2022: The year in weird and stupid futures
Read Max Looks Back
Every year since it was founded, Read Max has taken the month of December as an opportunity to reflect on the year that just passed, and look back upon the stories that told us something about where the future is headed, which is to say, at full speed, brakes failing, fart noises wailing, into a wall. This post is too long to fit in a Gmail window, so I suggest you open it in a browser by clicking the button below:
This will be the final Read Max post of 2022. Thank you to subscribers for a tremendous year of conspiracy theories, spam poetry, and demon-hunting Linux IT professionals. If you’ve found what we’re doing here useful or entertaining, please consider supporting it with a paid subscription: I don’t take advertising money or use affiliate links, so reader subscriptions are the sole means of support. (Click here for a list of subscriber benefits.) Every subscription makes a difference, as does every recommendation you make to a friend.
This list of stories would not have been assembled without the tireless work of a number of publications and journalists, among them Motherboard, The Verge, Rest of World, The Intercept, The Markup, The Terminal, Garbage Day, and Today in Tabs as well as the "Web3 Is Going Just Great" project. Check them all out.
In January, a California court denied the appeal of two Los Angeles Police Department officers who were fired for ignoring a robbery call in order to catch a Snorlax in Pokemon! Go. An estimated 15 percent of the world's Bitcoin miners were taken offline when President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered the internet in Kazakhstan shut off amidst of a popular uprising over rising fuel prices. Meta sold what remained of its cryptocurrency project, formerly known as Libra, to Silvergate Capital.
Several school board meetings across the country were disrupted by parents claiming based on reports they'd read on Facebook that students who identified as furries were being given special privileges, such as litter boxes. Drivers on I-95 in Virginia were stuck on the highway for 24 hours after an unexpected snowstorm brought a 40-mile stretch of highway to a standstill. Scientists announced they were able to train goldfish to drive specially built terrestrial vehicles.
The Mighty Mighty BossToneS announced they would break up, allegedly over the anti-vaccination views of lead singer Dicky Barrett. The Worldcoin cryptocurrency announced it would delay its launch again in order to deploy more eye-scanning "Orb" devices around the world, prompting anger from users who had been promised money in exchange for their scans. A Zoom event hosted by the Italian senate was interrupted by an animated porn video featuring the character Tifa Lockheart from the video game Final Fantasy VII.
Gwyneth Paltrow claimed to have purchased Bored Ape #6141 for $228,000. Meek Mill claimed to have purchased Bored Ape #6877 for $245,000. Serena Williams's husband claimed to have purchased her Bored Ape #5797 for $414,000. Neymar, Jr. claimed to have purchased Bored Ape #6633 for $481,000. Justin Bieber claimed to have bought Bored Ape #3001. "with no rare ape traits," for $1.3 million. An examination of the transaction for Bieber's NFT suggested that Bieber was unlikely to have spent his own money on the ape.
In February, Google Maps users were among the first people alerted of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, when troop movements around Belgorod showed up in the app as a mysterious early-morning traffic jam. Tesla pushed an update to cars running its "Full Self-Driving Beta" software that removed a "rolling stop" feature. Cybersecurity researchers documented ransomware that holds victims files hostage until they subscribed to the hackers' YouTube channel.
The Associated Press canceled the sale of an NFT of video of "migrants drifting in an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean.” Private schools in Brooklyn received shool-shooting threats on Instagram that the NYPD said were sent by "bots" in Ukraine, Russia, and South America. Researchers published a study that found people identified AI-synthesized faces as "more trustworthy" than real faces.
Disney announced it would build a series of residential communities called "Storyliving by Disney." The cryptocurrency trading app Coinbase aired an ad during the Superbowl directing viewers via QR code to a non-functioning website. Buzzfeed revealed that two of the anonymous founders of the NFT collection "Bored Ape Yacht Club" were former creative-writing MFA students. The Justice Department charged Heather Morgan, who made rap music about finance and women's health issues under the name Razzlekhan, and her husband Ilya Lichtenstein with attempting to launder $4.5 billion in stolen Bitcoin.
A popular college scheduling app sent out a notification reading "Twitter dies tonight" and redirected its website to a 149-page document describing the breakup of its two founders. Moviepass, the defunct movie theater-subscription startup, announced it would return with a new business model in which subscribers would watch advertisements while monitored by eye-tracking technology. Russia deployed trained dolphins to its naval base in Sevastopol.
