- Adrien Book
23 Technology Predictions for 2023
What. A. Year. Ukrainians and Iranians fought for peace and justice. Inflation skyrocketed; crypto cratered. Rogan, BoJo, Holmes, Djokovic and Abe were cancelled, but in very different ways. COVID left, and so did… Fizz Brush? Tizz Lush? Bizz Muss? Who remembers. Apple reached 3 trillion; the world reached 8 billion. The Queen got off stage, and Will Smith got on stage. While American women were forbidden to choose, Italians chose fascism. At least the metaverse was aborted. Musk bought Twitter; Trump sold NFTs. Ring of Power was overrated, but Andor was andor-rated. Macron got 5 years, while R. Kelly got 30. COVID came back; so did Lula. The NYT acquired Wordle, and Argentina acquired a World Cup. West Elm Caleb dated, and Kanye divorced. Kaili made money, SBF lost money. Balle au centre? “No way to prevent this”? It’s Morbin’ time.
History has always rhymed; in 2022 it did so faster than ever.
But we’ve made it. And though many (but not all) of my predictions for 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018 have fallen flat, there are two reasons why you should keep reading this article. Firstly… it’s fun! Secondly, because the knowledge gained through planning for the future is crucial to the selection of appropriate actions as events unfold. Articles such as this one can act as catalysts to steer the conversation in the right direction. We don’t know the answers, but we can at least ask useful questions.
1. Jeff Bezos comes back to Amazon
Current Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has seen the company’s stock cut in half since he took its helm in 2021. Most of Amazon’s issues can be blamed on external factors (*Gestures Broadly at Everything*), but when you’re at the top, it is lucky to be smart AND smart to be lucky. Stakeholders cannot forgive such a heavy loss, and will soon beg ex-CEO and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to come back. They definitely could use his experience. They’ll even be able to use Disney for cover, as its board made a very similar move in late 2022.
Bezos’ been “off” for the past year. He’s tweeted a bit, played with rockets… and is being reminded every day that his ex-wife is leaving a better legacy than he is. He will want to come back to protect the company he created, out of boredom, pride… or both.
2. Disney acquires Roblox
With Bob Iger back at the helm and its stock in free fall, Disney needs to do something bold to regain shareholders’ favours. Historically, that usually predicts a major acquisition.
Today, The Mouse rules almost every corner of modern entertainment… except gaming. Enters Roblox, with 50+ millions daily users, most of which are American or European 9 to 12 years olds (the perfect Disney target audience). Its stock is down 75% this year, approaching a valuation Disney can afford. Such an ambitious acquisition will allow Iger to boost his ego while arguing he’s doing everything to improve Disney’s prospects. In fact, integrating Roblox ($1.9B sales in 2021) to the wider Disney+ platform might be a great way to finance future series while gathering user data.
3. Spotify monetizes AI music
Artificially generated music already exists. You can give tools like Soundful a genre, a BPM, a key, and it will spit out a unique song in about 6 seconds. It’s magical… but limited. The “true” future of AI music is more likely to be based on prompts (which MidJourney and ChatGPT already use). Tools like Riffusion promise to make text-prompted music a reality, but there is a long way to go.
Regardless of difficulty, making investments in this space will be worth it for actors like Spotify. The company knows exactly what everyone’s taste is, and would be able to create and propose perfectly calibrated songs, without having to pay artists. This is especially relevant for simple genres like “white noise” and/or “easy listening,” which make up a large percentage of the platform’s usage.
4. All tech companies fire 20% of their workforce
Elon Musk is not a good manager, on that most of us can agree. But by firing 80% of the Twitter workforce while keeping the site (more or less) running, he is sure to have given other tech CEOs ideas. He’s also providing cloud cover for upcoming firings by sucking up all the attention in the room; who remembers that Facebook fired 11,000 people in November?
It’s already started, but will only accelerate in the coming months. There has been too much recruiting, for too little real created value, for too long. Thankfully, tech workers tend to be highly employable, and are unlikely to struggle finding a new job. Large tech firms letting go of workers will favour the creation of new innovative start-ups, while also allowing long-unloved historical companies to strengthen their tech teams.
5. Morgan Stanley owns Twitter
Speaking of Twitter… Musk signed up for $13B in debt financing to acquire the platform. This comes with interest payments of $1B+ per year. That is not sustainable, as a bit of napkin math shows.
In 2021, Twitter made $5B. 90% of that was from advertising. Since then, half the advertisers have stopped using the platform. That means the company will make $3B maximum if it stays the course. Costs last year were $5.6B. If we assume Elon cut 60% of costs by firing everyone and stopping all R&D and not settling any ongoing litigations, he’s still got $2.2B in total costs and expenses… PLUS $1B+ in debt financing. Which means there’s at least a $200M hole. When that becomes apparent, banks will do what they do best, and repossess their assets. It’s probably what’s best for everyone at this point.
6. The “Apple Tax” starts a commercial war
This is Twitter-adjacent… but about much more than Musk’s antics. It was announced in early December ’22 that “Twitter plans to charge $11 per month for a Twitter Blue subscription on the iPhone in order to account for the 30 percent cut that Apple takes from in-app purchases. On the web, Twitter Blue will be priced at $7 per month.”
