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Uncovering the oddest tech news of 2022

Come on, admit it. This year has been full of strange and unexpected news. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and review some of the most unusual stories Namecheap has covered in the blog this year. 

The kingdom is truly wild

Animal news is always popular. Did you hear about the wacky story about behavioral researchers in Israel who taught a goldfish to drive a motorized fish tank, all in the pursuit of treats? No? You should check it out. Then again, after other news this year, maybe we should leave the driving to the fish. At the end of June, a fleet of self-driving Cruise vehicles caused an hours-long traffic jam in San Francisco. Things only went back to normal when company employees showed up to drive the cars away. 

In other animal-related news, to capitalize on the hot new NFT trend (which oddly seems to have cooled), the World Wildlife Fund UK was inspired to create digital art NFTs called “non-fungible animals” or NFAs. Each NFA had as many versions issued as there were animals left in the wild. Sounds like a great way to raise awareness, but critics pointed out that if the number of animals decreased in the wild, the NFAs would increase in value. Talk about counterproductive!

You’ll pay for that! 

Kids, do you know what your parents are doing? It’s a good question after a man in Messanges, France shut down his entire town’s Internet in his attempts to keep his kids offline. As a result, he faced up to six months in jail and a fine of €30,000. No word on whether his family has let him check Facebook since that day.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to a benefits provider in Amagasaki, Japan who managed to lose a memory stick with the personal details of almost half a million people. After a night out on the town, he passed out in the street, and someone walked away with his USB drive containing people’s names, addresses, birth dates, tax information, and bank details. Can you imagine the conversation he had with his boss the next day?

And while we’re talking about colossal mistakes, how about the case of IT engineer James Howells of Newport, Wales? In 2013 he threw away a hard drive that contained 8000 Bitcoins. Oops. Back then, it wasn’t a big deal, but even with Bitcoin’s wildly-fluctuating value, today, they’re still worth around $136 million now. Howells is trying to get permission to excavate the city landfill, but the City Council isn’t too keen on the idea. (Note to self: book flight to Wales. Pack shovel.)

Robots, robots everywhere

The year 2022 had its fair share of stories about robots and artificial intelligence. And at Namecheap, we love a good robot story. Here are a few of our favorites.

AI-generated art has been all the rage this year, with people flocking to systems like DALL-E and Midjourney to create surrealistic masterpieces. Usually, AI-assisted art is pretty obvious to the untrained eye. However, a piece fooled the judges at the Colorado State Fair, who awarded first prize to ‘Théâtre D’Opéra Spatial’, a computer-generated artwork. What do you think — can we really consider what a computer creates to be art? 

Meanwhile, a team of scientists at Kyoto University is working on teaching a robot to laugh. Yep, you heard that right. These researchers taught a robot, known as Erica, bits of dialogue that would trigger,  in different situations, solo laughter, polite laughter, and mirthful laughter. I’m sure that wouldn’t be creepy at all! 

While a laughing robot is odd enough, what about robot rats? Over at China’s Beijing Institute of Technology, they’re building the “Small-sized Quadruped Robotic rat,” or SQuRo. Because these robots are rat-shaped and rat-sized, with flexible bodies, legs, and tails, SQuRo could help with search and rescue operations or inspect areas otherwise difficult to access. I wonder how hard it is to keep them from eating what the researchers bring for lunch.

Cool tech and other shiny objects

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but spies can now eavesdrop on their enemies with nothing more than a clear line of sight to a reflective or metal object where the conversation is happening. This ability involves new tech that uses optical sensors to capture vibrations from sounds in the room, and then translate those vibrations into speech. It’s enough to keep conspiracy theorists busy for decades to come. Then again, why should any of us worry — we all have Alexa and Siri listening to everything already!

Speaking of sight, a team at the University of California San Diego built a mobile app that will use built-in near-infrared cameras to track changes in pupil size, allowing people to screen themselves for possible neurological conditions. This app may be able to detect conditions from Alzheimer’s to ADHD, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment without all the stigma. This is an idea we can all see eye to eye on for sure!

And finally, in news that warms this geek’s heart, a team of scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California examined two ancient printed books using a powerful X-ray. The documents they examined included a couple of pages from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and the Korean Spring and Autumn Annals, a 580-year-old document. Why do this kind of research? Will it save lives or usher in a new age of technology? Nah, they just want to find out what kind of metal types were used to print the documents and what the ink was made of. If that’s not geeky, I don’t know what is!
If you enjoyed these stories, be sure to subscribe to the Namecheap blog, where my friends publish more tech news stories like this every week!

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