What tech was everyone talking about in 2015?
It’s apt to be writing about the big technology innovations of 2015 for Convergence because that is perhaps the biggest thing to come from the tech world in 2015.
Connectedness between different, often disparate and seemingly unrelated systems, is what will be built on the foundation laid by the technology changes of 2015.
Sure, there have been some consumer tech wunderkinds such as the Apple Watch. Apple’s first foray into wearable technology hasn’t exactly set the world alight but within hours of its release it outsold every other smartwatch previously released ever combined. We expect the next version, rumoured for a February 2016 debut, to be a better device with improved battery life, a slimmer profile and integrated GPS.
One the computing side, it’s the venerable laptop, which will celebrate its 35th birthday in 2016 – the Osborne 1 is generally considered to be the first mass-produced portable computer – that has seen the most change. And it’s fair to say Microsoft has lead a revolution.
Their Surface devices – hybrid systems that can work as notebooks or tablets – have brought touchscreen computing to the masses by breaching the gap between tablets such as the iPad and regular laptop computers. I suspect that by the time the decade is over, non-touchscreen notebook computers will go the way of VHS.
Elon Musk’s Tesla electric sports car has captured the imagination of the automotive industry. But some software updates released late in 2015 herald the converged world I see rushing forth.
Along with Tesla’s push towards autonomous cars, there’s been the buzz around the Internet of Things. Anyone involved in building over the last few years has already been dabbling in this space with interconnected remote sensors and controllers. But IT consultancy firm Gartner suggests we’ll have over 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by the end of the decade – that’s a ten-fold increase over where we are today.
That’s a lot of devices to control and manage and a lot of data to to collect, analyse and use.
A few years ago, the buzzword was “big data”. Today it’s just “data”.
We also have a burgeoning new sharing economy growing with the likes of Uber and AirBNB. That’s a whole lot of humans, using devices to connect to one another to deliver and buy services.
Now, imagine a world where the cars drive themselves to take you to the shops when you need to go. Your home will automatically adjust lights and climate control. The washing machine will start during an off-peak energy pricing period – maybe when you’re not home so you’re not disturbed by the noise.
When the shopping is done, you tell an app and another car, maybe a larger one that can carry all of the parcels from your shopping trip, will arrive at the store pick-up point to drive you home.
As you approach, the lights and climate control will start, automatically bringing things to right levels.
The impacts of these technologies converging will be massive and cause huge economic shifts. We’ll need fewer cars, roads will be less congested (and that means fewer new roads so construction companies might feel the pinch). We won’t need to own cars so the need for a garage disappears – hello extra living space!
Shopping centre car parks – today filled with unused cars won’t need to be as big. Suddenly, we might see more open space and park land in our neighbourhoods instead of multi-story concrete monoliths.
Big data, automation and the Internet of Things is going to create a very different world, driven by the convergence of different technologies.
But there is some darkness to this cloud – with great connectedness comes increased risk. Today, if a software glitch or, worse yet, a piece of malware causes your system to malfunction the impact, while significant, is not very likely to be life threatening. And, even if a system is somehow compromised, we usually have some time to detect, react and remediate the situation.
When your autonomous car is driving you and the family to the local mall at 60kmh, the vehicle only has milliseconds to deal with a glitch.
What will take some time to catch up with the technology is the law. But perhaps more importantly is ethics.
If an autonomous vehicle has to make a choice between the safety of the car’s occupants and a pedestrian – who should it choose? And if an autonomous car causes an accident – who is to blame?
As I look back at 2015 I see the world at a tipping point, falling towards increased automation and connectedness. But I hope that we are like the loveable Disney Pixar character Buzz Lightyear and we “fall with style” rather than plummet into an abyss.
Written by Anthony Caruana, Editor of Macworld.