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The dumbest moments in big tech in 2023

Big tech had a number of big fails.

 

Marlon Ettinger

Tech

Posted on Dec 22, 2023   Updated on Dec 20, 2023, 3:23 pm CST

The tech story of 2023 was the rise of commercially available AI—most notably in OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

It was, or could be, a world-altering tech, one that evangelists and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists cite as the new way Silicon Valley is triumphing over the feeble failings of our mortal existence.

What they’d rather you not think about though is that for every single staggering breakthrough—which aren’t without their own concerns, questions, and failures—many of their launches, ideas, and initiatives are abject disasters. 

Here are the worst ones of the year. 

Long-distance kissing 

In January, a Chinese startup launched MUA, which basically lets you mimic a kiss from somebody from very far away. 

The device has a pair of silicon lips that attach to your phone and transmit “kiss data” from each user, which is then “replayed” on the other user’s device, where the machine puckers its lips, replays the kiss, and even warms up to emulate the feeling of a bona fide smooch.

The bizarre contraption went viral on social media after it was released, with users expressing skepticism and excitement about the gadget.

“Yo, they got the Soulja Boy Kiss You Through The Phone device,” one TikToker said, summing the machine up. 

Tesla CyberBeer

Tech industrialist Elon Musk hasn’t just been in the news in 2023 for pumping out antisemitic tweets and changing the name of Twitter to X, he also manages some of the most influential companies in American culture, which are making products capturing the imagination of a lot of people. 

He’s also making beer. Launched as a promotion for his much-ballyhooed CyberTruck, Tesla CyberBeer wasn’t much more of a hit. 

Fans who bought the $150 drink complained about rusted bottle caps and “nasty” beer.  

“Tesla Cyberbeer is hot garbage,” wrote one on X.

Private tweets

When Elon Musk bought X, he fired large swaths of the site’s engineering department, seemingly taking over troubleshooting problems all by his lonesome.

In February, after an initial boost from the takeover, conservative posters complained that engagement was dropping and hit on a dubious solution to pumping those numbers back up again. Apparently locking their accounts increased their reach and boosted their metrics. Musk, trying to figure out whether this was true, got into the game, locking his own account to test the theory.

“It’s genuinely hysterical that Elon Musk has locked his account to test the working theory that private accounts see improved engagement,” @SVegvarii tweeted about the situation. “Twitter’s algorithm is in such a poor state to the point the CEO has to do field experiments instead of, you know, an engineering department.”

Musk eventually unlocked his account but never issued his finding. 

An SEO hijack 

For all the evangelizing tech CEOs have done about the value ChatGPT can bring to the world, one tech entrepreneur found its biggest utility was committing petty digital theft.

In November Jake Ward, described how he peeled off 3.6 million clicks from a competitor’s website, which he gleefully dubbed an “SEO heist.”

Ward did it by downloading the website’s sitemap then taking the URLs from the competitor’s page and turning them into 1,800 articles on his website using ChatGPT, siphoning away traffic with minimal effort. 

It was met with widespread backlash, not only for clogging Google with junk but for using AI for the most pointlessly nefarious purpose ever. 

Tesla‘s safety praised—during murder attempt

In early January Dharmesh Patel drove his Tesla straight off a cliff in California. Patel was subsequently charged with attempted murder and child abuse.

After the harrowing incident, where Patel allegedly launched the car with himself, his two children, and another adult hundreds of feet to the rocks below, Tesla fanboys took the moment to praise the Tesla Model Y for saving the lives of people who survived.

“How is it even possible that a Tesla Model Y saved the lives of 4 people after a 250 ft fall down a cliff,” comment @Pmgraham86 on X. @elonmusk deserves so much credit for this.”

She was just one of many Tesla fanboys who took a murder attempt as a reason to hype the electric car.

Reddit alters API access

Thousands of subreddits protested Reddit’s API changes over the summer by making their communities private and pinning posts criticizing the move. 

The policy, announced to instant backlash, would charge third-party developers for API access, knee-capping their ability to use Reddit data in their apps.

Popular main subreddits like r/ShowerThoughts, r/gifs, and r/Jokes, along with a host of others all shared the same message decrying Reddit’s decision. 

According to TechCrunch, Reddit confirmed that the protest crashed the site.

Reddit justified the changes to its policy on a need for profitability, saying that it couldn’t allow third-party services to use the site’s extremely valuable store of data for free, and refused to buckle under the pressure, forcing private communities public and removing moderators, which many felt went against the site’s ethos. 

Robot dog x AI 

Videos of robots designed by by Boston Dynamics have been going viral for years, with each new release a feast of the uncanny valley, where new fine-tuned features and advances in robotics freak viewers out, leaving them trembling in doom at the possibilities the machines might pose in the future.

And fears increased wildly this year when Boston Dynamics integrated ChatGPT into its latest version, allowing it to talk and answer questions without the aid of a human operator. 

Adding AI to a murder robot dog… what could go wrong? 

Linus Tech tips over

Linus Tech Tips, YouTube’s largest PC Hardware Channel, racked up over 15 million subscribers in the past 15 years through its consistent posting of high-energy tests and reviews of the latest PC tech.

In August, though, the channel was hit by controversy after a review of a water cooling block was accused by another YouTuber of being indicative of sloppy standards on the channel. 

An apology video posted by Linus was subsequently criticized for not taking the issue seriously, and the company came under greater scrutiny when a former social media manager posted a (since-deleted) thread detailing the toll on her mental health by working for the channel, as well as allegations of a toxic work environment and incidents of sexual harassment.

The channel quickly put out statements saying that they took the allegations seriously and vowed to address them, but the damage was done.

It wasn’t helped by the fact they monetized the apology video.

Titan’s submersible controller

In June, Oceangate’s Titan submersible went missing off the coast of Newfoundland, on its way to the watery remains of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg.

There was no rescue mission: the submarine imploded the day it went missing, killing everyone onboard. 

The implosion brought to light a series of irregularities with the vessel that likely led to its destruction, including an alleged budget carbon fiber hull bought from a Boeing firesale and no safety certification.

But what really captured the internet’s attention was the fact that the submarine was piloted entirely by a modified Logitech F710 wireless game controller.

“I have been awake for two hours and have been informed a bunch of rich idiots in a homemade submarine with bolted panels instead of doors, no safety cable to the mothership and steered by a logitech videogame controller have gone missing in the ocean trying to see the Titanic,” one user posted on X, summing up the widespread disbelief about the incident.

Netflix ends account sharing

With 247 million paid subscribers as of October 2023, Netflix has become one of the leading players in the film industry it once tried to supplant. 

Taking its role as the new vanguard of Hollywood seriously, Netflix started making moves to prove it belongs in the big leagues: by increasing prices and churning out shoddy content to goose its bottom line. 

One big way it helped its numbers in 2023 was finally ending password sharing, provoking the ire of just about everybody who’s ever used the platform.

One TikToker went viral with a video complaining about the policy change, ranting about how they were on their dad’s family plan but could no longer watch Netflix on their TV because they didn’t live in the same house as their father.

“No other streaming service I’m aware of does this so Netflix boycott sounds good,” reacted one viewer to the rant.

However, it didn’t seem like that boycott amounted to anything.

In October, Netflix announced that it picked up 8.8 million subscribers worldwide from July to September, more than triple the amount from last year.

Which goes to show that no matter how bad, frustrating, or annoying a tech idea is, the industry’s omnipotent hold on society means we’re almost always stuck with it.

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*First Published: Dec 22, 2023, 7:00 am CST