Disruptive tech trends set to revolutionize 2023
Mass layoffs at Google, Microsoft, and Spotify? GPT-3 rendering the liberal arts obsolete, economic uncertainty, a brutal imperialist war, and El Niño set to cause terrifying heatwaves? Not even Marshall McLuhan could have foreseen what this year has in store.
2023 promises to be another polycrisis, so how will we respond to more disruption?
We’ve already witnessed AI’s rise this year, with fears it will eliminate white-collar jobs, but that’s not the only story. The next Big Tech battle is taking shape, with Elon Musk facing a fight to build an American super app, with Apple proving to be a powerful adversary.
Apple and Musk know that eyeballs are dollars, and BeReal, the photo-sharing app, is seducing millions of younger users away from Instagram. However, it’s failing to live up to its authenticity promise, which begs the question of whether anything is real on social media in the first place.
Meanwhile, VC funds are looking to extend human life spans with gene editing technology. If they’re successful, their clientele might turn to bio-based materials like seaweed and mushrooms in pursuit of longer, healthier lives.
As we begin 2023, let’s explore some of the most exciting tech stories and what they mean for our lives and careers.
One app to rule them all
Twitter owner Elon Musk has a grand vision for super apps and believes they could revolutionize how US audiences interact with their devices.
If you’ve traveled to China in the past decade, you’ll know about WeChat. On this super app, you can send money, shop, and hail rides on its ubiquitous messaging platform, making it the number one app in China. However, in the West, rival companies offer these services and compete against each other.
According to Musk, the future of mobile apps is one-stop shops within a single platform. “We want to make it so that you don’t have to use a million apps,” he said. “We want to consolidate them into a super app.”
He told his Twitter employees in June 2022 that no equivalent app exists in the US and that matching WeChat’s reach would be “an immense success.”
Musk’s plans for a super app go back to his X.com days, an online payment platform he co-founded in the late 1990s. X.com ultimately evolved into PayPal, which eBay acquired in 2002.
Will Musk create one app to rule them all in 2023? I wouldn’t bet against him, but he must convince people and regulators that they need one.
Musk would need to overcome the US government, the EU, and, most importantly, Apple’s App Store. Creating a super app would require him to acquire rival companies, which would be problematic given that Washington and Brussels favor competition and fragmentation.
The App Store is the closest thing America has to a super-app, with Apple charging a 30% fee for apps and in-app purchases.
Since iOS is the most popular smartphone in the US, the App Store is unlikely to allow a rival operating system on its platform. Musk and Apple have been at loggerheads ever since he bought Twitter and has criticized Apple’s fee for in-app purchases, calling it a “hidden 30% tax” on the Internet.
However, the App Store operates as a gateway for Twitter users. If Musk were to lose access, Twitter would lose access to more than 1.5 billion devices, which given its precarious finances, would threaten its existence.
Twitter is the enfant terrible of the Internet. It talks a lot, but is it big enough to give orders to a rule maker?
Can you be real on BeReal?
BeReal is another mini-app with a big attitude. The photo-sharing app was founded by French entrepreneurs Alexis Barreyat and Kevin Perreau in 2019. It markets itself to Gen Z as the “anti-Instagram,” sending users push notifications to post a two-way photo and selfie at random intervals.
By prompting you to take a front and back camera picture every day within a two-minute time frame — you can only see your friends’ content once you’ve posted yourself — BeReal wants to provide a window for our authentic selves.
Imagine taking a selfie alongside your half-eaten cheeseburger at 7.36 pm or emptying your laundry basket at 9.39 pm.
In the age of individualism, celebrating your cringe is trending as it allows you to get closer to your true self. Embarrassing behavior has become a subversion of the concept of cool itself. Every new generation wants to break free of conformity, and Gen Z is no different.
However, are mundane pictures more natural than an influencer posing opposite the Eiffel Tower at golden hour? Is an unkempt, voyeuristic image worthier than something beautifully framed?
BeReal is simply a different way of expressing yourself, so its authenticity pitch is spurious at best. You can always ignore their push notifications or change your actions if it’s too embarrassing.
