Submarine Titan during an expedition in the ocean (Reuters)

The tech industry has not lacked catastrophic failures over the decades, but in 2023 unbridled ambition and the pursuit of wealth has crossed the boundaries of wisdom and safety in many technology sectors, so it's right to remember the worst failures in this area throughout the year that a large number of people and companies probably want to forget.

The submarine Titan. Lessons from the ocean floor

On the morning of Sunday, June 18, 2023, the submarine Titan began what is supposed to be an "expedition" of the wreck of the Titanic in the St. John's area at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, specifically from the coast of the province of Newfoundland, Canada, accompanied by a support ship with 5 people inside, whose journey began full of enthusiasm and adventurousness, but it soon turned after less than two hours into a major operation to search for and rescue them and then to a mission to find what remains of them in the depths of the ocean, apparently More than 110 years later, the curse of the Titanic only befell the five passengers.

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The submarine, operated by U.S.-based Oceangate, is designed to be the smallest, fastest and least expensive offshore exploration operation and is theoretically capable of diving with an oxygen reserve of up to 96 hours straight, a stock that far exceeds the 8-hour journey time on the site of the Titanic wreckage, so its loss raises questions about how accurate it is.

Many hypotheses talked about a catastrophic internal explosion that led to the death of all the crew of the submarine, which is supposed to be equipped for the scheduled voyage in the depths of the ocean, and experts attributed it to the huge water pressure that exists at the depth where the wreck of the Titanic lives, and it is not known exactly how deep the submarine is at the moment of its explosion except for the time of losing contact with it before the end of its voyage, knowing that the wreck of the Titanic is located at a depth of 4000 meters.

This incident brought to mind some of the details of the Titanic movie and the reason for its sinking after the ship's captain insisted on going ahead with sailing and ignoring warnings, and this is what Stoktosh Rush, the executive director of the manufacturer of this submarine, who was also one of the passengers of the submarine, and he is the type of innovator who has a philosophy of breaking familiar rules, and who dreamed of it, and thought that this strategy could work even in the deep sea.

At that time, and the days that followed, it became clear that much of the disaster could have been prevented. In 2018, a letter sent directly to Rush by dozens of industry leaders and experts expressed concern about the submarine's lack of official safety certification, and warned that the consequences could be "catastrophic," a word the U.S. Coast Guard ultimately used to describe the submarine's explosion.

Oceangate chose to build the submarine's hull with a combination of carbon fiber and titanium instead of pure titanium. In 2017, Rush told TechCrunch that "everyone said you can't build with carbon fiber," but using a more buoyancy material has drastically reduced costs.

"I've broken some rules to make this..."

Confidence inducing stuff from #titan CEO #Titanic

— John Holowesko (@jholowesko) June 21, 2023

Rush's arrogance painted a picture of a CEO bent on going beyond the limits of the Titan despite pleas from experts who said the ship was not ready to explore the deep sea, and previous passengers had previously reported worrying experiences inside Titan.

It also turned out that far from the appeal of visiting the Titanic, Rush had deeper ambitions to explore for oil and gas on the seabed, and exploring the Titanic was just a way to attract people to invest.

Overall, the absence of safety certificates ignored warnings from friends and colleagues alike, and a general lack of common sense in the pursuit of more wealth, making the submarine's collapse one of the worst technological failures of the year.

Super connectors. Misleading claim

"A real potential solution to the energy crisis could change everything." That's how the headlines described a rock-like material no larger than a small piece of glass, dubbed LK99 by researchers in South Korea and said they had made "for the first time in the world" a superconductor that operates at room temperature and daily normal pressure.

The dramatic events about LK99 began in late July 2023, when the Korean research team published two papers on ArCave, in which researchers submit unpublished work that has not yet been peer-reviewed, and said that LK99 was superconducting once placed on the tabletop.

