2023 is finally drawing to a close, and much like the years preceding it, we’ve been treated to a litany of big tech drama, danger, and downright daft decision-making.
From layoffs to lawsuits and large language models, more column space than ever was dedicated to analyzing the performances of big tech’s often villainous CEOs, while new stars stepping into the spotlight found their groove amid gritty plots and ruthless, succession-esque storylines.
While many of us say we despise the constant stream of company politics and the primacy of profit-obsessed individuals, much like the trashiest TV shows, it’s been hard to look away – even if there are a million other better ways we could be spending our time.
The action, to put it lightly, has been relentless – so, we’ve put together a review of all the big tech drama that happened this year, so you can decide whether to continue watching during 2024.
Twitter/X: An Enthralling Disaster-class
The finale of Twitter’s 2022 season saw the much-feated introduction of well-known supervillain Elon Musk, best known for his work on the Tesla franchise.
His complex character arc was a dominant theme throughout this year’s series of Twitter, helping the show retain viewers despite unceremoniously killing off several key characters in a crazed Game of Thrones-style cull, reducing Twitter's payroll to a fraction of its original size.
Despite the continued interest, however, critics have not been shy to point out Twitter’s newfound inclination to lean into explicit language, dark themes, and divisive political issues, a move which has alienated much of the fanbase and seen many companies unwilling to fill the ad breaks.
The introduction of Linda Yaccarino as CEO mid-way through the season did little to diversify the focus of what has quickly become an insufferable one-man show, with Musk’s controversial rants and bizarre, logic-defying responses to everyday situations seeming to suggest that the tech magnate is taking cues from I Think You Should Leave’s main man Tim Robinson.
Is Musk just here for the zipline? It would seem so.
Interestingly, Twitter was the only major big tech drama to go through a complete rebrand this year, changing the official release title to X back in July 2023 and marking it with a publicity stunt that drew the ire of the San Francisco authorities.
If you thought this drama was cooling down for Christmas, you thought wrong – feisty AI chatbot Grok recently burst onto the scene and is already ruffling feathers. Based on what we've seen this year, we're predicting an X-rated 2024 for Musk's social media cesspit.
OpenAI: Best New Drama?
OpenAI gave us all something to look forward to in 2022 after a short but action-packed teaser episode focused on the novel and irreverent ChatGPT, now regarded as one of the most well-known characters on the internet.
Despite impressive viewing figures and a blockbuster budget, critics have pointed out that ChatGPT’s often wooden performances lacked true human emotion, while questions of plagiarism and copyright infringement have plagued the production team since its release.
However, others have argued that much of the condemnation OpenAI has received rests in a complete misunderstanding of the show’s key themes, motifs, and architecture, with some praising the myriad of fascinating ethical questions that have been borne out of the show’s winding plotline, which continues to produce surprises at every turn.
Unlike notorious Hollywood blabbermouth Tom Holland, ChatGPT proved tight-lipped when it comes to OpenAI spoilers.
To give credit where credit’s due, the raucous, infatuating show ended the year with a characteristic bang, killing off long-term lead Sam Altman before emphatically bringing the CEO back into the fold just one episode later. Oh, and he managed to get hired by Microsoft in between. You couldn't write this stuff.
Altman’s tense standoff scene with Congress and the introduction of GPT-4 have significant replay value, while the rise of rivals Anthropic and DeepMind is a testament to the show's enduring value to business audiences.
Amazon: I'll Be Back (To The Office)
The big plotline this year for Amazon was the return to the office, as (relatively) new star Andy Jassy continued to find his feet.
Channeling his inner Michael Scott, the fun-loving yet oblivious Jassy kicked off the year with an out-of-touch demand that all staff return to the office, despite many joining the company in the pandemic era on the proviso that they wouldn’t have to come in much at all, and no actual data suggesting it's even a good idea.
A February episode saw Amazon employees creating a Slack channel to highlight the lack of trust in the company leadership's decision-making. The staff revolt continued – culminating in a dramatic walkout in May.
While the back-to-office storyline gained some traction as the season began, little else did. Struggling for alternative plotlines, the CEO-staff tensions were returned to later on in the series when several workers were incorrectly misidentified as a breach of RTO policy.
