It’s been a fast-moving year, so before diving headlong into 2014, we thought we’d tap the brakes and revisit some of the year’s most notable stories in exponential technology. Keep in mind, this ain’t science, and the list is by no means all-inclusive. If you have a favorite topic we missed, forgive but don’t forget—tell us in the comments!
In December, Google announced they’d acquired seven robotics companies over six months. Then they announced an electrifying eighth purchase—Boston Dynamics and their menagerie of mind-blowing bots. Added to Google’s ongoing artificial intelligence research, the potential for smart, capable robots seems greater than ever.
The virtual currency, Bitcoin, had a hyperactive year. In short: bubbles, busts, hackers, heists, speculators, regulators, pirates, and IPOs. Bitcoin evangelists believe it’s the beginning of a momentous shift from traditional centralized currencies to decentralized digital currencies. Skeptics think it’s a fascinating experiment, but ultimately untenable.
A Computer for Your Face
For $1,500, tech geeks rocked Google’s touch- and voice-operated augmented reality Glass device—even as skeptics warned Glass would mark the end of privacy. Oculus took their Rift virtual reality headset from duct-taped ski goggles to $75 million venture darling. Gamers and developers say its the real deal. A consumer version is on the way.
Self-driving headlines were previously dominated by Google, but 2013 brought the idea mainstream as heavy hitters including BMW, Nissan, Toyota, and Ford promised the tech from 2020 to 2025. Tesla beat all, pledging 90% automation in 2016. CEO, Elon Musk, said the last 10% is a more difficult problem and further away.
Some economists suggested stubbornly elevated unemployment isn’t cyclical, it’s structural. The culprit? Advanced robots and automation are taking jobs from humans, and it’s only going to get worse. History tells us such arguments fail to predict all the new things humans will do instead—but a few experts insist this time is different.
Uncle Sam Wants Your Data
According to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden some of the biggest names in tech had enabled the NSA to snoop on, well, just about everyone. The Snowden affair has changed the cost-benefit calculation of information exchange, somewhat tarnished trust in big tech companies, and heightened interest in information security.
Drones for good? What a novel idea. Amazon grabbed headlines by promising door-to-door fulfillment of orders by drone. But the firm wasn’t the first to suggest drone delivery. Matternet proposed an automated, Internet-inspired drone network to deliver goods in cities or medicine to poor rural areas seasonally cut off by flooded road.
Buy Your Next 3D Printer…at Staples?
Staples announced it would offer the $1,300 3D Systems Cube desktop 3D printer, while other firms introduced cheap (or free) 3D scanners. Is 3D printing poised to go mainstream? Autodesk CEO Carl Bass cautioned against the hype but went on to say, “Just as rip-mix-burn became the anthem for digital music, we are starting to do the same thing for the physical world with capture-modify-print (or download-modify-print)…”