In case you’ve forgotten, 2017 got off to a rocky start, with an epic tech fail just seconds past midnight.
Right after the traditional ball drop in New York’s Times Square, headline performer Mariah Carey suddenly went silent instead of singing. Although Carey blamed a faulty wireless earpiece for the train wreck seen (but not heard, obviously) round the world, producers pointed out everything was tickety-boo at the sound check — the one Carey opted not to take part in.
How did technology, wireless or otherwise, fare for the rest of the year? Let’s take a look at some of the top news and trends that dominated the tech world during 2017.
Tech vs. Trump
In February, Silicon Valley scions penned an open letter of protest to Donald Trump. Execs from Apple, Google, Facebook and Uber warned the newly elected U.S. president his proposed ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations would threaten their ability to “attract the best and brightest from around the world … (and) grow our companies and create jobs.”
A few months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal rocked Hollywood, women began to speak publicly about alleged sexism and harassment in the tech sector. The resulting uproar led to the ouster of several men from powerful tech-related positions, including Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Google engineer James Damore and venture capitalists Steve Jurvetson, Shervin Pishevar, Justin Caldbeck and Dave McClure.
Data breaches on the down low
Hack attacks keep getting bigger and bolder. But this past year, the focus shifted from what the hackers did, to what the victimized companies did (or didn’t do) after they got pwned. Equifax waited weeks to publicly disclose a breach involving the data of 143 million people worldwide. Uber not only kept quiet for a whole year about a breach affecting up to 57 million people, it reportedly paid the hackers $100,000 to stay mum.
The Russians are coming
Russia cropped up in a lot of tech-related stories this past year. U.S. prosecutors alleged that Russian government agents paid Canadian Karim Baratov for his role (he recently pleaded guilty) in a hack involving half a billion Yahoo! accounts, while cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Inc. was accused of cyber espionage by the British, American and Israeli governments — a charge its expat Russian founder Eugene Kaspersky flatly denied.
And American and European investigators say Russian operatives were behind thousands of fake ads and news stories posted on Twitter and Facebook in 2016. The posts, seen by more than 100 million people, were reportedly designed to sway outcomes of the U.S. presidential election and Brexit vote.
Voice-activated assistants really caught on with consumers during 2017. Monthly usage of the devices grew by nearly 130 per cent (that’s year over year) in the U.S. alone, according to eMarketer figures. Amazon’s Echo console made the biggest noise, gobbling up 70.6 per cent of the U.S. market. Google Home’s second-place showing of 23.9 per cent seemed like a mere whisper by comparison.
As Apple’s iPhone turned 10 years old, researchers and media outlets mused about the impact of ubiquitous touchscreen phones on the first generation of children to be raised with the devices since birth. “We need to talk about kids and smartphones,” Time magazine declared in its headline. “Has the smartphone destroyed a generation?” asked The Atlantic. And the Wall Street Journal expressed concern for adult brains as well, with a story titled “How smartphones hijack our minds.”
The AI of Everything
Artificial intelligence was baked into just about everything in 2017, from customer service chatbots and driverless cars to cybersecurity software and voice assistants like Google Home. As the technology became more mature and widespread, however, questions continued to pop up about privacy, security, discrimination and the potential elimination of millions of jobs in a relatively short period of time.
The Amazon of Everything
Where wasn’t Amazon this year? Besides fielding voice requests on its Echo device inside our homes, Amazon also stepped onto our front porches. To thwart package pilfering, the company launched Amazon Key. Using the system’s remotely controlled camera and door lock, Amazon customers can see if a delivery is actually in progress on their veranda. Amazon also stepped into grocery store aisles to do a little shopping of its own, buying Whole Foods in a deal worth $13.7 billion.
Amazon even ended up in the middle of a murder case. After police charged an Arkansas man with first-degree murder, they checked his Amazon Echo for any sound or other data it collected during the time frame of the alleged crime.
Social media SOS
When Hurricane Harvey battered Texas and nearby states in September, social media emerged as the new emergency communication platform. Greeted by a busy signal after calling an overwhelmed 911 system, thousands of area residents turned to Twitter and Facebook to plead for rescue help instead.
The death of TV
One of the most dominant technologies of the 20th century could be fading to black. An Accenture survey of 26,000 people in 26 countries found only 23 per cent still prefer to watch television content on a TV set. That’s a gigantic 55 per cent drop from the year before. More than 40 per cent of the respondents would rather watch TV on a laptop or desktop computer.
Coming in 2018
What can we expect to happen in the technology world during the next 12 months? Probably more ups and downs around bitcoin. It surpassed a per unit value of $15,000 late in the year but also suffered a theft worth $64 million at one of its largest mining marketplaces, despite the suggestion that cryptocurrencies are unhackable.
Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation, effective in May 2018, will likely have implications for North American enterprise organizations doing business globally. If the Federal Communications Commission does in fact repeal net neutrality rules in the U.S., it could affect the price — and, according to some commentators, the politics — of the Internet.
Whatever 2018 holds, here’s wishing you an innovative, profitable and happy New Year.