Will disgruntled Amazon employees dare to sass the Jass again in 2024? (Image: Lisi Mezistrano Wolf)
With a redemption arc not forthcoming, a post on Amazon's internal website strongly implying that anyone wanting to stay home could kiss goodbye to promotions at the company hit the headlines in August.
But even a late reference to this year's hot-button topic, artificial intelligence, couldn't save Amazon from being dubbed one-dimensional by critics – and despite customers saving more this Black Friday with the company than ever before, ironically, Amazon failed to deliver.
It’s an open secret that Amazon has suffered a significant drama deficit since retiring lead character Jeff Bezos in 2021. Actor Bruce Willis was unable to commit to playing the tech mogul any longer after signing a lucrative contract to shoot the sixth installment of Die Hard, with the actor hoping to add further fuel to the heated debate about the franchise's “Christmas movie” status.
Meta: A Controversial Spin-Off Series
Meta’s 2023 effort has been somewhat of a mixed bag – a tepid three-star effort that didn’t live up to the lofty expectations set by the chaos and drama of 2022, despite several rounds of layoffs, a multi-million dollar settlement lawsuit and a general feeling that lead star Mark Zuckererg’s bets on virtual and mixed reality investments were placed too early.
However, a new show was added to the Mark-vel cinematic metaverse (sorry) during 2023. Wanting a slice of the X action, Meta decided to launch a spin-off series for a similar audience, eventually settling on “Threads” as a working title.
The drama properly kicked off in July 2023 to great fanfare, and while the first episode was a resounding success, Threads' popularity waned quickly – despite an intriguing legal plotline that included a lawsuit-induced cameo from, once again, Elon Musk.
With the rivalry between two tech drama stalwarts deepening, many viewers were dismayed to see lead character Mark Zuckerberg throw cold water on a hotly-anticipated cage match with X star Elon Musk in August.
Threads showed some signs of revival in the final weeks of 2023, however, setting itself up for an exciting second series – which is now also available to European audiences.
Google: Best Adaption/Reboot
Detective dramas. Gameshows. Comedies with bumbling yet endearing male leads. The overarching takeaway from decades of entertainment media is this: if it worked before, it’s almost guaranteed to work again.
This mantra clearly made its way around Google’s corridors during 2023. The narrative around OpenAI’s hot new chatbot character was so good that Sundar Pichai thought it was worth launching another, incredibly similar chatbot right away. As the age-old adage goes: Same sh*t, different large language model.
Enter Bard, the new chatbot on the block who might not get things quite right at first, but his 340 billion parameters sure are in the right place. Think Joey Tribbiani but with a powerful content moderation system, who's dumber but ultimately funnier than that
Chandler Bing guy.
Granted, he might say the wrong thing from time to time, but give him a break – after all, Bard (and Google's entire staff, apparently) is trying its best!
If you liked ChatGPT, you’ll love Bard.
Taking a leaf out of Dr Who’s book, Bard went through a couple of regenerations this year. First, it swapped from LaMDA to PaLM 2, and soon, it’ll be powered by the infinitely more complex, intelligent Gemini LLM (which, much like the TARDIS, will make Bard a little bigger on the inside).
Microsoft: A Contemporary Cybercrime Thriller?
Much like the rival dramas unfolding elsewhere, Microsoft started by trimming its crew down. However, it shortly became clear that the drama would take on a different path to its rivals this year, in the form of a gripping modern-day, cybercrime thriller.
Much of Microsoft’s 2023 script centered around vulnerabilities in its software, affecting everyone from the US government to multi-national corporations. It got so bad that, in the middle of this year’s season, Microsoft started dishing out free security tools to give them a fighting chance at a happy ending.
The introduction of the new Russia-backed mystery villain Anonymous Sudan certainly added some spice to a season of Microsoft that, all things considered, lacked real bite.
However, the show redeemed itself at the last by thwarting the largest DDoS attack ever to occur, rounding off the redemption arc with a cameo appearance from Google, which went a long way to pleasing fans of both tech franchises.