This very publicly acknowledges that Apple levies a tax on each iPhone-based transaction. Apple customers are the wealthiest 1 billion people on Earth. It’s unlikely they will care all that much about such a tax. But it materialises a trend between the haves and the have-nots, which Apple will not want to highlight. Tim Cook will go to war to avoid seeing the Twitter price difference become the norm.
7. Remote work and AI bury the middle class
Globalization saw many blue-collar jobs off-shored from western countries to developing nations. Then came automation and robotisation, and entire industries worth of jobs were wiped out. The same is happening today to white collar jobs. COVID made remote work successful, and companies are starting to realise that a worker in India can do the same job as someone at home in San Francisco… for a 10th of the cost.
But this is just the beginning. While remote work is off-shoring jobs in a familiar pattern, AI tools such as ChatGPT will make entire industries completely redundant. Customer care centers, for example, will no longer have a reason to be, except for premium brands. That’s half a million jobs gone in the blink of an eye. The middle class has slowly shrunk over the past decade; 2023 is when the cracks become too large to be ignored.
8. The great AI social rift is created
Low-effort knowledge jobs will be replaced by AI in the very near future. But that will not apply to service jobs at luxury brands. In fact, these companies will use the benefits human to human communication to highlight the benefits of paying a premium.
This trend has already started and is getting more pronounced every year. You can only talk to your airline if you have a first-class ticket, avoid being tracked if you have an iPhone, get size advice at Gucci… The increased implementation of AI will make one thing clear: there is one system for the rich, another for everyone else. Soon, talking to a human for customer support will be an exclusively upper middle-class experience.
9. Deepfake videos topple an S&P500 CEO
It’s not only fake text and images that are getting better. Deepfake videos, too, are increasingly becoming easy to make by the general public. Worryingly, companies and governments clearly don’t have the proper tools to fight them, short of resorting to full-scale authoritarianism.
It’s only a matter of time before a video emerges of a S&P500 CEO doing something ungodly to a pig. That video will be fake, but it will not matter as social algorithms are tuned to make controversial content spread faster than truths. The unlucky executive’s stock will tank before the truth comes out. Once the flood gates have opened, we will all be at risk… and any government-mandated medicine might be worse than the disease.
10. AI fuels the Culture Wars
Video is striking, but text is more efficient to spread misinformation. ChatGPT, in fact, is incredibly efficient. It can create thousands of articles, in a matter of hours, about any topic. If used intelligently by bad actors, it could have devastating effects. Today, fact-checkers are finding it hard to keep up in real time with human-made false information. Tomorrow, AI will create millions of fake articles and videos, tailored to individual readers, in a matter of hours.
We know from the past 5 years that it does not take much misinformation to tear the fabric of society. That was just a prelude. Now that everyone has picked a side for the culture wars, get ready for the real Post-Truth society.
11. All politics become about content moderation
A Post-Truth society will likely birth a new wave of political questions. Should AIs be banned? Should training data be government-approved? Who is liable in case of mistake? Are falsehoods illegal? How can we tell? What is considered spam? How hard should we strike down on them?
In 2023, all politics will be about content moderation, with one question being repeated over and over again: how much freedom are we willing to give up in exchange for increased security? Seeing how many countries veered towards authoritarianism in 2022, it’s likely we’re already seeing the beginning of an answer. Propaganda and total governmental control over media are, in a way, the strongest content moderation possible.
12. Tech makes us feel less alone
With more and more AIs being readily accessible and easily usable, it’s only a matter of time before we use those tools to counteract the loneliness epidemic brought about by social media and other related social technologies.
We’ve already seen start-ups working to use artificial intelligence to re-create the voices and personalities deceased loved ones. It’s only a matter of time before such tools become wide-spread. It may start with Cortana or Alexa-like avatars, but will quickly evolve. For those with no other options, talking to an AI is better than nothing. Whether this is a step in the right direction or not at all remains to be seen… and will heavily depend on the training data used.
13. We witness a training data disaster
Present AIs are trained on man-made datasets. The articles we write, the images we draw, the videos we make… But future AIs may be trained on datasets created by AI, purposefully or not. This would, over time, amplify a thousand-fold any mistakes or unethical behaviour that may have been hidden in the original training “material”.
In 2023, a series of human errors will lead a prominent tech company to release an algorithm trained on artificial data, resulting in a very public disaster. The smart money is on a self-driving car accident, but we’ve heard enough about autonomous weapons to know it could be much worse than a few car crashes.
14. Social platforms start buying data
As non-contaminated data-sets become rarer, they will become more expensive. Meanwhile, it will become harder to trust the information coming out of social media platforms, upon which millions of advertisers rely to make strategic decisions.
This will lead to the creation of a new industry, from which social media platforms will buy training data-sets to train their algorithm. How to spot bot activity may well be the most valuable use case, but many others are sure to emerge. The Zucks, Musks and Spiegels of this world will be forced to invest to bring back trust to their platform, without which they are doomed.
