June 23, 2022

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The biggest technology failures of 2021

The drug, sold by Biogen, is an antibody that attaches to brain plaques. Aduhelm flopped in a large human trial, which showed no concrete benefit to patients with the brain disease. Yet the company and the US Food and Drug Administration decided to move forward in June, over the objections of the agency’s expert advisors. Several resigned. One, Aaron Kesselheim, called the episode “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent US history.”

Yes, we need new treatments for Alzheimer’s. But this approval marked a concerning trend toward approving drugs using a weaker type of evidence known as “surrogate markers.” Because Aduhelm causes a measurable reduction in brain plaques—a marker of dementia—the FDA concluded there was “reasonable likelihood” it would benefit patients. One problem with such guesswork is that no one knows whether these plaques cause disease or are just among its symptoms.

Aduhelm, the first new Alzheimer’s drug in 20 years, is already a fiasco. Few patients are getting it, Biogen’s sales are minuscule, and at least one person has died from brain swelling. Since the approval, the company has cut the drug’s price in half, and its research chief has abruptly resigned.

Read more:How an Unproven Alzheimer’s Drug Got Approved,” New York Times .

Zillow’s house-buying algorithm

“Don’t get high on your own supply” is a familiar business maxim. The real estate listing company Zillow did exactly that, with catastrophic results.

The company’s real-estate listing site is popular, and so are its computer-generated house values, known as “Zestimates.” The company’s error was using its estimates to purchase homes itself, sight unseen, in order to flip them and collect transaction fees. Zillow soon learned that its algorithm didn’t correctly forecast changes in housing prices. And that wasn’t the only problem.

Zillow was competing with other digital bidders, known as “iBuyers.” So it did what any house hunter determined to make a deal would do: it overpaid. By this year, Zillow was listing hundreds of homes for less than its own purchase price. In November, the company shuttered its iBuying unit Zillow Offers, cut 2,000 jobs, and took a $500 million write-off in what the Wall Street Journal termed “one of the sharpest recent American corporate retreats.”

Zillow will stick to its original business of selling advertisements to real estate brokers. Its Zestimates still have a home on the site.

Read more: What Went Wrong with Zillow? A Real-Estate Algorithm Derailed Its Big Bet,” Wall Street Journal

Ransomware

Ransomware is malicious software that kidnaps a company’s computer files by encrypting them. Criminals then demand money to restore access. It’s a booming business. Ransomware hit a new record in 2021 with more than 500 million attacks, according to cybersecurity company SonicWall.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/12/29/1043061/the-worst-technology-of-2021/