A for AI, B for Blockchain: 2017 in technology
This year in tech has been all about restructuring the status quo, as expectations were tempered, hype was generated, and in between, some innovation happened
By all accords, 2017 has been a busy, bittersweet year for the tech industry. Cutting-edge product designs have been balanced out by much-hyped products, and sometimes entire companies, going bust. This has not really been the year of consistent breakneck innovation, but there is still quite a lot to take a look at.
The hardware hits
First, the simple stuff. The rapidly stagnating smartphone hardware scene saw some ripples, with companies changing up phone design. Samsung perfected its years-long quest for curved displays early on with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, and the likes of Apple, LG, Xiaomi, Google and OnePlus have also managed to cram gigantic screens into their phones without upsetting the overall footprint.
But while displays are all fine and dandy, the real work has been going into the cameras. Every phone and its uncle experimented with dual cameras this year, to get the much-talked-about bokeh background blur effect in photos. Late in the year, Google walked its talk on how AI can revolutionise industries, by using AI so effectively in the cameras on its Pixel 2 phones, that they managed to eliminate the need for the second lens altogether. This year also saw some new entrants rise up to take on the incumbents in the form of Essential and Razer, employing Andy Rubin’s vision for Android and Razer’s knowledge of gaming peripherals respectively.
While we’re on the subject of hardware, the video game industry also saw some major shake-ups. The Xbox One X followed last year’s PS4 Pro in showing that console update cycles are getting shorter, and that consoles themselves are pushing towards taking on the ‘PC Master Race’. However, the breakout player of the year in gaming hardware is undoubtedly the Nintendo Switch. With its modular form factor and pick-up-and-play ideology, the Switch appealed to a large section of the gaming community, representing not just a hit for Nintendo, but also a primer for what gaming devices of the future could look like.
Grain and chaff?
The number of pathbreaking products released this year may not be very high, but the rate of innovation in different fields has started putting things into perspective. VR, which has been Silicon Valley’s poster child for the past couple of years, is now teetering on the edge of the ravine between 3D TVs and Google Glass, as far as commercial applications are concerned, as companies struggle to create affordable, scalable use cases for the end user. It’s too early to call time of death, but 2017 has been an underwhelming year for the tech.
Wearables are also losing their sheen, and settling down into wrist-mounted smart fitness devices than the strap-on computers they were originally introduced as. That said, the AI that goes into wearables (and speakers, and headphones, and cars, and desk lamps?) is now the story worth focusing on.
As mentioned earlier, Google is innovating hard in this area, and it’s no longer the only one. Elon Musk-backed OpenAI pulled off a showing similar to that of Google’s AlphaGo, by trouncing pro Dota players at their own game. Musk’s Tesla has also unveiled trucks smart enough to drive themselves on highways and alert authorities in case the driver has a medical emergency. Amazon’s introduction of Echo devices in India, complete with extensive modifications to Alexa to better work with Indian accents, aims to help a whole section of the unconnected population to interact with devices using voice, rather than fiddly touch-based interfaces.
The biggest story this year, however, was how tech enabled some important toppling of power structures in industries, with the #MeToo campaign being the cornerstone of the movement. Twitter, which has seen its share of flak in recent years for an increasingly toxic environment, came together to power the voices of the women who spoke up against powerful authority figures, and soon all of social media was part of the movement. There are still problems to be fixed on these platforms, ranging from trolls to fake news, but for a brief period, they did what they were made to do, and that is a win.
Out with the old, in with the new
Looking back, this year has seen a lot of things we took for granted at some point, fade away into oblivion. Some, like Twitter’s infamous egg profile image, are long overdue, while others, like the iPod Nano and Shuffle, caused some outpouring of sentiment. Vine, which launched a few careers and gave the Internet some laughing material while it was alive, was also officially discontinued early this year.
But one of the biggest names to go down was MS Paint. The software that made every child overestimate their artistic skills is being axed, so we all have to find alternatives to paste our screenshots.
This has been the year blockchain became a mainstream term, thanks largely to the massive Bitcoin rally late in the year, which has seen a flurry of interest in investment into cryptocurrency. The blockchain tech itself is now gaining more notice as a result, and while cryptocurrency whitepapers would have one believe the distributed ledger can walk your dog and make you a sandwich, the underlying tech has enough potential for innovative minds to be working further on it.
These are the headlines for the year that was, but much like a good second instalment in a trilogy, this year was more about setting the audience up for more.
On to 2018.