In March, the father of a murdered television news reporter minted video of his daughter's death as an NFT as a last-ditch tactic to claim copyright over the footage so he could legally compel platforms to remove it. The Babylon Bee, a Christian satirical news site, was banned from Twitter, prompting English actress Talulah Riley to text her ex-husband Elon Musk “[Princess of Jordan] Raiyah [Bint Al-Hussein] and I were talking about it today. It was a f--king joke. Why has everyone become so puritanical?”
Documents from the Conti ransomware group revealing its hiring process and employee-of-the-month bonuses were leaked by a third party angry at the hackers' statement of support for Russia. The Washington Post reported that Meta had hired a Republican consulting firm to spread rumors of fake TikTok trends like "Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge.” An anesthesiologist apologized for posting to Twitter a video of himself in the operating room during gallbladder surgery in order to prove to the Xbox fans he regularly fought with over video-game console preference that he was a doctor.
The musician Grimes admitted that she and a friend "hacked" the website Hipster Runoff over photos it had posted without her permission. A man in Moscow chained himself to the door of a McDonald's to protest the chain closing in Russia. The theater chain AMC announced it was buying 22 percent of a gold and silver mining company. The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 25 basis points, to .25 to .5 percent.
In April, Elon Musk announced via securities filing that he had purchased 9 percent of Twitter and had become the social network's largest shareholder. "Love it!" hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin texted him in response. The Washington Post reported that Ukraine was using the facial-recognition service Clearview AI to identify dead Russian soldiers, for the purpose of contacting their families. German authorities shut down a 1.2 billion-euro dark-web marketplace and seized $35 million in bitcoin.
Musk made an offer to buy Twitter at take it private for $45 billion. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison texted Musk that he wanted to invest "a billion… or whatever you recommend" in the deal. A survey found that in the months following the country's adoption of Bitcoin as an official currency, only 20 percent of El Salvadoreans who downloaded the "Chivo" crypto app continued using it after spending the signup bonus. The Central African Republic adopted Bitcoin as an official currency.
Twitter accepted Musk's offer. "Thank you ❤️," Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey texted Musk. In an appearance on the Odd Lots podcast, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried said it was "reasonable" to describe crypto yield farming as being "in the Ponzi business." The sinking of the warship Moskva raised fears that a piece of the True Cross, placed on the ship by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2020, had been lost in the Black Sea.
In May, following the discovery of human remains from the 1970s or 1980s in a barrel floating in Lake Mead, Las Vegas authorities warned the public that more bodies were likely to be found as the reservoir's water level dropped. Politico obtained and published a leaked draft of the Supreme Court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade. NFT sales were down 92 percent from their peak in September 2022.
A holding company with extensive assets in strip clubs hired a "financial influencer account" to run its earnings call in a Twitter Space. Two third-party trackers found that New York City had more Airbnb listings than apartments for rent. After the sudden collapse of the supposedly algorithmically stable Luna cryptocurrency ecosystem, billionaire Mike Novogratz wrote in a letter to investors that the Luna-themed tattoo he'd gotten would be "a constant reminder that venture investing requires humility." The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 50 basis points to 0.75 to 1 percent.
The data broker SafeGraph agreed to stop selling location data gathered near Planned Parenthood and other family planning facilities. The actor Seth Green was hacked and his Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT stolen and resold shortly before the premiere of his new NFT-themed sitcom. Scientists announced they had successfully edited the genes of cockroaches using CRISPR. Dehydrated birds fell from the sky in Gujarat amidst a heat wave on the Indian subcontinent in which at least 90 people died.
Classified Chinese military documents regarding an anti-tank projectile were leaked to the official forum of the military-sim video game War Thunder, the third time classified documents had been posted to those forums in two years. Canadian regulators accused the coffee chain Tim Horton's of using its app to illegally track users on a daily basis. The security company Axon canceled plans to sell taser-equipped drones for schools.
