The start of 2022 was almost serene. In January, Elon Musk was known mostly for building cars and rockets. FTX had yet to advertise in a Super Bowl. And the stock market still liked tech companies. How quaint it all felt.
It’s been a turbulent year since, but also one of remarkable progress. Long-promised breakthroughs that seemed impossible have materialized. New technology has made us say “wow” again. And grifts like SPACs and crypto shitcoins have fizzled. Amid the pain, these developments have been encouraging.
As we look back on an eventful year, let’s hand out Big Technology’s second annual awards, expanding on our book awards format from 2021.
Here we go:
Advance of the Year: Generative AI Unleashed
In April, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman posted a Twitter thread of images drawn at his followers’ behest. There was an elephant tea party, a rabbit detective reading a newspaper, a city on Mars, and more. The beautifully composed images were drawn by an AI system — Dall-E 2 — that produces illustrations with just a string of text.
Altman’s thread was the first indication that major breakthroughs in Generative AI were arriving this year. And in recent months, the public’s gained access to AI tools like Dall-E and ChatGPT, which draw and compose text with remarkable originality.
For the first time in recent memory, the year’s biggest tech story is a product development, not a policy debate. And though there are risks, these models' ability to empower humans is creating a vibe comparable to the early smartphone era.
Related Article: OpenAI's New ChatGPT Might Be the First Good Chatbot
Person of the Year: Fed Chair Jay Powell
US Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell waited too long to raise interest rates and curb inflation, and his delay enticed tech companies to spend into an overheated economy. When Powell finally reversed course, he induced a whiplash that led to mass layoffs, sunk valuations and general unrest.
Powell’s rate raises also helped clear a ton of junk out of the tech industry, though you could argue his zero interest rate policy was responsible for that junk. Nevertheless, with interest rates rising, people took less risky bets, leading to the diminishment of SPACS, NFTs and crypto junk that had little value outside of speculation. It also contributed to the fall of FTX.
Powell’s "Person of the Year" status here at Big Technology is similar to how Time Magazine awards its version. It’s not for the best person, per se, just the one most responsible for influencing the year’s events. Powell is that, for better or worse.
Worst Deal of The Year: Elon Musk’s Twitter Acquisition
Elon Musk begged to get out of his Twitter deal for a reason. It was a dud from the moment he signed. And as the market tanked, his $43 billion purchase price became even worse. He’s now saddled with the company and $13 billion in debt that will weigh down his turnaround efforts. Musk’s alienation of advertisers hasn’t helped either. Tesla stock, which trades at a premium due to Musk’s brilliance, is now down 60% on the year.
Musk may still save Twitter, but we won’t have to guess whether he’d go back and rip up the deal — he’s already tried. In the meantime, he’ll have to balance the health of Tesla and SpaceX with the work at Twitter. It’ll be a tough road ahead.
Related Article: Will the Musk Takeover Rescue or Wreck Twitter Marketing?
Podcast of the Year: The Compound And Friends
To understand our turbulent and changing economy, Josh Brown and Michael Batnick have a great, irreverent podcast that was a must-listen this year. The show breaks down complex financial news in a weekly episode that runs about 90 minutes. It’s fun, accessible, filled with useful insights, and its guest selection is great. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
Writer of the Year: Matt Levine
Levine’s published outstanding commentary on Musk’s Twitter deal and FTX’s collapse for Bloomberg. As a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, and a former mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Wachtell, Levine brings a level of depth to these stories that make his column indispensable.
Levine’s body of work in 2022 should put him in the conversation for a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting.
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