· 7 min read
As the year draws to a close, we’re taking the opportunity to get all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic. It’s time to take a look in the rearview at what happened this year in tech.
We’ve gone through and highlighted some of the most notable tech events of each quarter. Here’s what we came up with.
Meta passes the Reality Labs rubicon. At the start of this year, when Meta revealed Reality Labs’ financials for the first time—and that it had lost $10.2 billion on mixed-reality projects in 2021—it did so with a certain confidence. After all, this was a company that made $118 billion in revenue and nearly $47 billion in operating profit last year. It could afford to burn a bit of cash to bring about the future. But the economic picture in 2022 was never brighter than at the time of that first earnings release, and Meta would go on to observe its first-ever year-over-year decline in revenue just a few months later. Now, the Silicon Valley icon is ending its first full year as a “metaverse” company on the defensive, cutting headcount, reigning in costs, and leaving some shareholders to wonder if its big, futuristic bet is worth making.—DM
Russia invades Ukraine and triggers a global energy crisis. In late February, Russia did what was then still unthinkable to many onlookers: It invaded Ukraine. The reverberations were profound, affecting everything from the global supply of wheat to energy prices. The latter has turned out to be a defining story throughout the year, presenting challenges across nearly every industry but a major opportunity for one: renewable energy. In destabilizing the global energy system—particularly for the Russian natural gas-dependent EU—the war will likely accelerate the deployment of renewables and electrification more broadly, according to the International Energy Agency. In December, the agency increased its five-year forecast for renewable energy deployment by almost 30% compared to last year’s estimate—its largest-ever upward revision—due in large part to the fallout of the war.—DM
VC funding starts to drop. After the record-setting year VCs had in 2021, it really did seem like the VC funding chart could only go up and to the right. But Q1 2022 shattered that exuberant illusion, with investment falling by 13% year over year. And as public markets crashed and exit opportunities dried up, the trend only accelerated: VCs invested 27% less in Q2 and a whopping 53% less in Q3, as recession predictions changed from a matter of “if” to “when.” Funding fell by more than 50% in October, 69% in November, and 2022 is on pace to post a bigger year-over-year decline in VC funding than after the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession. It’s worth noting that there was a tremendous amount of money invested in startups in 2022—and record amounts of dry powder are waiting in the wings—but even still, this year represented a G-force level shift for startups, from “grow, grow, grow” to “hunker down.”—DM
A Google engineer claims that Google’s LaMDA AI model is sentient. It was the claim heard ’round the world—or at least, ’round the tech industry. In June, Blake Lemoine, then a senior software engineer and researcher in Google’s Responsible AI division, went public with his belief that one of Google’s AI models was sentient. LaMDA, short for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications,” is one of Google’s chatbot-building tools, powered by large language models that mimic human language using their training on huge amounts of data. Experts from computer scientists to AI ethicists decried Lemoine’s claim, as did Google itself, and some even called for the retirement of the Turing test. But an even bigger question emerged from public discussions: What kind of real-life harms could come from people ascribing sentience to tech tools that are simply good at learning patterns?—HF
The semiconductor industry gets mixed messages. Just after the president signed his Joe Biden on the CHIPS Act in August, making official $52 billion in subsidies for an industry that had gotten zero in the two decades before, the monthslong chip shortage began morphing into a glut. One analyst told Bloomberg at the time that the coming semiconductor downturn would be “the worst in at least a decade, and possibly two.” The fallout has continued since then, with major players like Intel, Micron, and UMC slashing capex, revenue forecasts, production, and headcount in the back half of 2022. Chipmakers began 2022 flying high on record-breaking expansion; now they’re staring down a potential contraction.—DM
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EV adoption reaches a potential tipping point. Every month of 2022 seemed like a banner month for auto electrification, but research released by BloombergNEF in July crystallized the changing-of-the-guard moment. According to BNEF, the US reached a ”critical tipping point” for mass adoption in H1 2022, when EVs surpassed 5% of new-car sales. The data came in a year that also saw the first deliveries of hyped-up EVs like Ford’s F-150 Lightning and Rivian’s R1S SUVs and companies from Hertz to…Domino’s…jumping on the B2B fleet electrification trend. Meanwhile, automakers raced to build battery supply chains, encouraged the federal government to extend consumer EV tax credits, and found both manufacturing support and challenges in the IRA. And underlining all of this progress in dark, bold ink were laws passed in California, New York, and the European Union to ban the sale of gas-powered cars beginning in 2035—just one of countless factors that could drive global EV sales to more than triple by 2025, per BNEF.—GD
Tech’s golden era of growth sputters out. Fall was a tough season for the tech industry: Meta slashed 13% of its staff, Twitter reduced head count by at least half, Amazon began layoffs that could cut ~10,000 jobs total, and companies from Salesforce to Stripe laid off thousands more, resulting in more than 145,000 tech workers losing their jobs in 2022, per Layoffs.fyi. But layoffs were just part of the picture. From Alphabet to Amazon, tech companies announced plans in the fourth quarter to deprioritize experiments and focus on tried-and-true profit drivers, slow hiring, and “do more with less.” Many tech companies have chalked up their decisions to a market slowdown, a decline in ad spending amid recession fears, and rising energy and material costs. But some experts pointed to another potential reason: Tech companies overexpanded in recent years and were “running much faster than they should have,” as tech analyst Azeem Azhar put it to us.—DM, HF
OpenAI caps off a watershed year for generative AI. Less than a week after OpenAI debuted ChatGPT, its CEO announced that the viral conversational AI model surpassed 1 million users. In many ways, the new internet darling picked up where OpenAI’s GPT-3 left off, but with a more streamlined user experience, better core inference abilities, and, reportedly, a new interaction paradigm. So far, the tool has been used to generate movie scripts, write niche essays, and answer coding questions. But like any powerful tool, it has some dangers: For one, exhibiting harmful biases. ChatGPT is just the most recent in a series of major generative AI tools released this year, from image-generation models like DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney, to video-generation ones like Meta’s Make-A-Video. After years of debate over AI hype, generative AI may represent a new phase for applied AI—and there’s no sign of a slowdown.—HF