The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 75 basis points to 1.25 to 1.75 percent. Coinbase announced it would rescind a number of job offers that had already been accepted. The delivery startup Enjoy laid off hundreds of employees over Zoom. The cryptocurrency platform Gemini laid off 10 percent of its staff. Cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com announced it was laying off 260 employees, and then quietly laid off hundreds more. Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital was ordered to liquidate its assets to pay creditors. The cryptocurrency lenders Celsius Network froze customer withdrawals. Cryptocurrency trading platform FTX purchased cryptocurrency lending platform BlockFi for $25 million, less than one percent of its last private valuation.
Google engineer Blake Lemoine was placed on administrative leave after raising his concerns that the company's chatbot LaMDA was sentient. A woman in Indianapolis tracked her boyfriend to a bar using an Apple AirTag and ran him over in the parking lot after seeing him with another woman. A former National Guard member was arrested for selling 3D-printed "ghost guns." The earth spun around its axis in 23 hours and 59.99841 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded.
In July, police in Gujarat arrested four men and charged them with streaming staged cricket games on YouTube with the intent of enticing Russians to bet on their fake league over Telegram. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated by a man with a homemade gun. The Twitter and YouTube accounts for the British Army were hacked and used to promote an NFT scam. The Federal Reserve raise the target range for interest rates 75 basis points to 2.25 to 2.5 percent.
Twitter sued Elon Musk for attempting to terminate the merger agreement. Ice cream maker Ben and Jerry's sued its parent company, Unilever, over a deal that would have allowed the ice cream to be sold in the occupied West Bank. The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender and the New Jersey Monitor sued the State of New Jersey to force it to disclose information about a New Jersey State Police practice of subpoenaing infant DNA to connect relatives to crimes. A group of plaintiffs sued the meal-delivery service Daily Harvest after its "french lentil and leek crumbles" made hundreds of people mysteriously ill.
The FBI said $42.7 million had been stolen via fraudulent cryptocurrency investment apps. A blockchain security company said $2 billion had been lost to web3 hacks and exploits. A movie theater in Cornwall banned unaccompanied children in suits from screenings of Minions: The Rise of Gru "due to the issues we have encountered over the last two days and its associated behaviour." The World Health Organization declared Monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. A Chinese rocket that the Chinese Manned Space Agency had warned might fall onto a populated area broke up over the Sulu Sea near Borneo.
In August, an anonymous man 3D-printed 50 "ghost guns" and exchanged them for $3,000 at a gun buyback event in Houston. Hypersocial CEO Braden Lake posted a photo of himself crying to LinkedIn after laying off two people to show that "not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn't care when he/she have to lay people off." Elon Musk supporters put out a call for a volunteer child to help prove that self-driving Teslas would not run over children.
An neural network-generated image won first place in the Colorado State Art Fair. An Australian woman was ordered to sell the house she'd bought with some of the $7 million the cryptocurrency platform Crypto.com had accidentally transferred to her. Twitter whistleblower Peter Zatko alleged that the Indian state had forced Twitter to put a government agent on its payroll.
Binance Chief Communications Officer Patrick Hillman said that scammers had impersonated him using an "AI hologram." Hometown Deli, the Paulsboro, N.J. deli that was the sole asset of the $100 million publicly traded company Hometown International, closed after Hometown International merged with a bioplastics company. The Chinese government launched "rain-seeding" drones to address a drought in Sichuan.
In September, tens of thousands of people waited in line at the American Dream Mall for the opening of a new hamburger restaurant owned by the YouTuber Mr. Beast. Colorado utility Xcel locked tens of thousands of people out of their smart thermostats for 24 hours during an "energy emergency." An Amazon driver was fired after posting a photo of a customer's dildo to Reddit.
Meta removed hundreds of verification badges from Instagram accounts that obtained them by creating fake Spotify artist pages. A supporter of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria created the first known ISIS-themed NFT. Congressional testimony in which a Facebook engineer says he doesn't believe "there’s a single person that exists" who knows precisely where all the data Facebook gathers on its users is kept was unsealed. "Several hundred kilograms" of explosives were used by unknown attackers to sabotage the underwater NordStream pipelines.
Digital World Acquisition Company, a SPAC created to take Donald Trump's social network, Truth Social, public, announced that investors had withdrawn $138.5 million of its $1 billion in financing, and changed its address to a post-office box at a Miami UPS store. The FDA warned against marinating or cooking chicken in NyQuil. South Korean prosecutors said Do Kwon, founder of the collapsed cryptocurrency ecosystem Luna, was "obviously on the run" after Kwon tweeted that he was "not 'on the run.'" The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 75 basis points to 3 to 3.25 percent.