15. Social Media as we know it dies
Whatever means we may use to try to save it, social media as we’ve known it for the past 15 years is dying. We once shared information only with the people we knew, or with whom we had developed para-social bonds. For a brief moment, marginalized groups even had the ability to speak directly to elites. No more.
TikTok and Youtube are at the top of the “social” game, and we now post primarily to reach people we don’t know instead of the people we do. A new era is starting where entertainment and socialisation are finally one and the same, closing a loop we may well have been building for the past 70 years. As you ring in 2023, go ahead and post those fireworks on Instagram if you still feel the urge. It might be the last time you do.
16. TikTok is not banned (unless China invades Taiwan)
Talks of banning TikTok have been around for years now. They’ve heated up again in December, but will likely lead to very little. Firstly, because “Panem et circenses” is more than Latin non-sense: TikTok is now the world’s foremost entertainment company, and banning it would likely lead to a lot of unhappy future voters, who right now are not really bothering anyone.
Secondly, because TikTok is a unique platform, a single-point-of-contact which aggregates billions of data-points from real users. This has immense value for companies and governments alike. Since at this point America is just three corporations in a trenchcoat with a military, not a lot will be done about TikTok as long as its executives play ball (unless China invades Taiwan, which has not been ruled out yet).
17. Everything transforms into OnlyFans
TikTok becoming the biggest social and entertainment platform in the world announces many social issues. One of the least talked about is the fact that TikTok and OnlyFans are quickly becoming interlinked; much more than when Instagram was a key traffic driver to OnlyFans.
TikTok offers a free visual medium and strong content moderation, permitting countless ways to be seductive and suggestive in a riskless way. The cheap dopamine that comes with such behaviour is addictive. Without falling into a self-righteous trap about what social media does to The Children, a conversation needs to be had about the intersection of Uberization, entertainment, monetization, youth, addiction, and alluring dances.
18. We say goodbye ad-supported media
Over the past decades, advertising revenue as a percentage of US GDP has remained soothingly stable. This worked well for newspapers. Then for TV. Then for social media. Now, all these actors are also competing with streamers like Netflix, entertainment apps like Youtube and TikTok, new content producers like Apple and Amazon… And the advertising pie has not gotten bigger. In fact, a recessionary advertising environment means it will probably get smaller in 2023. This is not viable.
In 2023, we will see consolidation and dramatic cuts in valuations for any and all ad-supported businesses (Meta, Google, BuzzFeed…). In the meantime, new business models will emerge to protect existing margins.
19. Augmented Reality makes it big(ger)
AI took 10 years to get as good as it is today. It will take at least another 5 for Augmented Reality to reach the potential we’ve been promised since the early 2010s. But we’re already underestimating the stellar steps forward taken this year alone. Tools like Garment Transfer, for example, allow one to scan someone’s outfit and overlay it onto one’s outfit. Meanwhile, SnapAR afficionados are making mini-games that use strangers as NPCs.
AR software and hardware is not as easily accessible as a keyboard, which is why adoption will take longer. But as computer vision gets cheaper, and as billions are poured into hardware by Meta and Apple, we will progressively start seeing more and more valid use cases emerge.
20. The Metaverse works as Meta employees go back to the office
Meta has been beaten into the ground this year. Too much, in fact. One of the few reasons why the stock has dipped so much is because Mark Zuckerberg has bet the farm on his vision of the Metaverse working.
He’s however done so while allowing many Meta workers to work from home. This is not an effective way to create world-changing products and services. Executives are likely to realize this as the environment turns. Once people meet in-person again at Meta, their remote world will start churning out winning innovations. Ironic, right?
21. Bitcoin falls below $5,000
Crypto has been a fever dream ever since the pandemic started. That may finally be over.
The speculative cheap-money driven buyers have evaporated, leaving only the true believers. Large institutions will wait a few more years before dipping their toes again. Expect another winter throughout 2023, and see you in 2024 for the inevitable rebound.
22. A new FAANG emerges
The king is dead. Long love the king. As Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix (which should have always been Microsoft) and Google work to keep their head above the water, new industries will come back to the forefront after 15 years in Big Tech’s shadows.
As money becomes tight again, we will need to make things again. Which is why the future of FAANG is Fuel, Agriculture, Aerospace, Nuclear, and Green energy. We need big projects to get out of a frankly predictable post-post-WWII slump, and energy is the place to start, as it will power the rest of the decade.
For the past 5 years, the tech world has not delivered anything we wanted, or needed.Just more monitoring, more nudging, more draining of our data, our time, our joy.
In 2023, let us hope that the industry goes back to doing hard, but necessary work. That we invent new tools to help reduce infant mortality, deaths from infectious disease and wealth inequalities between the poorest and wealthiest nations. That great medical advances are made, that education is further democratized, and that green technologies emerges as a long-term force for good. Fingers crossed.
A lot of the above predictions are dystopian. It is nevertheless paramount to remember that technology is both created, implemented, and shaped by all of us, and that we have a very real say in how it affects us. This may be as small as sending a disapproving message to a corporation on Twitter, or as big as voting a politician out of office when they do not have our best interest at heart. Our actions matter, and it’s up to us to ensure that these predictions either do or don’t become a reality.
Good luck out there.