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The big techs have established themselves as pioneers of innovation. With each new announcement, the tech community and the media eagerly anticipate groundbreaking ideas that promise to revolutionise the way we live and work. However, not every move made by these tech behemoths deserves the paeans of praise it often receives. Many of their so-called “innovations” are nothing more than existing concepts cleverly repackaged.
Four days ago, Mountain View-based Google announced AI-powered accessibility features for users with disabilities to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The move received tons of media coverage within hours of release.
On similar lines, two days prior to Google, Apple introduced a bundle of new features, including a new personal voice feature to create “a synthesised voice that sounds like them” to talk with friends or family members. The tools are specifically designed for individuals who are non-speaking or at the risk of losing their ability to speak.
Notably, in January 2023, Microsoft unveiled similar features through VALL-E, a text-to-speech AI model that can mimic a person’s voice using a three-second audio sample. The model was able to not only generate realistic audio but also preserved the speaker’s emotional tone.
At the latest Google I/O, the Sundar Pichai-led company, unveiled its revamped search interface. The updates were heralded as a major leap forward in user experience. The sleek design and enhanced functionality were indeed impressive.
However, the changes were not as groundbreaking as they initially appeared. Other search engines had already incorporated similar features and design elements. Prior to Google, You.com had built search based on generative AI in December, several months before the others did. Moreover, Perplexity.ai, a well-established name amongst the AI-powered search startups has been using AI chatbots to scourge the web’s content better than Google’s crawlers and ranking system.
Though some of these promising companies like Neeva.com have not been able to keep up with the big tech’s supremacy. Last week, the company’s founders published a blog, stating how difficult it is to build a search engine. Acknowledging Google’s predominance, they wrote, “Throughout this journey, we’ve discovered that it is one thing to build a search engine, and an entirely different thing to convince regular users of the need to switch to a better choice. One can say Google’s search “innovation” was more of an adaptation, rather than a breakthrough.”
The “Metaverse” Hype
In 2021, Mark Zuckerberg-run Facebook rebranded its entire identity as its focus shifted from social network to the company’s virtual-reality vision. The company sketched its plans to build the “Metaverse” – a digital world built over our own.
The concept captivated the public’s imagination but it wasn’t the first company to do so. The company’s marketing efforts and rebranding have generated significant hype, but the underlying concept is not entirely original.
In 2003, Linden Lab launched Second Life and businesses and universities started building their islands in Linden’s proprietary world. Two decades ago, computers were not as fast so the pioneers had a lot of limitations. In 2006, there was even a Metaverse Roadmap Summit where the Second Life spaces were explored.
Furthermore, Unity, a billion dollars gaming software company, also allowed users to have a shared “mixed reality” experience of playing a board game together, using Facebook’s Oculus 2 headsets. Earlier that year, the company behind Fortnite, Epic Games, also raised $2 billion to spend on its Metaverse plans.
Enjoying the publicity, the term ‘Metaverse’ was one of the top three contenders for Oxford Word of the Year and naturally, companies started hopping on the bandwagon. Microsoft introduced ‘Microsoft Mesh’ and NVIDIA too started building a digital twin of its own. Within two years, Metverse’s hype cycle has come crashing to the ground as the industry is going through a paradigm shift in generative AI.
The Bottom Line
While tech giants continue to dominate the industry with new updates every week, it is crucial to critically evaluate their claims of innovation. Not every update or product release deserves the praise it often receives. Behind the glitzy presentations and extensive media coverage lie repurposed ideas.