These Were Our Favorite Tech Stories From Around the Web in 2023

Every Saturday we post a selection of articles from the week. With 2023 nearing its end, we dug through all those posts again to surface 25 stories worth revisiting. Here you’ll find a deep dive on OpenAI, a look at the coming golden age in medicine, a surprising explanation of Nvidia’s AI success, a stunning snapshot of SpaceX’s orbital dominance, an ode to physical encyclopedias, and some back-of-the-napkin math on Dyson spheres.

Happy reading. See you in 2023.

Does Sam Altman Know What He’s Creating?
Ross Andersen | The Atlantic
i‘We could have gone off and just built this in our building here for five more years,’ [Altman] said, ‘and we would have had something jaw-dropping.’ But the public wouldn’t have been able to prepare for the shock waves that followed, an outcome that he finds ‘deeply unpleasant to imagine.’ Altman believes that people need time to reckon with the idea that we may soon share Earth with a powerful new intelligence, before it remakes everything from work to human relationships. ChatGPT was a way of serving notice.”

Suddenly, It Looks Like We’re in a Golden Age for Medicine
David Wallace-Wells | The New York Times
“Hype springs eternal in medicine, but lately the horizon of new possibility seems almost blindingly bright. …’It’s stunning,’ says the immunologist Barney Graham, the former deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center and a central figure in the development of mRNA vaccines, who has lately been writing about a ‘new era for vaccinology.’ ‘You cannot imagine what you’re going to see over the next 30 years. The pace of advancement is in an exponential phase right now.’i

Humanoid Robots Are Coming of Age
Will Knight | Wired
“Eight years ago, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency organized a painful-to-watch contest that involved robots slowly struggling (and often failing) to perform a series of human tasks, including opening doors, operating power tools, and driving golf carts. …Today the descendants of those hapless robots are a lot more capable and graceful. Several startups are developing humanoids that they claim could, in just a few years, find employment in warehouses and factories.”

The Secret to Nvidia’s AI Success
Samuel K. Moore | IEEE Spectrum
“[Nvidia] has managed to increase the performance of its chips on AI tasks a thousandfold over the past 10 years, it’s raking in money, and it’s reportedly very hard to get your hands on its newest AI-accelerating GPU, the H100. How did Nvidia get here? …Moore’s Law was a surprisingly small part of Nvidia’s magic and new number formats a very large part. Put it all together and you get what Dally called Huang’s Law (for Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang).”

Open Your Mind to Unicorn Meat
Annie Lowrey | The Atlantic
“Is it chicken? It is chicken more than it is anything else. To be specific, it is what happens when you take a chicken’s cells, place them in a vat filled with a slurry of nutrients and amino acids, let them multiply, wash them, chill them, shape them, and cook them. This kind of meat is the future, or at least part of the future. Within the past decade, cultivated meat has gone from science-fictional to hyper-expensive to market-ready, fueled by billions of dollars of start-up spending.”

The End of the Googleverse
Ryan Broderick | The Verge
“Google officially went online…in 1998. It quickly became so inseparable from both the way we use the internet and, eventually, culture itself, that we almost lack the language to describe what Google’s impact over the last 25 years has actually been. It’s like asking a fish to explain what the ocean is. And yet, all around us are signs that the era of ‘peak Google’ is ending or, possibly, already over.”

Next Up for CRISPR: Gene Editing for the Masses?
Jessica Hamzelou | MIT Technology Review
“We know the basics of healthy living by now. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction can help us avoid heart disease—the world’s biggest killer. But what if you could take a vaccine, too? And not a typical vaccine—one shot that would alter your DNA to provide lifelong protection? That vision is not far off, researchers say. Advances in gene editing, and CRISPR technology in particular, may soon make it possible.”

I Just Bought the Only Physical Encyclopedia Still in Print, and I Regret Nothing
Benj Edwards | Ars Technica
“Every morning as I wait for the kids to get ready for school, I pull out a random volume and browse. I’ve refreshed my knowledge on many subjects and enjoy the deliberate stability of the information experience. I feel confident using it as an occasional personal reference as the online world slides further into AI-augmented noise. And it’s definitely more accurate than an AI large language model at the moment.”