Perhaps the most obvious evidence of the superconductor is a video taken by the South Korean team, which showed a coin-shaped sample of silver material swaying over a magnet. The researchers said the sample was rising because of the "Meisner effect," the hallmark of superconductivity in which matter expels magnetic fields.

In its simplest sense, a superconductor, a compound of copper, lead, phosphorus, and oxygen, is described as any material that can conduct electric current without any resistance, meaning no energy is lost through heat. Superconductors have been known for more than 100 years, but all previously confirmed ones only operate at extremely low temperatures or under very high pressures.

However, when providing results about the fact of LK99, online researchers were willing to share them, and a large number of specialists and scientists jumped to work in a frantic public experiment at the internet level, after which they circulated multiple unverified videos on social media about the rise of LK99, but none of the researchers - who initially tried to replicate the results - noticed any Altitude.

The New York Times science and technology editor Kenneth Chang called the LK99 the "superconductor of summer," but summer dreams quickly shattered after weeks of speculation and frantic attempts around the world to make and test the new material, after which many experts in the usually mysterious field of solid state physics confirmed that these claims were false, and that the results of the research indicate that they were useless.

There was another reason for doubt from the start: South Korean scientists (Sokbae Lee and Ji-hoon Kim of the Quantum Energy Research Center, a startup in Seoul) had no track record in the field, and the LK99 (named after them and the year they began their study) had little resemblance to the high-temperature superconductors seen in the past.

There is now widespread consensus that the clear signs of the superconductor reported by the Korean team — zero resistance and the magnetic phenomenon called the "Meisner effect" — may have other explanations, including that impurities in the material, especially copper sulfide, are responsible for the sharp drop in its electrical resistance and partial buoyancy display above the magnet, properties similar to those exhibited by superconductors.

The supposed wonder material seems to have misled Korean researchers, and many thanks to social media, and this serves as a reminder that not everything promoted on social media corresponds to reality, but even if the LK99 road is deadlocked, the search for a superconducting material under daily conditions will continue.

Self-driving taxi. More dangerous than human drivers

Also this year, the setbacks suffered by the car giants cannot be ignored: Tesla has recalled nearly two million cars to update its full self-driving program after an investigation of more than two years into a series of accidents caused by the feature.

But the biggest shift was at Cruise, a subsidiary of U.S. auto giant General Motors, which became the first company to offer driverless taxi rides in San Francisco day or night, with a fleet of more than 400 cars.

Frequent accidents have raised concerns that self-driving cruise vehicles lack a safe and proper response during accidents (French)

Cruz believes that automated taxis don't get tired, get drunk, or distracted, and even post a full-page newspaper ad declaring that "humans are terrible drivers," but she forgot that the mistake is human, something humans don't expect or expect from robots.

The Chevy Boltz, loaded with sensors in cruise, quickly began to face notable mishaps, including dragging a pedestrian under one of its self-driving cars 20 feet after being run over, California organizers said.

The incident has raised many concerns that cruise vehicles lack the ability to respond in a safe and appropriate manner during pedestrian-related accidents, which could unnecessarily put pedestrians or others at risk of further injury.

In October, the California Motor Vehicles Administration shut down San Francisco's automated taxi service because the company failed to release video footage of the vehicular accident, stating that the controversial automated taxi posed an "unreasonable risk to public safety" after a series of accidents.

After suspending its permits for self-driving cars, Cruise announced that it would temporarily halt self-driving car services in San Francisco altogether, and the company is still able to test its vehicles with a safe driver in the car.

It's a blow to the company that aims to build the world's most advanced self-driving cars, which has since laid off 25% of its employees and CEO and seen its co-founder Kyle Vogt resign from the company.

Cruise's presence has been controversial in San Francisco since it received approval in August to operate its automated driving service around the clock, seven days a week in the city.

The company's cars have been involved in several accidents, including colliding with a fire truck, which led to the transfer of one passenger to hospital, and Cruise eventually agreed to halve its fleet.