Therefore, it’s a performative act with an ironic pretense. Even your cringeworthy moments are for show.
Whether you use BeReal or Instagram for photo sharing, you’ll always be conscious of your audience when publishing on social media, so there’s nothing phony about using a pretty filter.
It will be interesting to see where BeReal goes this year as it will need to monetize, and ads mean conformity with existing apps. If nothing else, it’s given us a new perspective on selfies and how younger generations are journaling their lives.
Centenarians are unlikely to spend their sunset years on BeReal, but an elite few now want to reverse the aging process entirely. Scientists believe they’re closer than ever to improving the human body so we can live significantly longer.
Humans have long dreamt about extending their natural lifespans, and this age-old pursuit is gaining momentum.
Imagine a world where your Tinder age was indeed just a number and where centenarians are no longer a frail novelty but agile and healthy, maybe even still working. Such a world is not so far away. Tech companies with advanced AI tools and the ability to manipulate genetics now consider death a technical problem, not an inevitability.
The prize for helping net-worth individuals to live longer, healthier lives could be enormous — age-defying consumers would be a lucrative new market.
VC funds like Apollo Health Ventures and Life Extension Ventures have raised over $280 million to invest in longevity companies. Saudi Arabia said in 2022 that it would spend $1 billion a year on anti-aging research.
Altos Labs, a longevity startup funded by Jeff Bezos and supported by Nobel Prize-winning co-inventor of gene-editing tool CRISPR Jennifer Doudna, closed a $3 billion funding deal in early 2022.
The company claims it can help reverse disease through “cellular rejuvenation programming” — a hacking process that interrupts mechanisms associated with aging and tricks our cells into re-entering a youthful, riper state.
Unfortunately, mere mortals who pay taxes are unlikely to benefit from gene editing at the hospital. Age is rarely kind to anyone, and while researching this topic, I came across some incredible stories of people searching the Internet for voice notes of deceased loved ones.
Voice synthesizing technology will soon mimic our friends and family members — even when they’re no longer around to speak. It reminded me of Black Mirror’s “Be Right Back,” where a bereaved woman signs up for a radical new service that uses her dead lover’s public information to create a surrogate AI with terrifying results.
In theory, you could have an AI-style platform ask an elderly relative a million questions so that when they die, you can ask:
Alexa, what would Grandpa do if the lawnmower breaks?
Cue your grandfather’s voice that shares a life lesson and keeps his memory alive until the battery runs out.
While death will not be reversed anytime soon, even for the wealthy, with voice synthesizers, it’s clear that the dream of immortality will never die.
Bio-based materials are booming
Since age reprogramming is unlikely to be on your health insurance plan, we all need to eat better to live healthier lives. Hence the growing demand for bio-based materials to replace animal products with natural ingredients derived from plants, fungi, and bacteria.
Seaweed is a popular bio-based material gaining traction in the food industry. It’s a nutrient-rich source of vitamins and minerals packed with dietary fiber and can be used to make versatile dishes, from sushi to salads to smoothies.
Scottish “seaweed-preneurs” Oceanarium are leading the bio-boom race, developing a fiber-rich one-for-one methylcellulose replacement for plant-based meat, which provides attractive gelling properties that enhance juiciness and holds burgers together as they cook.
Mushrooms are another material whetting appetites, given that they are protein-rich and have a meaty texture.
German startup Mushlabs uses bio-products to ferment edible fungi mycelium, the root-like structure attached to mushrooms, which will help source sustainable dishes that appeal to carnivores and vegans alike.
With bio-based materials offering nutritional and environmental benefits, you can expect more mushroom and seaweed-sourced products in supermarkets this year.
If that happens, we might all live long enough to see an American super app with photo-sharing capabilities.
Congratulations if you’ve got this far down. The average “scroll depth” of a reader finishing a 1500-word article is around 20-30%. Well, that’s according to my evolutionary successor GPT-3🤖
So if you want to talk about Musk’s super app plan, BeReal, cheating death, or seaweed burgers, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll guarantee that a human will respond.