February 7, 2023

ChatGPT and Apple’s metaverse might (or might not) change your life

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I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions. But I’m going to make an exception.

In 2023, let’s resolve not to jump to conclusions about how technology might or might not change your life. No one really knows.

Every year, there are tech gewgaws and breakthrough inventions that get your attention. For example, on your 2022 technology “wow” list, you could put the advances in artificial intelligence systems that invent text or images at your command. There was also a holy grail moment for nuclear fusion that showed it might someday be possible to create clean, cheap and nearly limitless energy.

But it’s a big question mark where all this might lead. Maybe the AI language generator ChatGPT will free you from written drudge work. Or maybe it will overwhelm schools with rampant cheating or wipe out jobs. Maybe ChatGPT will do something else great or horrible. Or maybe ChatGPT will die.

I don’t know. You don’t know. And it’s fine to avoid predicting the unpredictable.

Take the hint from the zillions of other times that technologies didn’t (or, at least, didn’t yet) become the world-transforming magic that optimists expected.

A decade ago, many executives working on driverless cars, and expected they would be commonplace on the roads by now. They’re still many years away from being mainstream. In 2022, cryptocurrencies showed again that they’re not particularly useful other than as things people hope will go up in price. (And last year, crypto prices went down.)

And, unlike (or perhaps like) we expected, so far, not many people are hanging out in the metaverse, or having their cat’s food delivered by drones.

You probably also don’t own a folding smartphone or a 3D television, despite predictions that those gadgets would become part of your life. And hey, a year ago, I bet you didn’t think Elon Musk would own Twitter right now.

I’m not trying to shame anyone for being bad at fortune telling. Predictions are often wrong and new technology tends to take many years to catch on. But even experts have proved so off base with tech forecasts that we really shouldn’t take them too seriously.

It’s a new year and a new you. So let’s resolve to have an open mind in 2023 about technology. Don’t be too sure about the promise or the pitfalls or how long it might take for the future to arrive.

You’re going to have lots of opportunities to practice your new resolve. This year, for example, there will likely be a bunch of hype about a computer for your face reportedly set to be introduced by Apple.

Lots of companies have been developing goggle-type things that push you into virtual reality like the Meta Quest, or into immersive digital mingling like in the “Fortnite” video game. (I hate calling any of this stuff the metaverse, but you can use that term if you want.)

Will Apple’s face computer be the moment when virtual reality and similar technologies start to become something for everyone? Shrug.

Apple’s glasses will probably be expensive and imperfect for a while. And that’s fine, as long as you put it in perspective. No single moment can reliably tell you whether we’ll be wearing computers on our faces in the future or not, and how that might reshape your life.

This year, there are also likely to be several pivotal court cases in the United States that could alter social media as we know it.

Right now, websites have fairly broad protections from being sued when people post terrible things. Those legal provisions, for example, shield Yelp from being legally responsible if you give a restaurant a savage review, and they insulate Snapchat if an illegal drug sale through the app kills a child.

But coming Supreme Court cases this year could start to erode those special internet legal protections that have been both powerfully dangerous and useful to you.

I don’t know how any of these court cases will turn out, or how potential rulings might affect your experience online — but they are reminders that what you might feel is normal and immutable about your digital life can change, for good or for ill.

One lesson from the unpredictability of the future is to pay closer attention to what is working, or not working, with your technology right now.

In the new year, you will have more ways than ever to stay connected to your loved ones and others like your doctor.

And, you’ll be able to shop online without ruining the planet, and make the most of sometimes-controversial apps that you and your kids use every day like YouTube.

And though government and corporate failures still keep internet access inaccessible for many Americans, and despite going into the year with relatively few protections from companies spying on everything you do; in 2023, you can at least make sure that the tech of today serves you … and still keep one eye focused on the promising appeal of flying cars.

I’d like to remind you repeatedly that Americans pay more for worse internet service than our counterparts in nearly all rich countries. It’s bad.

But here’s a money-saving idea for you. Contact your internet service provider and demand a better deal — or else. I’m writing this to force myself to take my advice.

These tips on negotiating a lower internet bill might not work for you. But my colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler recently reported on the country’s naughtiest internet providers and he found:

“Calling up and threatening to quit your internet service works. It’s super annoying, I know, but Verizon (for example) applied discounts to 58 percent of the bills people submitted, with an astounding monthly median discount of $40.”

— Geoffrey Fowler

(Another tip: You probably don’t need the highest-speed upgrades that your internet company will push on you.)

DoNotPay, which automates tasks like fighting parking tickets, is working on an AI chatbot that can negotiate with the internet company for you. I haven’t tried this use of ChatGPT, so I can’t vouch for it.

Brag about YOUR one tiny win! Tell us about an app, gadget, or tech trick that made your day a little better. We might feature your advice in a future edition of The Tech Friend.