In October, Alaska canceled snow crab season because of an alarming decline in crab populations. A ransomware gang released data stolen from the Los Angeles Unified School District after officials refused to pay its ransom demands. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology announced they had created a wormhole between two simulated black holes on a quantum computer. Kim Kardashian paid $1.26 million in fines to the SEC to settle charges that she had touted a crypto security on Instagram without disclosing that she'd been paid.
A Russian prisoner of war interviewed for a Ukrainian propaganda video claimed he had enlisted in the Russian army to pay off debt incurred from playing World of Tanks. Coindesk reported that the widely anticipated crypto metaverse Decentraland has only 38 daily active users. The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta, Inc.'s metaverse product Horizon Worlds had fewer than 200,000 monthly active users and most people weren’t spending more than a month using the service. A rise in prescriptions from telehealth apps helped lead to an adderall shortage.
Credit Suisse stock dropped 6 percent in one day because a man named Jim Lewis tweeted "Markets are saying it’s insolvent and probably bust. 2008 moment soon?” after looking at “low stock price and memes on Reddit.” Skechers escorted Kanye West out of its offices when the rapper showed up uninvited after being dropped by Adidas for tweeting that he would go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” A leaked internal report entitled "Where Did the Tweeters Go?" suggested that the "heavy tweeters" who generate 90 percent of tweets have been "in absolute decline." After being ordered to complete his agreement to purchase Twitter, Elon Musk took over the company and fired a number of executives.
In November, the Justice Department charged former MoviePass executives Mitch Lowe and Ted Farnsworth with fraud. Kanye West was recommended by Twitter as a "top follow" on the topic of "The Jews." The Nigerian influencer Ray Hushpuppi was sentenced to 11 years in U.S. federal prison for helping the North Korean government launder $14.7 million it stole from a Maltese bank. The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 75 basis points to 3.75 to 4 percent.
In order to commemorate the anime Sword Art Online, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, produced a VR headset with three explosive charges designed to kill the user if they die while playing a game. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that would allow the SFPD to kill suspects in certain circumstances using robots armed with explosives.
A spreadsheet of cryptocurrency exchange FTX's assets and liabilities was found to contain an entry for negative $8 billion called “hidden, poorly internally labled ‘fiat@’ account.” Tom Brady, Giselle Bündchen, Larry David, and Steph Curry were named in a class-action lawsuit for touting FTX. Cryptocurrency lender Blockfi filed for bankruptcy. A French orthopedic surgeon was fined 5,000 euro for attempting to sell as an NFT an x-ray of a patient shot in the Bataclan nightclub attack.
A woman was ejected from Radio City Music Hall after a facial-recognition system identified her as an employee of a law firm involved in litigation against a restaurant group owned by the same holding company that owns the venue. Arizona Mirror reporter Jim Small confirmed that Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema sold Badgley Mishka heels to Slate reporter Christian Cauterucci on Facebook Marketplace. "Death is a natural part of life," said Qatar World Cup CEO Nasser Al Khater in response to the death of a Filipino worker who was repairing a light fixture in the Saudi Arabian men's team dressing room. FIFA president Gianni Infantino unfollowed the Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe on Instagram after being criticized for allowing Gökçe on the field during Argentina's World Cup victory celebrations.
Elon Musk's money manager offered shares of Twitter at the same price Musk paid in October a select group of investors, one of whom said it was "hard to tell" if Musk had "created value or destroyed value at Twitter." Nearly $2 billion was withdrawn from Binance over a 24-hour period. The Australian Financial Review reported that a group of FTX executives were all members of a group chat called "Wirefraud." The Federal Reserve raised the target range for interest rates 50 basis points to 4.25 to 4.5 percent.
A death row inmate sued the state of Texas for allowing the comedian Jeff Ross to roast him without his lawyers present for a video that was later used in trial to justify the death penalty. 3M announced plans to phase out "forever chemicals." Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they had produced the first fusion reaction in a laboratory setting that created a net gain in energy. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced DJ Steve Aoki and seven others would join him on the first private flight around the moon.