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Every year, there are tech doodads and breakthrough inventions that get your attention. On your 2022 “wow” list, you could put the advances in artificial intelligence systems that invent text or images at your command. There was also a holy grail moment for nuclear fusion that showed it might someday be possible to create clean, cheap and nearly limitless energy.
But it’s a big question mark where all this might lead. Maybe the AI language generator ChatGPT will free you from written drudge work. Or maybe it will overwhelm schools with rampant cheating or wipe out jobs. Maybe ChatGPT will do something else great or horrible. Or maybe ChatGPT will die.
I don’t know. You don’t know. And it’s smart to be cautious about trying to predict the unpredictable.
Take the hint from the zillions of times that technologies didn’t (or, at least, didn’t yet) become the world-transforming magic that optimists expected.
A decade ago, many executives working on driverless cars expected they would be commonplace on the roads by now. They’re still many years away from being mainstream. In 2022, cryptocurrencies showed again that they’re not particularly useful other than as things people hope will go up in price. (And last year, crypto prices went down.)
I’m not trying to shame anyone for being bad at fortunetelling. Predictions are often wrong, and new technology tends to take many years to catch on. But even experts have proved so off-base with tech forecasts that we really shouldn’t take them too seriously.
It’s a new year and a new you. So let’s try to have an open mind in 2023 about technology. Don’t be too sure about the promise or the pitfalls or how long it might take for the future to arrive.
You’re going to have lots of opportunities to practice your new resolve.
This year, for example, there will likely be a bunch of hype about a computer for your face reportedly set to be introduced by Apple.
Lots of companies have been developing goggle-type things that push you into virtual reality like the Meta Quest, or into immersive digital mingling like in the “Fortnite” video game. (I hate calling any of this stuff the metaverse, but you can use that term if you want.)
Will Apple’s face computer be the moment when virtual reality and similar technologies start to become something for everyone? Shrug.
Apple’s glasses will probably be expensive and imperfect for a while. And that’s fine, as long as you put it in perspective. No single moment can reliably tell you whether we’ll be wearing computers on our faces, or how that might reshape your life.
This year, there are also likely to be several pivotal court cases in the United States that could alter social media as we know it.
Right now, websites have fairly broad protections from being sued when people post terrible things. Those legal provisions, for example, shield Yelp from being legally responsible if you give a restaurant a savage review, and they insulate Snapchat if a drug sale through the app kills a child.
I don’t know how any of these court cases will turn out, or how potential rulings might affect your experience online — but they are reminders that what you might feel is normal and immutable about your digital life can change.
One lesson from the unpredictability of the future is to pay closer attention to what is working, or not working, with technology in your life right now.
In 2023, you have more ways than ever to stay connected to your loved ones and seek out medical care online. But you also have relatively few protections from companies spying on everything you. You still want to shop online without ruining the planet and figure out when to hold off buying a new smartphone.
You can keep one eye on whatever might be coming next, but you still deserve technology that enriches your life today.
For more: Chris Velazco and Tatum Hunter give you a glimpse of pepper-harvesting robots, face computers and other technologies that you’ll hear about in 2023.
One tiny win
I’d like to remind you repeatedly that Americans pay more for worse internet service than our counterparts in nearly all rich countries.
But here’s a potential money-saving idea for you. Contact your internet service provider and demand a better deal — or else. I’m writing this to force myself to take my advice.
“Calling up and threatening to quit your internet service works. It’s super annoying, I know, but Verizon (for example) applied discounts to 58 percent of the bills people submitted, with an astounding monthly median discount of $40.”— Geoffrey Fowler
(Another tip: You probably don’t need the highest-speed upgrades that your internet company will push on you.)
DoNotPay, which automates tasks like fighting parking tickets, is working on an AI chatbot that can negotiate with the internet company for you. I haven’t tried this use of ChatGPT, so I can’t vouch for it.
Brag about YOUR one tiny win! Tell us about an app, gadget, or tech trick that made your day a little better. We might feature your advice in a future edition of The Tech Friend.
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