-source nonprofit social network that’s part of fediverse, an ecosystem of interoperable platforms running on ActivityPub. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter, Mastodon has exploded in popularity. According to data from Similarweb, traffic to joinmastodon.org (the Mastodon server directory) increased by more than 1,500% year-over-year in November. In less than two weeks, Mastodon’s monthly active user count doubled to over one million. The jury is still out on whether or not the exodus to Mastodon is temporary – there’s a lot of friction in the onboarding process, which will make it difficult for Mastodon to reach a more mainstream audience. But there has perhaps never been a time when a social media landscape independent of the tech giants has seemed more within reach.