"AI Ben". An innovation not without its disadvantages

Last November, former Apple executives (husband and wife Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhry) launched Human (an artificial intelligence startup), a wearable device called Ai Pin, a plastic badge with a camera, chips and sensors.

Many of the AIPN functions are controlled by voice commands (Shutterstock).

A demo video showed the couple, who were guided by a Buddhist monk named Brother Spirit, showcasing some of the device's features and specifications, and another showed people using it in everyday situations, such as walking on the street, shopping and eating. However, some of the features in the demo look rather shaky, according to an article by Business Insider correspondent Katie Notopoulos.

The device's features look like something of science fiction, with the AI answering your questions via a small clip on your shirt, which is one of AIPN's top attractions right now. Even more surprising is the small laser screen that can appear in your hand and respond to hand gestures. It weighs the size of a golf ball, so you probably won't tie it to your shirt.

Many of the device's functions are controlled by voice commands, where users must speak audibly to send messages or chat with artificial intelligence to answer questions, summarize your text messages, translate languages, play music, as well as a camera that can look at things and tell you about them, which can be embarrassing in public.

The New York Times declared that this is the "big and bold sci-fi bet" in Silicon Valley for what comes after the smartphone. However, while providing a device to keep us out of phone addiction is a worthwhile goal, it's hard to imagine getting rid of your phone for a whopping $699 pin, which also requires a $24 monthly subscription.

As a review of wearables at The Verge noted that "they (AI-Ben) violate the main rule of wearable design; you have to want to wear this damn thing." AIPN is also stylish, but it still has no competition for screen temptation.

Lab-grown chicken. Bird with borrowed feathers

Upside Foods, a startup widely seen as a leader in the field, has long attracted attention by indicating that it is ready to mass-produce whole pieces of chicken, an achievement that, if true, would put it ahead of the competition.

The Berkeley, California-based company that aims to develop affordable processed meat (one of only two companies licensed to sell meat grown in the United States) has raised more than half a billion dollars, displays tidy rows of shiny steel bioreactors, each surrounded by a network of pipes, and wants the public to believe that the gorgeous chicken strips it sells are made in a future factory.

But the production facility in Emeriveli tells a misleading story about how Upside Foods chicken was made. According to a recent Wired investigation, the company's flagship product (delicious whole chicken nuggets) is fermented almost manually in laboratory vials much smaller than mega bioreactors that former and current employees say are unable to ferment the tissue sheets needed to produce whole chicken fillets.

Bioreactors used to ferment grown meat (Reuters)

Instead, in a laborious and impractical process, thin layers of cells are swept away by hand and fused to create a large piece of chicken, an expensive approach that requires many hours of work to produce even a small amount of meat. This process takes place in a laboratory that does not appear on the factory tours that the company offers to journalists and the public. In other words, the company used a lot of labor, plastic, and energy to produce little meat.

Although lab-grown chicken has FDA approval that says it is safe to eat, there is doubt whether lab meat will compete with real chicken.

Chicken is priced at $5 a pound in retail stores, and the introduction of grown chicken to the market still faces many obstacles, and the upward trend in the cost of making it is not yet clear, but a few sell for $45 at San Francisco's Bar Crane, a highly rated Michelin-star restaurant.

The general taste at Bar Crane was supposed to indicate that the era of lab-grown meat had finally arrived. Instead, Upside Foods suffered technical setbacks, while showing an image that it had solved the main scientific challenge of increasing production of whole cuts of meat.

The discoveries raise questions about how much processed meat companies have accomplished, after investing about $3 billion over the past 7 years, and whether certain types of cultivated meat products could be commercially viable.

Overall, 2023 was the year in which it was highlighted that the race to the future can sometimes ignore key elements such as safety, viability and environmental impact, and these failures reported that innovation requires balance, wisdom and careful consideration of its long-term impacts, in the hope that the lessons learned this year will serve as guidance for more responsible and sustainable technological development in the future.

Source : Al Jazeera + Agencies