Tech Layoffs, Outages and the Great AI Race – the January Tech Digest
Infamous for its general blue mood and financial challenges, January can be tricky for many of us. Sadly, the tech industry has also found itself struggling at the start of 2023, with almost 60,000 employees from the biggest names in tech finding themselves redundant.
Away from this, the tech headlines in January were anything but dry. Travelling in America became near impossible following the FAA outage, leaving almost 11,000 flights either delayed or cancelled whilst the entire system was down. Similarly, Britain’s Royal Mail experienced an international standstill after a cyberattack suspended all overseas shipping amidst the threat of having its data leaked.
The explosion of Chat GPT on the scene has resulted in an AI arms race between two of the biggest giants in tech – and with that, I’m giving it 15 years before we’re all “waking up” in The Matrix.
Tech layoffs and the aftermath
Continuing the trend from late 2022, January saw thousands of staff being laid off from some of the biggest companies in tech. Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce are just some of the companies scaling back their workforce. Elon Musk’s infamous companywide email to the staff of Twitter, Inc demanding they commit to working “long hours at high intensity” or leave with little severance from November shows how brutal the FAANG mentality can be.
Yet some are arguing that, in the long run, the slimming down of the FAANG monopoly might not be such a bad thing for tech industry talent. Notorious for their long hours and little to no balance, developers from these companies are right in the middle of the employment battleground experiencing both redundancies and high demand – software engineers were named one of the most sought-after employees for 2022.
FAA outage caused by the oldest code known to man
People flying out of any American airport on the 11th of January experienced a weird fever dream similar to The Terminal. Caused by an FAA software outage, almost 11,000 flights were delayed or cancelled as a result of the IT disaster.
The cause of the incident was less The Terminal and more Jurassic Park, however. Air traffic control officials had noticed the issue late the previous night and resorted to the good ol’ “turning it off and on again” method. They quickly realised that the outage would result in an unprecedented order to halt all aircraft departures nationally. It wasn’t until later that it was found the outage was caused by a damaged database file, rather than a cyber attack. Since then, the US House of Representatives has begun establishing legislation that would update its “Jurassic code” to avoid any future outages, collaborating with the FAA NOTAM system engineers.
Royal Mail systems stamped out by cyberattack
Midway through the month, Royal Mail suffered a cyberattack causing severe disruptions to its international export services, warning customers they could experience ‘minor delays’. Although there was evidence of a data breach, LockBit ransomware confirmed ownership of the attack and that no data would be leaked… until Lockbit changed its mind.
One week into February, the ransomware gang threatened to post “all available data” from the postal giant. Royal Mail has given no official acknowledgement that the attack occurred, but a chief executive said it was believed that no customer data had been stolen.
Weeks on from the attack, delivery systems are slowly crawling back to normality but struggling with the inundated backlog. After the December strike action, ransom attack, and additional strikes due to take place over February, expect delays on the leftover holiday presents from those distant US cousins.
Google VS Microsoft: An AI arms race?
After decades of competition, once again, Google is officially set to go head-to-head Microsoft, this time via AI. Since its launch in November 2022, OpenAI’s Chat GPT has caused chaos across all kinds of fields, with Microsoft closing in a $10 billion investment into the company.
The internet sensation quickly gained traction and has now raised the question, is AI going to take over search engines? Obviously, this method isn’t perfectly polished with its algorithms failing to draw directly from a database of facts. Instead, it generates sentences aimed to statistically resemble those seen in its training data. This means that it pulls words and phrases it has recognised from the Internet, articles and other data sources without regard for the truth. However, Google is still ready for the fight!
‘Bard’ has become the newest rival as Google’s official AI-powered chatbot, due to go live within the next couple of weeks – so keep your eyes peeled! It will be interesting to see where this next venture will go for both companies, and what this means for generative AI in the future.
Overall January has been somewhat of a dreary one, with everyone seeming to have lost their jobs, data, and clothes parcels for a holiday cancelled by a grounded flight. However, that only leaves the opportunity for February to be a huge improvement! So check back next month to see how the technology evolves and our next instalment of the top news in tech stories.
The European Union Artificial Intelligence Act
Artificial Intelligence (AI) - the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines - is having a growing impact on our lives. While the technology has the potential for good, fears have been raised that it presents significant risks to people’s rights and well-being. The European Union (EU) is set to create the world's first broad standards for regulating or banning certain uses of AI. The AI Act will establish a framework for assessing the relative risk of different kinds of AI systems. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the draft by the end of March 2023, with a view to adopting the Act by the end of 2023. The Act will extend to providers and users outside the EU where the output is used in the region. In this webinar AI experts will examine the potential impact of the Act on consumers, businesses and technology vendors. Featuring Matt Kusner, Associate Professor in Machine Learning, University College London and Jane Finlayson-Brown, Partner, Allen & Overy.