It’s been a bizarre year for the global tech industry. When 2022 kicked off, the industry was coming out a pandemic induced high. For two years, Silicon Valley giants enjoyed unprecedented growth thanks to lockdowns confining huge swaths of the global population to their homes.
Social restrictions meant people shopped more online, order food via apps and bought devices to build functional home offices while they rode out the coronavirus. Tech sales shot through the roof. So did tech shares. In 2021, Apple became the world’s first $3tn company while Meta and Tesla’s valuations both passed the $1tn mark.
A decade of low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve also contributed to the tech industry’s success. These stable rates were designed and succeeded in driving more investment over a 10-year period. As a result, a whole generation of startup founders emerged who’d never endured the cold winds of a bear market.
To them, it seemed that the roaring 20s had seemingly returned. Tech titans bet that the good times would keep on going and invested accordingly. New staff was hired and data centres were being built.
Then 2022 kicked off in full. Demand plummeted as a mixture of geopolitical tensions, energy shortages, weak consumer spending and the pandemic aftermath caused a recession. The Federal Reserve started to raise interest rates in response. Other central banks around the world soon followed.
The volatility of global markets motivated investors to tighten their purse-strings. In 2019, the global tech industry raised $767.9bn across 20,000 capital raises, according to data from analysis and research firm GlobalData. Those figures jumped to $1.28tn and 20,480 deals in 2020. In 2021, they increased again to $1.49tn across 26,247 deals in 2021. In 2022, however, the industry only raised $644.5bn across 20,975 deals.
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Funding drying up alongside customers growing reluctant to spend their money in a cost of living crisis caused companies to collapse as a result. Although, some firms, like crypto exchange FTX imploded because of a combination of a liquidity crisis and fraud allegations.
If the macro picture wasn't chaotic enough, there have also been swathes of truly bizarre events happening across the tech industry. These have ranged from the truly insane to ridiculous.
So, to kick 2023 off, why won't we revisit some of them?
Alt-right dating app The Right Stuff's bizarre announcement video
To help the lovelorn members of the MAGA crowd, a group of conservatives set up the controversial dating app The Right Stuff in 2022.
The Peter Thiel-backed company is another example in a growing wave of right-wing tech companies designed to emulate more mainstream platforms. Ousted US president Donald Trump's social network TRUTH is another example of a right-wing app.
The Right Stuff first hit the news in January 2022 following a $1.5m seed round from Thiel. At the time, John McEntee, the former Trump political aide behind the company, said The Right Stuff aimed to launch in the summer. That timeline shifted in the following months.
In August, the company unveiled a bizarre video to announce the launch of the app. Ryann McEnany, the younger sister of former Trump White House secretary Kayleigh McEnany, starred in the video and said that The Right Stuff would launch in September.
Over the course of two minutes, McEnany explained that the app is invite-only and free to use, at least for men wanting the basic package. Women, however, got a premium account, free of charge.
McAnany's delivery and the app itself were ridiculed within moments of the video hitting the wire.
“The normal dating apps thank you for removing this gene pool from their apps,” one Twitter user said.
“SNL could just copy and paste this with literally no edits,” another user commented.
A third user simply stated: “The Reich Stuff.”
One viewer noted that picture where McEnany was standing next to Trump.
“I’m confused why this ad features a photograph of an accused rapist and court-certified adulterer,” one Twitter user said. “Does that represent [the kind] of community you’re trying to build?”
The platform was also criticised for perceived transphobia as it only allowed users to chose between two genders: men and female.
Meta's chatbot bashed Mark Zuckerberg
AI-powered chatbots have been a problem for a long time. As we've reported in the past, they have a tendency to become racist and spread conspiracy theories if they are trained on biased and faulty data.
That was the case when Microsoft unveiled its Twitter chatbot Tay in 2016, which began to spew out deplorable opinions such as denying the holocaust within 16 hours. Microsoft pulled the plug soon thereafter.
So it shouldn't have surprised anyone that history repeated itself this year when Meta unleashed its own chatbot, Blender Bot 3.