What Happens When AI Has Read Everything?
Ross Andersen | The Atlantic
“Artificial intelligence has in recent years proved itself to be a quick study, although it is being educated in a manner that would shame the most brutal headmaster. Locked into airtight Borgesian libraries for months with no bathroom breaks or sleep, AIs are told not to emerge until they’ve finished a self-paced speed course in human culture. On the syllabus: a decent fraction of all the surviving text that we have ever produced.”

Sphere and Loathing in Las Vegas
Charlie Warzel | The Atlantic
“I wanted to be cynical about the Sphere and all it represents—our phones as appendages, screens as a mediated form of experiencing the world. There’s plenty to dislike about the thing—the impersonal flashiness of it all, its $30 tequila sodas, the likely staggering electricity bills. But it is also my solemn duty to report to you that the Sphere slaps, much in the same way that, say, the Super Bowl slaps. It’s gaudy, overly commercialized, and cool as hell: a brand-new, non-pharmaceutical sensory experience.”

SpaceX Broke Its Record for Number of Launches in a Year
Stephen Clark | Ars Technica
“SpaceX is leading the world not just in the number of launches, but also in the total payload mass the company has launched into orbit this year. In the first half of 2023, SpaceX delivered about 447 metric tons of cargo into orbit, roughly 80 percent of all the material launched into orbit worldwide, according to data from the space analytics firm BryceTech. Musk said SpaceX will launch about 90 percent of the world’s total payload mass into orbit next year, based on the company’s launch manifest for 2024.”

CRISPR Crops Are Here
Paolo Pononiere |
“Had it been coined intentionally for the purpose of marketing fresh produce, the acronym CRISPR would have been a stroke of advertising genius. After all, who wouldn’t want their salad to be crisper? But the true genius of this gene-editing technology could be its ability to jump straight to consumer shelves, sidestepping all the controversies that have tripped up its cousin GMO, with which it shares its biotechnological roots.”

Some of the Thorniest Questions About AI Will Be Answered in Court
Ryan Tracy | The Wall Street Journal
“Congress and the White House are talking about regulating artificial intelligence, but courts might well decide some of the most economically significant questions about the booming technology. Since the late 2022 launch of ChatGPT, the viral AI-powered chatbot, a flurry of suits has targeted AI purveyors including OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, and Meta Platforms.”

A Bold Plan to Beam Solar Energy Down From Space
Ramin Skibba | Wired
“Whether you’re covering deserts, ugly parking lots, canals, or even sunny lakes with solar panels, clouds will occasionally get in the way—and every day the sun must set. No problem, says the European Space Agency: Just put the solar arrays in space. The agency recently announced a new exploratory program called Solaris, which aims to figure out if it is technologically and economically feasible to launch solar structures into orbit, use them to harness the sun’s power, and transmit energy to the ground.”

AI Is Dreaming Up Drugs That No One Has Ever Seen. Now We’ve Got to See if They Work.
Will Douglas Heaven | MIT Technology Review
“There are now hundreds of startups exploring the use of machine learning in the pharmaceutical industry, says Nathan Benaich at Air Street Capital, a VC firm that invests in biotech and life sciences companies: ‘Early signs were exciting enough to attract big money.’ Today, on average, it takes more than 10 years and billions of dollars to develop a new drug. The vision is to use AI to make drug discovery faster and cheaper.”

People Are Speaking With ChatGPT for Hours, Bringing 2013’s Her Closer to Reality
Benj Edwards | Ars Technica
“In the film, Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with an AI personality called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and he spends much of the film walking through life, talking to her through wireless earbuds reminiscent of Apple AirPods, which launched in 2016. In reality, ChatGPT isn’t as situationally aware as Samantha was in the film, does not have a long-term memory, and OpenAI has done enough conditioning on ChatGPT to keep conversations from getting too intimate or personal. But that hasn’t stopped people from having long talks with the AI assistant to pass the time anyway.”

