The Download: worst tech of 2022, and crypto’s future

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

The worst technology of 2022

We’re back with our latest list of the worst technologies of the year. Think of these as anti-breakthroughs, the sort of mishaps, misuses, miscues, and bad ideas that lead to technology failure. One theme that emerges from our disaster list is how badly policy—the rules, processes, institutions, and ideals that govern technology’s use—can let us down.

China’s zero covid measures came to an abrupt and unexpected end. On Twitter, Elon Musk intentionally destroyed the site’s governing policies, replacing them with a puckish and arbitrary mix of free speech, personal vendettas, and appeals to the right wing. In the US, policy failures were evident in the highest levels of overdose deaths ever recorded, many of them due to a 60-year-old chemical compound: fentanyl.

In each of these messes, there are important lessons about why technology fails. Read the full story.

—Antonio Regalado

What’s next for crypto in 2023

Last month’s sudden implosion of the popular cryptocurrency exchange FTX has intensified a political war for the soul of crypto that was already raging.

There are two prominent sides. A vocal crowd of crypto skeptics, including prominent politicians and regulators, wants to rein in an industry it sees as overrun with fraud and harmful to consumers. On the other hand, there are the champions of “decentralization,” who argue that cryptocurrency networks are vital to the future of privacy and financial freedom, and worry that misguided attempts at regulation could imperil freedoms.

In the coming year, we are likely to see that fight come to a head in US courtrooms and in Congress. The future of finance hangs in the balance. Read the full story.

—Mike Orcutt

Why it’s so hard to tell porn spam from Chinese state bots

A few weeks ago, at the peak of China’s protests against stringent zero-covid policies, people were shocked to find that searching for major Chinese cities on Twitter led to an endless stream of ads for hookup or escort services in Chinese. 

At the time, people suspected this was a tactic deployed by the Chinese government to poison the search results, but a new report by the Stanford Internet Observatory has cast doubt over its involvement. Instead, the spam was likely to be the handiwork of the same old commercial spam bots that have plagued Twitter forever. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, our weekly newsletter covering all things China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk says he will step down as Twitter’s CEO
As soon as he can find someone “foolish enough to take the job.” (The Guardian)
+ He maintains he’ll retain control of the software and servers teams. (WP $) 
+ Musk appears to be coasting on vibes at this point. (FT $)
+ Twitter has settled with an executive who was shut out of her IT systems. (Bloomberg $) 
+ Journalists that Musk banned and reinstated are still being silenced. (The Intercept)

2 One of the largest crypto mining firms in the US is going bust
Core Scientific is the industry’s latest victim after racking up too much debt. (CNBC)
+ Crypto miners and traders in Asia are selling off their expensive equipment. (Rest of World)

3The US is playing whack-a-mole with China’s chipmakers 
American export sanctions are coming thick and fast to try and thwart new chip projects. (FT $) 

4 The problem with trying to ban TikTok
The company has become a bogeyman for Big Tech in Washington. (Vox

5 Optical computing’s future is looking bright 
After decades of sluggish development, progress is finally being made. (Economist $)

6 Inside the implosion of music event startup Pollen
Drugs, sexual harassment allegations, and reckless spending all played a part. (Insider $)

7 Fake news is getting faker
But there’s still time to curb the most dangerous deepfake scenarios. (The Atlantic $)
+ People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones. (MIT Technology Review)

8 NASA’s Insight Mars spacecraft has signed off
The lander is losing solar power after four years of relaying information back to Earth. (NPR)
+ The UK’s first space launch has been granted a license. (Engadget)

9 The joy of Reddit
Now that Google search results are increasingly less useful, Reddit is a rich hub of incredibly specific information. (New Yorker $)

10 How billionaires threaten our security
Capitalism isn’t always good for code. (Wired $)
+ 2022 has been a bad year for billionaire reputations overall. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“Streaming has made music too smooth and painless. Everything’s too easy. Just one stroke of the ring finger, middle finger, one little click, that’s all it takes.” 

—Legendary musician Bob Dylan bemoans the convenience of music streaming platforms to the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

The code must go on: An Afghan coding bootcamp becomes a lifeline under Taliban rule

December 2021

Four months after the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, 22-year-old Asad Asadullah had settled into a new routine. In his hometown in Afghanistan’s northern Samangan province, the former computer science student started and ended each day glued to his laptop screen.

Since late October, Asadullah had been participating in a virtual coding bootcamp organized by CodeWeekend, a volunteer-run community of Afghan tech enthusiasts, with content donated by Scrimba, a Norwegian company that offers online programming workshops. 

Asadullah is one of the millions of young Afghans whose lives, and plans for the future, were turned upside down when the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan in August 2020. In such dire circumstances, a coding bootcamp may seem out of place. But for its participants, it offers hope of a better future. Read the full story.

—Eileen Guo

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ This cartoon cake is truly outstanding.
+ A decade after he went viral, the Ikea monkey is living his best life in Ontario.
+ Here’s how your role in your childhood nativity sets you up for later life.
+ Why Barbie’s Dreamhouse is an enduring design icon.
+ Take a look at how New Yorkers braved the winter blizzard of 1956.

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