In many ways, 2023 was the first full rebound year since the pandemic. Conferences were packed, event organizers stayed busy and there was no shortage of huge technology breakthroughs and announcements. My organization, RIoT, was busier than ever.
In 2023, more than 3,000 people attended the 70+ workshops and events RIoT produced. We hosted speakers from federal agencies like NASA and multinational technology leaders like SAS, Nordic and Arrow Electronics. We showcased entrepreneurs revolutionizing healthcare technology for women and IoT cybersecurity and local governments implementing the latest smart city advances.
More than a dozen experts joined the RIoT Underground podcast covering how technology is transforming industries spanning wildland firefighting, emergency response, healthcare, energy and agriculture. I attended 15 conferences around the world, including South by Southwest in Austin and Collision in Toronto, and spoke at others including IoT World Congress in Barcelona and 6G World in Washington, DC. RIoT worked with 23 technology startups from the US and Canada and alumni of our accelerator program created 350 new tech sector jobs.
Through the lens of the hundreds of conversations I had last year across three continents with public, private and academic experts, here is my view of the top outcomes of 2023.
General purpose transformers stole the show
Technically, Chat-GPT became publicly available in November 2022, but large language models were unquestionably the top technology story of 2023. The incredible flexibility to apply these tools to numerous use cases has already proven to be impacting every industry. When a technology brings as much excitement and concern to a Hollywood writers strike as it does to university ethics boards and enterprise risk management, you know it is impactful. In 2022, every company claimed to be an AI company. By the end of 2023, anyone not using Generative AI tools was falling behind the competition.
Europe continues to lead the way
The United States continues to politicize every discussion, missing the opportunity to apply even common sense regulation to the tech sector.
Politics has dramatically slowed the deployment of federal broadband funds promised back in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. The serious topics of today, like regulation of AI and cybersecurity have executive orders to “study what to do later” and may be years away from Congressional action. Meanwhile, the EU is standing up to tech giants as an advocate for consumers. Need proof? Going forward, every new iPhone now ships with standard USB-C charging ports, eliminating the proprietary Apple connector that stifled competition.
In 2023, the EU released proactive regulations for AI (Artificial Intelligence Act) and to hold tech companies accountable for illegal content and inappropriate advertising (Digital Services Act). These regulations hold stiff penalties – 6% of tech firm global revenues – to keep big tech in check. Google was fined $8B in the EU in 2023 under legacy regulations. That would bump to >$18B under the new laws.
This kind of leadership to assure technology companies serve basic consumer and public interests needs to expand across the globe.
Social media is losing and at the same time winning
The utter collapse of Twitter, a.k.a X was a huge story in 2023. The cult of personality that is Elon Musk could not get out of his own way, leading to mass exodus from the popular platform. LinkedIn — once a useful enterprise tool — has devolved to a social feed dominated by ads and self-promotion.
While companies continue to invest in social media marketing, the simple fact is that outside of B2C e-commerce businesses, social media continues to under-deliver B2B enterprise value. Yet at the same time, social media usage continues to trend upward, particularly with young people.
Gen Z uses TikTok 10x more than Google for commercially related searches and conducts 74% of searches overall on TikTok. Social-media-as-search wasn’t on anyone’s 2022 bingo card, but it is the future trend. With clear evidence that TikTok is a data collection tool of the Chinese state, it will be interesting to see if the US significantly regulates that particular platform going forward. [Hint – see previous section, the US won’t].
Hype is never enough
Some of the biggest stories of 2022 simply faded away in 2023, once again proving that real market impact must come from solutions that solve problems that customers will be willing to pay for. Perhaps the Metaverse was too early and will rise from the ashes, but for now, people aren’t buying. And the optimists that predicted the end of cars in city centers, with commuters instead riding e-scooters and e-bikes were certainly wrong. And another nail was driven into the coffin of cryptocurrency with the FTX trials. Will we see lessons learned applied such that the reality of market validation measured by real sales replaces the hype economy and insane tech company valuation? I’m doubtful. Expect history to repeat itself.
Next week I’ll offer predictions of the top tech stories and advances that will dominate discussion in 2024 — and which appear just to be hype.