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For the tech industry, 2023 was a year of big highs and lows.
On one hand, major tech companies hit record valuations, while the advent of generative AI encouraged a new wave of innovation. On the other, mass layoffs across the industry and concerns about generative AI created uneasiness about tech’s impact on society.
Expect many of these same themes to take center stage in 2024 — AI, VR and autonomous tech to name a few — albeit discussed differently. Regulation and the limits of tech will be important topics, and continued innovation will lead to greater acceptance, and use, of services like generative AI and augmented reality.
The debate on how far generative AI should go will begin in earnest
Last year, we highlighted the rise of generative AI as an emerging trend. AI is, of course, the theme of 2023 in tech. The rise of ChatGPT and its offshoots prompted consumers and regulators alike to imagine how generative AI could transform work and life.
From automations that save people time and effort to its potential to spread misinformation or replace jobs, the nascent technology is already pitting those who would further develop the tech at all costs (or “accelerationists” as some call themselves) versus those who are urging restraint. The recent leadership drama at OpenAI, ChatGPT’s parent company, illustrates just how fervent some of these passions are. Sam Altman’s termination and quick reinstatement at the helm of OpenAI, paired with the billions of venture capital dollars pouring into the space, could be seen as early wins for accelerationists.
At Least Half of U.S. Adults Know of ChatGPT, OpenAI
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But the unstoppable force of tech innovation is running into an immovable object: the government.
The European Union was the first major governance body to introduce legislation that would regulate when, and how, AI could be used. In the United States, comprehensive AI legislation is unlikely, given the fractured state of Congress, but the White House has nevertheless moved forward with executive actions and proposed (voluntary) guidelines to encourage more ethical development of the technology. One related topic to look out for is the early consolidation within the AI market, and how this might fold into continued antitrust actions. OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, is already a dominant force in the space, and its competitors are equally as big (and face their own antitrust woes).
While more oversight of AI applications is likely next year in how they are both deployed and developed, major companies will also roll out more consumer-facing generative AI services that will, in turn, raise the public profile (and potential scrutiny) of these apps. Google has already debuted AI-generated answers for online search queries; Microsoft included its generative AI app “Copilot” in a Windows 11 update; and Amazon recently announced “Q,” an AI chatbot intended for use at work. We should expect generative AI to take a more prominent role when it comes to productivity at work and in the classroom.
The future of transportation is coming
In 2023, San Francisco residents undoubtedly noticed cars with dozens of affixed cameras rolling through the streets but curiously missing a driver. While test cars from Waymo (the autonomous car company owned by Alphabet), Cruise (General Motors), and Zoox (Amazon) have operated with human attendants at the wheel for years, driverless self-driving robotaxis are a recent reality.
In California, Waymo and Cruise were the first companies to charge fares for driverless rides (though the latter ran afoul of regulators and its permits to operate were revoked). Despite some setbacks, these companies will likely roll out their services slowly in more metropolitan areas as the technology advances and lawyers reach agreements with regulators — perhaps in more cities in California, where a regulatory template is being established, or states with less regulation such as Texas.
Millennials Are Driving Interest in Autonomous Vehicle Tech
For Waymo and Cruise, or other potential robotaxi companies like Uber, the early adopter audience is not yet Gen Z, but rather millennials and urban residents who show the most interest in autonomous vehicle tech, according to Morning Consult research. More than half of parents (54%), too, expressed interest in using autonomous vehicles in the near future.
There are many potential benefits to this technology: Compared with ride-hailing, it could be safer, cheaper, more convenient and operate more reliably at odd hours or on holidays. There are many concerns as well. With no human driver, is the ride really safer? And if there is an accident, who’s at fault? Autonomous vehicle technology and robotaxis will continue to develop, and more consumers will form their own judgments once they have greater access to them.
Immersive technologies will become more normalized
One of my favorite stories of the year was the announcement of the “AI pin” — a device by Humane that seeks to upset the traditional smartphone model.
Instead of a brick with a screen in your pocket, the AI pin is worn on the chest. It uses a generative AI assistant to answer voice prompts and has a futuristic laser that projects information onto the palm of a user’s hand. Largely due to its exact selling point, that it doesn’t have a screen and is designed to be less addictive than a traditional smartphone, I don’t expect this product will be very successful; it’s even likely to go the way of Google Glass. But the AI pin harkens back to a not-so-distant past when companies created bold, new hardware products. Today, every phone is the same format and does the same things. This is very different, and that’s worth watching.
While not strictly an augmented reality or virtual reality headset, the AI pin seems to fit into the idea that technology can work more seamlessly by further blending in with the world around us. Other companies are continuing to push the boundaries of augmented reality hardware as well. As Meta continues its mission to popularize the metaverse, it recently released a new (relatively) affordable VR headset, and Apple’s mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, will release early next year. So while 2024 might not be the year we all walk around with these headsets on, these new devices will help further normalize augmented reality.