May 19, 2024

It was a long year for Silicon Valley, but it may have felt even longer to outsiders, who watched the tech world essentially implode and regroup over the course of 2023 in ways both typical (layoffs, restructurings) and deeply unhinged (everything below).

From the failure of its biggest bank to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s bizarre Vogue spread, regular people this year seemed to get a glimpse into the tech elite that was weirder and more personal than ever.

One note: There’s no Elon Musk on our list, as the tech billionaire’s 2023 antics went far beyond weird and into areas including antisemitism, giving a platform to Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and doing little to address virulently racist, sexist and harassing content on X. That’s not just according to us (and people with eyes). That’s according to multiple media watchdogs — which Musk has, in turn, sued.

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Here, in no particular order, are the CNN tech team’s five favorites.

A chatbot asks a New York Times reporter to leave his wife

The rise of the artificial intelligence chatbot grabbed headlines in 2023, but one of the most visible moments was a highly read and very weird conversation between New York Times reporter Kevin Roose and Microsoft’s Bing chatbot in February.

What was supposed to be a primer on how the tool worked devolved rapidly into a fever dream of robotic hallucinations and an increasingly creepy conversation that culminated in the chatbotwhich called itself Sydney, asking Roose to leave his wife.

The conversation was the first time many readers actually began to wonder, is AI really a good idea for humanity?

Tech conference canceled after faking women speakers

The lack of women in Silicon Valley has been well-documented for decades, but nowhere was it more apparent than on the speaking roster of the DevTernity tech conference, which seemingly had only one (real) woman speaker.

But things got really odd when conference organizer Eduards Sizovs said in a post on X that at least one female profile was “auto-generated, with a random title, random Twitter handle, random picture,” the Associated Press reported, creating a fake speaker profile of a woman, a change that was noticed quickly and eventually led to the shutdown of the entire event.

Amazon Web Services executive Kristine Howard wrote in a post on LinkedIn that the revelation and more apparently fake speaker profiles lead to her decision to drop out, saying, “I found out that I was the only woman on the agenda, and some of the others advertised may not be real.”

Sizovs said in a statement to CNN that he believes the conference was deliberately targeted by opponents looking to shut it down after it launched succesfully in 2015.

“Success, however, can cause discomfort to some,” he said. “Therefore, if the test speaker placeholder hadn’t mistakenly appeared on the production website, those trying to turn down the conference would find another way to achieve their ultimate goal.”

Tech gurus attempt to build utopian city outside Bay Area

The lack of housing in the Bay Area is a constant headline, but it hit a completely out of left field speed bump last spring when news broke that a group of tech billionaires including Marc Andreessen, Reid Hoffman and Laurene Powell Jobs had quietly bought up 55,000 acres at the Bay Area’s edge in a bid to build a utopian city to house their workers and reinvent urban design.

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This came as a surprise to the farmers who had farmed locally for generations and had been wondering why all their neighbors were selling up and sparked an ongoing probe by the federal government concerned about proximity to Travis Air Force Base.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s entire trial was one long, weird revelation

The trial of former crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried was expected to have a few interesting revelations given the scale of the multi-billion-dollar company he’d built.

But no one could have possibly expected forehead-slappers like:

  • FTX’s massive $600,000 tab at Jimmy Buffett theme restaurant Margaritaville
  • a request from SBF’s parents for more than a $200,000 salary, which allegedly resulted in a $10 million cash gift and multiple Bahamanian properties
  • a recounting of various schemes to sway foreign officials with bribes and which at least one witness said involved “Thai prostitutes”
  • the almost immediate flipping of Bankman-Fried’s second-in-command and erstwhile girlfriend Caroline Ellison.

Bankman-Fried was ultimately convicted on seven criminal counts after mere hours of jury deliberation and now faces a maximum sentence of 115 years in prison. You can see CNN’s rundown of the wildest moments in our analysis here.

OpenAI board fires Sam Altman, employees revolt, company rehires Altman, all in a week

Perhaps the freshest weird tech moment in our collective minds is the whirlwind ouster and reinstatement of OpenAI founder and CEO Sam Altman over a five-day saga in November.

From the late-night Friday firing, to two quickly installed and then dethroned interim CEOs, to a letter signed by most of the company demanding Altman come back and Microsoft’s offer to hire both Altman and all disgruntled workers, the minute-by-minute changes in the situation gave watchers plenty of drama and whiplash.

The pure intensity of the coverage and whirlwind of circumstances created a week of OpenAI headlines and news blasts — only for Altman to wind up right back where he’d started.

The debacle left people wondering how a company could handle any scandal that badly and whether that company should be entrusted with building some of the world’s most consequential future technology.

The-CNN-Wire & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

The post 2023 got pretty weird in tech – here are 5 events to remember first appeared on WRAL TechWire.

2023 got pretty weird in tech – here are 5 events to remember first appeared on Web and IT News.

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