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From the editor's desk: What’s staying, what’s going

February 2024 News

It’s still early in the year and there’s no shortage of predictions on what will happen in 2024. It looks like the breakthrough trends from 2023 will continue. We know that generative AI is the big one, the genie is out of the bottle, and we’ll continue to be bombarded with speculation and exaggeration. So I thought I would look at some technologies that didn’t make it past the hype, or failed spectacularly. Here are some examples from MIT Technology Review where reality didn’t live up to expectations, in spite of attracting huge interest in the media.


Kim Roberts, Editor

Worst technology failures of 2023

The catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible holds some lessons. The sub’s creator, aerospace engineer Stockton Rush ignored good engineering in favour of wishful thinking. The spirit of innovation can get ahead of reality, sometimes with nasty consequences. The Titan was a radical design for a deep-sea submersible. A kombi-sized carbon fibre tube operated with a joystick was meant to open deep sea to a new kind of tourism.

The idea of solar geoengineering is to cool the planet by releasing reflective materials into the atmosphere; but it won’t stop the greenhouse effect, only mask it. Injecting particles into the sky is theoretically cheap and easy. Mexico banned geoengineering trials after a startup called Make Sunsets wanted to launch balloons to disperse reflective sulphur dioxide into the sky. The startup is still selling ‘cooling credits’ for $10 each on its website.

We covered this one before but, it’s a good example. A superconductor operating at room temperature is the holy grail. It’s a material offering no electrical resistance. If it existed, it would make new types of batteries and powerful quantum computers possible, and bring nuclear fusion closer to reality. So when a research report from Korea claimed that a substance called LK-99 was the answer, the internet was waiting. An online video of a bit of material floating above a magnet went viral. Well-funded startups dropped their work on rockets and biotech to try to make LK-99. It was going to be the biggest physics discovery in decades and would change our lives. But the dreams soon faded when real physicists couldn’t replicate the work. LK-99 is not a superconductor. Impurities in the materials could have misled the Korean researchers, and thanks to social media, the rest of us too.

GM’s Cruise division put its robotaxis into circulation before they were ready. Just after Tesla did a massive software recall when cars in self-driving mode slammed into emergency vehicles, Cruise’s ensor-laden Chevy Bolts started having mishaps, including dragging a pedestrian for three metres. Cruise had previously claimed that robotaxis don’t get tired, don’t get drunk, and don’t get distracted. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has now suspended the robotaxis, citing an “unreasonable risk to public safety”. I’m glad they won’t be here for a while. People are realising the complexity of unsupervised autonomous driving, especially in interactions with road users.

What won’t happen in 2024?

According to ABI Research, several other highly anticipated advancements will not happen in 2024. These are a couple that didn’t actually fail, but they didn’t manage to gain any traction.

5G will fail to attract enterprise interest − again. Companies are much more interested in usable case studies and outcomes than in the name of the connectivity technology; and the over-promoted metaverse will be on the back burner, although industries will invest in some applications that have real returns and measurable benefits.

What will happen

Many things will happen in 2024, but the big one is that genenerative AI will go mainstream. This will be the year that the world gets to grips with how powerful and useful it can be. One of the wilder new developments is NewsGPT. Shortly after launching the first 24/7 AI-generated news channel, the innovations team at NewsGPT.ai has unveiled an even more audacious offering, the world’s first news forecast.

Sustainable technology will also be an issue as countries and companies work to meet net-zero commitments. This will involve new solutions for carbon capture and storage, recyclability, super-efficient solar cells, and especially green hydrogen, which is expected to play a critical role in the energy transition.

Cyber resilience is also going to be increasingly important. There will be new applications in quantum computing, which we recently covered, and we will especially see the adoption of post-quantum cryptography to make cryptographic systems secure against quantum and classical computers.

The only constant in technology is change, and I’m looking forward to finding out what’s next.


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