The chatbot was a new prototype in Meta's series of Blender Bots. As we reported in August, It used the Menlo Park-headquartered company’s conversational artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The Meta chatbot was meant to be able to converse on most topics by scraping the internet for content and information. It was also supposed to learn from its conversations.
While Meta itself touted the chatbot’s ability of “combining conversational skills – like personality, empathy and knowledge – [and] incorporating long-term memory and searching the internet to carry out meaningful conversations,” things didn't go the company’s way.
When chatting with users, Blender Bot 3 said its life had become "so much better" after deleting Facebook, urged people to stop trusting Meta's commitment to data privacy and saying that while CEO Mark Zuckerberg was a "good businessman", his "business practices are not always ethical."
The chatbot also maintained that Trump was still president and Mashable’s Christianna Silva also said the Meta chatbot has spread “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”.
Meta commented in a statement: “While it is painful to see some of these offensive responses, public demos like this are important for building truly robust conversational AI systems and bridging the clear gap that exists today before such systems can be productionised.”
Matt Hancock entered the metaverse
Before he noshed on camel penises and cow anuses on national TV, Matt Hancock was predominantly known as the disgraced former UK health secretary who'd resigned after a video leaked of him breaking his own social distancing rules by snogging an aide.
However, in between his return to the backbenches and him losing the whip after appearing on I'm a celebrity... Get me out of here, Hancock was also responsible for one of the most bizarre tech moments this year. This summer, Hancock entered the metaverse – and it was horrific.
His avatar was unveiled in connection to a speech he delivered about his vision for the metaverse. The event was hosted by Shift, the collaboration platform created by Whitespace. Hancock referred to the metaverse as an “important and exciting” new technology.
The avatar, which sported a more generous hairline than it's real-life counterpart, was universally panned online. Some noted that the avatar had a t-shirt on with the word "Shift" written on it, prompting some netizens to ponder whether Hancock was familiar with the salacious Irish meaning of the word.
One user asked: "You can be literally anything you want in the metaverse, so why on earth would Matt Hancock still choose to be Matt Hancock?"
The Hancock's office later denied that they had signed off on the avatar, saying that the picture was supposed to be a random man. His press aides then backtracked again, saying that one of them had signed it off, but that Hancock hadn't.
This was not Hancock's first foray into the world of technology. He'd previously appeared on the Diary of a CEO podcast and urged Parliament to make the UK a hot bed for cryptocurrency and metaverse innovation.
However, given that his previous tech projects include a social media app accused of having daunting privacy issues, and the abandoned track and trace app that set UK tax payers back £12m before the project was scrapped, one may wonder how big the pinch of salt one should take whenever Hancock endorses a technology.
The EU's failed metaverse party
The metaverse has provided a fair share of cringe moments over the past year. Unsurprisingly a fair share of them have found their way into this list.
And it's not just the tech industry itself that has been behind some of these bizarre moments. For instance, in November 2022, The European Commission's foreign aid department organised a virtual party.
However, when reporters logged into the November 29 gala at the advertised time, they only encountered "around half a dozen users." A video of the hauntingly empty party soon spread like wildfire across the web.
For a metaverse platform that had been created to the tune of €387,000, it hardly seemed like a lot bang for EU taxpayers' buck.
The platform was part of a broader communications campaign to promote the commission’s Global Gateway investment strategy outside the EU.
The European Commission later defended the party, claiming roughly 300 visitor attended the event, which started an hour earlier than the publicly advertised time, Devex reported.
Donald Trump released an NFT collection
Former US president Trump has a long history of peddling questionable goods, whether that may be his casinos, mortgage companies or Trump Steakhouses, which closed down in in 2012 for 51 health code violations, including serving a five-month old duck.
Following his defenestration from the White House, the former commander in chief has kept himself busy.
When he's not been peddling the conspiracy theories, Trump has backed several Republican candidates who ended up losing their midterm elections, and plugged his social media platform TRUTH, which he set up after he was kicked off from almost every other platform following his alleged fomenting of the Capitol Hill insurrection in 2021.
