Our favorite stories of 2022
We like to think that we had a great year at MIT Technology Review. Our stories have won many awards (this story from our magazine won the AAAS Gold awards) and our investigations helped shed light on unjust policies ..
So this year we asked our writers and editors to comb back through the past 12 months and try to pick just one story that they loved the most–and then tell us why.
This is what they said.
Will Douglas Heaven
Senior editor, AI
Reason: Jessica Hamzelou gets to the heart of pretty much everything she writes about. This piece is particularly good. Reporting from a special billionaires’ event at a Swiss luxury hotel, she introduces us all to longevity researchers and their benefactors. These people are wealthy enough to believe they might be able buy their way out.
Jess takes a look at this murky world to show us the hidden relationships that drive this exciting, but still sci-fi field forward. These details are horrifying, with stories about conference attendees performing DIY blood tests at banquets between courses and doing press-ups in aisles between talks. We are expertly guided throughout between real science and Hail Mary quackery. This is Jess at its best.
Reason: There’ve been countless stories in the news that claimed to be the big scoop taking readers one step closer to the origin of covid-19; few delivered on their promises. Jane Qiu, our freelance journalist, reports this story. It is unique. This story combines extraordinary access to the people at the center of the lab leak theory with genuine patience to hear all sides. I’ve been consuming stories about covid origins for a while and this story was the result. It is condensed with details from the ground reporting. I didn’t feel pressured to agree with the author but have more information to make my own decision.
Senior editor, biotech
Reason: Sometimes you can see the future in small details. Zeyi Yang was told by a Chinese driver that he would enter his car on the wrong side after a hard day at work. Zeyi wrote about a robotaxi safety officer. It’s a strange job. You spend the day in the passenger seat. It’s not a career with great prospects. Automated taxis will make safety drivers (and you) obsolete.
Executive editor, operations
Reason: I learned from this story that certain VR experiences can be as effective as psychedelics in evoking feelings of connectedness with others. This surprised me greatly! Hana Kiros, a fellow reporter, tried one of these VR experiences for herself. Her vivid descriptions really give you a sense what it was like to go there and what she learned from it.
Reason: This was a brilliant story. It used something abstract, large language AI models, to explain that even though they don’t know anything about us, they might. These AI models are trained using data sets gathered from all the digital debris we leave on the internet. Melissa showed this by digging into the thoughts of one of the top models, GPT-3, as well as Mat Honan, our editor in chief. The result is engaging, personal, and funny. It also raises serious issues about privacy and data protections in the AI training data world. Anyone who reads it will be able to see the crappy posts and drunken photos they have left scattered across the internet in a new, more frightening light.
Reason: Literally the only thing wrong with dogs is that they don’t live long enough. Jess explored how scientists are trying to improve the lives of dogs and how their work could be used to help humans. This story was captivating even before I saw the art.
Editorial director, print
Reason: This story by the historian Margaret O’Mara is a fascinating but somber historical look back at how women became marginalized in the tech industry as it increasingly morphed more and more into an insider-y boys’ club. Over the years, funding and support have not always gone to the brightest and most well-connected people. O’Mara shows that the problem of gender in tech doesn’t just stem from a lack of STEM talent or a shortage of pipelines. It’s also a money problem. She writes that the tech industry loves to talk and show how it is changing the world. “But, tech’s incredible moneymaking machine has been fuelled by retrograde, gendered habits and patterns for a long time. Breaking out of them might ultimately be the most innovative move of all.”
Senior reporter, AI
Reason: This series is a must-read on the AI industry’s murky practices that repeat the patterns of colonial history. The former senior editor for AI Karen Hao spoke with communities around the globe to examine how AI is creating a colonialist world order. This included South Africa’s private surveillance system and Venezuela’s exploitative labor practices. It tells stories of hope and resistance, and introduces us the gig workers in Indonesia fighting against algorithms and an Indigenous couple from New Zealand revitalizing their language using AI.
Story: How to befriend a crow
Reason: Abby’s reporting on digital culture is always top-notch, but this particular story sticks out as a favorite of mine. Yes, you will find out how to become pals with your neighborhood crows. This story is important because it focuses on the power of social media algorithms, and how distinctly online trends translate IRL. (spoiler alert: they are not always successful). It was funny, I admit.
Senior reporter, humans and technology
Reason: Online beauty filters might seem like a fluffy subject on the surface–but they can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves. Tate’s piece is about the conflict between platforms’ efforts to ensure safety and the huge demand for these filters. Her reporting has one thing that sticks with me: The filters that create deformation are the ones that go viral the most. It’s amazing to think about how these filters can impact how we see ourselves and the world around us. AR makes the distinction between physical and virtual even more blurred. It’s both disturbing and enlightening, without being preachy. Tate’s work is unique and important in this area, and she is a great guide through this messy and confusing world.
Reason: I never really thought about how much roads have fractured our landscapes and ecosystems until I read freelance reporter Matthew Ponsford’s feature, for the urbanism issue of the magazine. Researchers have been trying to find ways to help wildlife cross roads by building bridges or other infrastructure for years. These strategies work? It turns out that this question is more difficult to answer than you might think.
Reason: Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that a technology that has made it vastly easier to move money around has also made it a lot easier to gamble it all away. Jonathan Rosen’s dispatch from Kenya highlights an under-reported aspect to the mobile money ecosystem. It shows Kenyans tackling the problem and fighting back.
Reason: This piece is such a sensitive exploration of grief and our willingness to test the technological limits of whether we can try to replicate the essence of a loved one, knowing it’s never going to quite be the same. It is also a courageous confrontation of the inherent risks of loving our family and friends.
Senior reporter, investigations
Reason: Sometimes the best stories answer questions you didn’t even know you had, and Abby’s beautifully written story on body farms is a perfect example. It tackles a topic we don’t often talk about–death, and more specifically, our dead bodies. It does so with a difficult-to-balance mixture of curiosity, compassion and great attention to detail. This was a joy to read. If you missed it the first round, I highly recommend it.
Senior engagement editor
Reason: I learned so much from Casey Crownhart’s stellar climate reporting this year, but I feel this piece about who is responsible for climate change will stick with me long past 2022. She does an amazing job of contextualizing the big problems ahead of us and behind us, without making it seem doom-y. (Her newsletter The Spark is always a great read, too. )
Senior reporter, tech policy
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.