The impact of these technologies could be measured in the number of people affected. More than a billion people in China are now being exposed to the virus for the first time; 335 million on Twitter are watching Musk’s antics; and fentanyl killed 70,000 in the US. In each of these messes, there are important lessons about why technology fails. Read on.
The FTX meltdown
Night falls on made-up money
Imagine a world in which you can make up new kinds of money and other people will pay you, well, real money to get some. Let’s call what they’re buying cryptocurrency tokens. But because there are so many types of tokens, and they’re hard to buy and sell, imagine that an entrepreneur creates a private stock market to trade them. Let’s call that a “cryptocurrency exchange.” Because the tokens have no intrinsic value and other exchanges have gone belly-up, you’d make sure yours was ultra-safe and well regulated.
That was the concept behind FTX Trading, a crypto exchange started by Sam Bankman-Fried, a twentysomething who touted sophisticated technology, like a 24/7 “automated risk engine” that would check every 30 seconds to see if depositors had enough real money to cover their crypto gambles. Technology would assure “complete transparency.”
Behind the façade, though, FTX was seemingly just old-fashioned embezzlement. According to US investigators, Bankman-Fried took customers’ money and used it to buy fancy houses, make political donations, and amass huge stakes in illiquid crypto tokens. It all came crashing down in November. John Ray, appointed to oversee the bankrupt company, said that FTX’s technology “was not sophisticated at all.” Neither was the purported fraud: “This is just taking money from customers and using it for your own purpose.”
Bankman-Fried, an MIT graduate whose parents are both Stanford University law professors, was arrested in the Bahamas in December and faces multiple counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering.
To learn more about cryptocurrency promoters, we recommend if Wolf of Wall Street were about crypto, a satirical video by Joma Tech.
From medicine to murder
How fentanyl became a killer
Back in 1953, the Belgian doctor and chemist Paul Janssen set about creating the strongest painkiller he could. He believed he could improve on morphine, designing a molecule that was 100 times more potent but with a short duration. His discovery, the synthetic opioid fentanyl, would become the painkiller most widely used during surgery.
Today, fentanyl is setting grim records—it’s involved in the accidental death of around 70,000 people a year in the US, or about two-thirds of all fatal drug overdoses. It’s the leading cause of death in American adults under 50, killing more than car accidents, guns, and covid together.