The lexicographers arrived at this odd entry after asking 340,000 English speakers from around the world to choose between three finalists: metaverse, #IStandWith, and goblin mode, all with roots in the internet. The winning word first appeared online on Twitter in 2009, and it went viral in 2022 after it was used in a headline. In an article announcing the winner, the editors of The Guardian newspaper offered a definition: “A slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives into and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations.” In a word, The Guardian further explains, it used to be called slobbishness. Sure, there’s a connection between trolls, those enduring a third year of pandemic-related crises, and the prospect of a nuclear third world war, but it’s a dark characterization for the year nonetheless.
It got no better here in United States when the Merriam-Webster editorial team announced their sobriquet for 2022. They chose “gaslighting”—the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one’s own advantage. That’s at least as grim as the British take on what we’ve just lived through, and it leaves us then with the year of “slobbish deceivers.”
WRITE ’22 OFF?
For the tech sector, the gloom was only intensified by the number of layoffs this year. They were widespread, and they spiked at the end of the year. In the first week of November 2022, Meta (Facebook) let 13% of its workforce go (11,000 employees), and in the second week, Amazon laid off 10,000 workers, Cisco 4,100, and Twitter 3,700. The list for November goes on with major cuts at Carvana, Doordash, Kraken (cryptography), Salesforce, Lyft, and many more.
Earlier in the year, the large companies making cuts included Seagate (3,000), Microsoft (1,800), Tesla (3,500), and Peloton (2,800). In the U.S., almost 90,000 have been let go over the course of 2022. According to Layoffs.fy, the total for companies reached 150,276 let go by 965 companies. The Layoffs website was created by Roger Lee and has been tracking tech layoffs since the beginning of COVID-19.
That’s the bad news. But what about innovation in 2022? Was anything new accomplished during the worldwide struggle to recover from the pandemic and its impact on economies? One answer appeared in the November issue of Popular Science magazine. It was their annual list of “The 100 Greatest innovations of 2022”. For the last 35 years, the hundred-fifty-year publication has selected the best of innovative technology, and the list for 2022 has remarkable firsts in 10 categories from aerospace, engineering, gadgets, health, entertainment, automotive, and more. There are 10 notables in each category, hence the 100 winners.
Among the 100 technological advances and debuts, NASA’s successful deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope won the highest honor for Innovation of the Year. The $9.7 billion telescope was launched on Christmas day 2021, and in February 2022 it began imaging the cosmos with a mirror almost three times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope and an orbit hundreds of thousands of miles farther out. As impressive as the first images were, they were remixed to an even greater clarity with processing at NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Able to “look back 13 billion years at ancient galaxies. . . it can teach us about how those stars and galaxies came together from primordial matter.”
NASA also won recognition for a first in the Aerospace category. Oh September 26, the agency fired a half-ton spacecraft directly into an asteroid approximately only 525 feet in diameter. Travelling at over 14,000 miles per hour, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was the first time humans have been able to strike and redirect the path of an asteroid. The experiment was designed to discover a way for our planet to survive a when-worlds-collide, cataclysmic event involving asteroids and the earth.
Other noteworthy aeronautical craft on the list include a Black Hawk helicopter retrofitted by Sikorsky to fly without pilots that had two successful test flights in February and October, and Eviation’s totally electric commuter airplane. The company named their plane Alice. It’s powered by about 8,000 pounds of batteries and is designed to carry nine passengers for distances up to 200 miles.
The grand award winner in the engineering category is a suspension bridge called 1915 Çanakkale that spans the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey. It’s now the world’s largest suspension bridge with a reach of 15,118 feet. The “1915” in the name connotes the year of a major Ottoman naval victory. It took five years to build and was officially opened in March 2022.
One of the more interesting gadgets on the list is already being delivered in the new Apple Watches. The new crash detection function uses an upgraded gyroscope that checks for changes 3,000 times per second and can measure up to 256 G of force. That data, along with the information from the accelerometer and a built-in barometer that’s alert for changes in the air pressure in the car if an airbag is deployed, are all designed to detect a crash. In that event, you are given a few seconds to respond to an alert, and if you fail to respond, the watch automatically sends emergency services to your location.
Several of the medical notables on the list are newly developed drugs, but the grand award winner is a replacement ear made from human cells called AuriNova. For those born with absent or underdeveloped external ears, the traditional therapy, until now, involved synthetic implants. Now, the regenerative medicine company, 3DBio Therapeutics in New York, has developed a 3D-printed transplant made with proteins, hydrogel, and a patient’s own ear cells that’s more flexible and involves less-invasive procedures. The patient’s cartilage-making cells are separated from the sample of ear tissue for culturing, and the replacement is printed with collagen-based “bio-ink” and then surgically attached. In June 2022, the first person received one of the AuriNova living substitutes. 3DBio Therapeutics hopes to expand the process to create other body parts like noses, spinal discs, and even larger organs.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, wildland firefighters can’t use the traditional SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus) that structural firefighters use because of the “intolerable breathing resistance or increased heat load that masks can produce.” A solution the agency suggests could come from powered, air-purifying respirators designed for wildland firefighting. TDA Research has developed such a respirator that has a hip-mounted pump that draws air in through a HEPA filter, directing it to a secure but loose-fitting half-mask. There’s a sensor that detects air flow direction, and it only allows the pump to blow at full strength when the wearer inhales. The Wildland Firefighter Respirator weighs only 2.3 pounds, about 10% of the weight of urban SCBAs. The mask was Popular Science’s grand award winner in the Emergency Services class.
In the same category, there’s an electric Pierce Volterra fire truck, already navigating the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, with contracts for delivery under way in Oregon and Arizona, and the emergency SOS via satellite by Apple, and seven more.
TROLL MODE, INDEED
These category winners are only a small sample of the 100 innovations that Popular Science selected to highlight as the year comes to an end. And while there were enough of us under the bridge in 2022 to inspire the troll appellation, there were those quietly working in a wide spectrum from cars to cosmetics, applying new trials for technology in the new century. If you want to see what they were doing, check the list. About cars, there’s a new Mercedes EV that will get you 747 miles on a charge, and in cosmetics, the Unseen Company in the U.K. has borrowed the mechanism of cellular design that gives beetle shells and butterfly wings their iridescent hues and created a “holographic hair dye that shifts across a spectrum of vibrant color when exposed to changes in temperature (like a blast of cool air) or light (like a camera flash).” For many in tech, it was a very good year.