Speaking of which, the January 6 Committee referred the former president to the justice department to face criminal charges in the lead-up to Christmas 2022.
However, the reason why he made the list of bizarre tech moments of 2022 was his foray into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFT).
In late December 2022, Trump released a highly memeworthy NFT collection. It featured an absurd array of images. They included cartoon-style remimaginations of the ousted president as a muscular superhero, a race car driver, an astronaut and a heavily armoured safari hunter.
The pictures were an echo of the self-indulgent machismo you'd expect from Vladimir Putin's old horse-riding photos, but without the actual real-life physique to back it up.
The collection included 45,000 digital trading cards. MAGA devotees could buy a trading card for a cool $99 – and they did. Despite the NFT collection being wildly mocked, including a skit on Saturday Night Live, it apparently enticed a lot of people to fork out dosh for the collectibles. The collection sold out within less than a day, netting the former president roughly $4.5m.
However, before popping the champagne at a the Mar-a-Lago, Trump may want to reply to accusations levied against him of using copyrighted material.
Eagle-eyed Twitter user have spotted some uncomfortable similarities between the NFT collection and a number of stock photos, small apparel business websites, or even clothing available on Amazon and Walmart, Benzinga reported.
Mark Zuckerberg's bizarre Eiffel Tower selfie
Zuckerberg possesses a propensity for seemingly posting particularly preposterous posts painfully unaware of how bad they make him look.
His presentations about the metaverse have been panned for their wooden delivery and their graphics. Everyone seems to have taken the opportunity to take the Zuck down a peg, including Iceland – the nation, not supermarket.
It didn't help that Zuckerberg has kept pumping out pictures from the new digital world he's building, often with graphics that remind people of old video game consoles.
One of those pictures was particularly panned by netziens. Zuckerberg posted the picture in question on Facebook in August to celebrate the launch of Horizon Worlds in France and Spain. The platform had been launched in North America in 2021 and in the UK earlier this summer.
The picture was a digital selfie of Zuckerberg's avatar, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. The photo encited sneers, jeers and sighs from quick-quipped members of the Twitterati who ridiculed it for Zuckerberg's childlike appearance and the overall awful low-res quality of the graphics.
It seems like the Meta CEO heard the taunts. A few days later he put up new post where he promised that the metaverse wouldn't be as cringy as his previous posts may have suggested.
“Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic – it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch,” the executive said in an Instagram post. He also shared pictures of how the updated avatars would look like.
Elon Musk lost his own poll on whether he should keep leading Twitter
Saying that Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter has been chaotic feels like a euphemism. After months of back and forth, legal threats and public stunts, the Tesla CEO seemingly reluctantly decided to honour his promise and bought Twitter for $44bn in October.
Critics worrying about what his takeover would mean for the platform soon saw many of their fears become a reality. First, Musk purged the company of half of its workforce, including workers tasked with tracking hate speech and dealing with policies.
Then Musk announced that he would reinstate Trump's account after 51.6% of users voted in a Twitter poll for him to do so. The former president, however, seems reluctant to return to the blue bird and would rather spend his time on TRUTH.
The banned POTUS isn't the only one hesitant to build his presence on Twitter. People have started to move away from the platform and looking at alternative social media services, such as Mastodon and Tumblr. However, the escape from the blue bird is just getting started.
More than 30 million users are expected to leave Twitter over the next 24 months, according to forecasts from Insider Intelligence. The research agency estimated that the he number of global monthly users will fall by nearly 4% in 2023 and 5% in 2024. The researchers believed the stampede away from Twitter will be fuelled by technical issues in the site and the proliferation of hate speech.
Following the controversies, Musk held a new poll on December 18, asking the social media platform's users if he should step down. Of the more than 17.5 million people who voted, 57.5% said that they'd like him to step down.
Despite over 10 million users voting for him to step down and his own promise to "abide by the results of this poll", Musk seemingly backtracked on his word a few days later, saying that only paid Twitter Blue subscribers should be able to vote in future policy-related polls.
Following the vote, Musk has said that the is stepping down as chief twit, but so far it's unclear who will replace him.
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