Welcome to the Oldest Part of the Metaverse
John-Clark Levin | MIT Technology Review
“Today’s headlines treat the metaverse as a hazy dream yet to be built, but if it’s defined as a network of virtual worlds we can inhabit, its oldest extant corner has been already running for 25 years. It’s a medieval fantasy kingdom created for the online role-playing game Ultima Online—and it has already endured a quarter-century of market competition, economic turmoil, and political strife. So what can this game and its players tell us about creating the virtual worlds of the future?”

Ethereum Moved to Proof of Stake. Why Can’t Bitcoin?
Amy Castor | MIT Technology Review
“A single Bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of energy as a single US household does over the course of nearly a month. But does it have to be that way? The Bitcoin community has historically been fiercely resistant to change, but pressure from regulators and environmentalists fed up with Bitcoin’s massive carbon footprint may force them to rethink that stance.”

Has the 3D Printing Revolution Finally Arrived?
Tim Lewis | The Guardian
i‘What happened 10 years ago, when there was this massive hype, was there was so much nonsense being written: “You’ll print anything with these machines! It’ll take over the world!”’ says Hague. ‘But it’s now becoming a really mature technology, it’s not an emerging technology really any more. It’s widely implemented by the likes of Rolls-Royce and General Electric, and we work with AstraZeneca, GSK, a whole bunch of different people. Printing things at home was never going to happen, but it’s developed into a multibillion-dollar industry.’i

Would Building a Dyson Sphere Be Worth It? We Ran the Numbers.
Paul Sutter | Ars Technica
“What if we decided to build a Dyson sphere around our sun? Could we do it? How much energy would it cost us to rearrange our solar system, and how long would it take to get our investment back? Before we put too much thought into whether humanity is capable of this amazing feat, even theoretically, we should decide if it’s worth the effort. Can we actually achieve a net gain in energy by building a Dyson sphere?”

A New Approach to Computation Reimagines Artificial Intelligence
Anil Ananthaswamy | Quanta
“By imbuing enormous vectors with semantic meaning, we can get machines to reason more abstractly—and efficiently—than before. …This is the starting point for a radically different approach to computation known as hyperdimensional computing. The key is that each piece of information, such as the notion of a car, or its make, model or color, or all of it together, is represented as a single entity: a hyperdimensional vector.”

No, Fusion Energy Won’t Be ‘Limitless’
Gregory Barber | Wired
“…as the physics progresses, some are now beginning to explore the likely practical and economic limits on fusion. The early conclusion is that fusion energy ain’t going to be cheap—certainly not the cheapest source of electricity over the coming decades as more solar and wind come online. But fusion may still find its place, because the grid needs energy in different forms and at different times.”

They Cracked the Code to a Locked USB Drive Worth $235 Million in Bitcoin. Then It Got Weird
Andy Greenberg | Wired
“Stefan Thomas lost the password to an encrypted USB drive holding 7,002 bitcoins. One team of hackers believes they can unlock it—if they can get Thomas to let them. …Thomas had already made a ‘handshake deal’ with two other cracking teams a year earlier, he explained. …’We cracked the IronKey,’ says Nick Fedoroff, Unciphered’s director of operations. ‘Now we have to crack Stefan. This is turning out to be the hardest part.’i

Explore the Ancient Aztec Capital in This Lifelike 3D Rendering
Anna Lagos | Wired
“Digital artist Thomas Kole, originally from Amersfoort, Netherlands, has re-created the capital of the Aztec, or Mexica, empire with so much detail that it looks like a living metropolis. ‘What did the ancient, enormous city built atop a lake look like?’ wondered Kole, as he explored Mexico City on Google Maps. …For a year and a half, he turned to historical and archaeological sources as he sought to bring Tenochtitlán back to life while remaining as faithful as possible to what we know about the city.”

Exactly How Much Life Is on Earth?
Dennis Overbye | The New York Times
“What’s in a number? According to a recent calculation by a team of biologists and geologists, there are more living cells on Earth—a million trillion trillion, or 10^30 in math notation, a 1 followed by 30 zeros—than there are stars in the universe or grains of sand on our planet.”

Image Credit: Robin Canfield / Unsplash

Singularity Hub Staff
Singularity Hub Staff
Singularity Hub chronicles technological progress by highlighting the breakthroughs and issues shaping the future as well as supporting a global community of smart, passionate, action-oriented people who want to change the world.
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