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Welcome to my second annual Technology Year in Review. Last year, I discussed Bitcoin Mania and artificial intelligence. This year—stay with me now—we are going to talk about Bitcoins and AI again. Because a lot has—and has not—happened with these two monumental areas of technology. And beyond just talking about the changes and advancements, as a bonus, we will also briefly talk Elon Musk. Let’s dive in.

1. Is This It for Bitcoin?

Bitcoin (BTC) has fallen. When I last wrote about the currency, it was sitting at about $14,000 per bitcoin. As of this writing, it’s at $3,775. This means if you had $1 million in bitcoins last year, your “wealth” has been reduced to only $260,000. After taxes (and that’s assuming that people who invest in cryptocurrencies are all paying their taxes), you are looking at something between $150,000 to $200,000. Losing money that quickly is unlikely to make you part of the nouveau riche.

So, the big question is, is this the end for Bitcoin? I have no idea. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone go and buy bitcoins for their 401Ks. That said, it’s like the old saying, “What goes up must come down, but then it must go back up again, and then come down again… ad infinitum.” Similarly, the value of bitcoins has gone up and then crashed down hard on several previous occasions. So, we still don’t really know whether the risk or the reward will win the ultimate payout. Plus, Bitcoin has still not been “cracked”—meaning the underlying technology still works just fine.

Most importantly for anyone still holding onto some hope for the beleaguered digital token, there appears to be a thriving market for fake hitmen on the Dark Web, and presumably they only take bitcoin. So, it ain’t all bad news.

2. AI Winter?

Back in 2017, I also wrote about AI Winters: those periods when hype for AI in technology far exceeds what is actually possible with current AI technology. Well, you may want to pack your parka because it appears we may be on the verge of a new one.

Wait, didn’t Google’s spinoff self-driving company offer up the first autonomous ride sharing experience earlier this month? Yes, but it turns out that these rides are rather limited in scope and still come with “safety drivers” who just wait nervously for the car to spazz.

Even if new developments in AI keep coming, there’s another threat: an increasing arms race between AI systems (the good guys) and systems designed to trick AI (the bad guys).

Many visual systems that are on the cutting edge of AI are really good at detecting objects in pictures, for example. But it turns out if you tweak things just a bit you can throw the whole thing off. Give the system a picture of a normal room and everything is OK. But superimpose an elephant into the picture—something the AI had not learned to expect during its training—and the whole thing goes to hell. Suddenly it doesn’t know a chair from a couch and can’t see books that it was able to see before. Score one for the bad guys.

Remember those terrifying Boston Dynamics robots from last year’s piece? You know, the ones that haunt my dreams and make me paranoid that someday they might wipe out the human race? This year I’m adding a fun and potentially life-saving bit of advice: if one of these creepy-ass robots does manage to hunt you down and corner you in a bedroom, grab a stuffed animal (preferably an elephant) and hold it up somewhere near your head. Hopefully this confuses the robot so that it kills your desk chair instead of you.

3. Is Elon Musk a Genius or Just Another Silicon Valley Asshole?

Both. The answer is both.

In February, the company (SpaceX) built by Genius Musk LANDED two rockets side-by-side, effectively reversing the arrow of time.

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But then in July, Asshole Musk referred to a guy working to rescue kids trapped in a cave in Thailand as a pedophile, because the guy dared to question Elon’s suggestion of using a child-sized, NO-FUCKING-WAY-I’M-GETTING-IN-THAT-TIN-COFFIN-JUST-LET-ME-DIE-HE RE-IN-THIS-CAVE “submarine.”

Following this stellar PR campaign for himself, Musk finished out the summer with some ill-advised tweets that got the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission and, as a result, got him fired as CEO of Tesla.

So Elon really is both the best and worst of us in one compact South African package.

That’s all for this year’s review. Tune in next year to see if the AI hot streak continues or who’s bumping them off the charts.

Jesse Stone

Jesse B. Stone loves science and writing. Apologies if you were looking for the "Jesse Stone" played by Tom Selleck in the CBS movies.

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