Andreas Sandre

@andreas212nyc

2017 in review: 8 most-talked about in tech

Image via themocracy.com

From blockchain and bitcoin to AI, the new iPhone X, and the much-dreaded algorithms.

What would you add to this list?

1. BLOCKCHAIN

“Blockchain birthed bitcoin, but for years, the child has outshone the parent,” writes Forbes. “That began to change this year, as leading technologists began to take up the discussion of how blockchain can impact arenas beyond cryptocurrency.”

According to Google Trends, it’s not exactly true. ‘Bitcoin’ was the second most searched term in global news in 2017 — fifth in the United States — while the term ‘blockchain’ does not appear in Google Trends’ Year in Search 2017.

Still, blockchain has been a hot, trending topic in tech in 2017. So much so that Fast Company predicts that 2018 will be a “massive year” for blockchain. Ben Schiller believes that the decentralized ledger technology that tracks bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies transactions “really promised to shake up the world,” including in the areas of investing, the media, public records, hardware, and aid and international development.

This year, developers came up with hundreds of new use-cases for blockchains, and 2018 is likely to see a lot more exciting activity.

But what is blockchain?

Via World Economic Forum on Youtube

2. BITCOIN

Like blockchain, bitcoin is one of the most talked-about phenomenon of 2017. It’s value has skyrocketed to record highs, from less than $1,000 on January 1, 2017 to more than $18,000 by mid-December, with volatility to the roof.

According to Coindesk: “Notable bankers, economists, and investors have all weighed in over the past year. But views vary: some believe investors should hold their funds; but many have also sounded the alarm on bitcoin while expressing doubts on other cryptocurrencies.”

That’s what Wall Street says. But “Silicon Valley is extremely bullish,” writes Nick Bilton on VANITY FAIR, citing the rise of initial coin offerings — or ICOs — as one of the many factors currently fueling the ascent of bitcoin.

“In typical Valley fantasy, people are seeing only the positive potential with bitcoin, not the potentially ugly outcomes when humans molest it for their own interests,” he says.

Bilton quotes Adam Ludwin, co-founder and CEO of Chain: ““In the short-run, there will be extreme volatility as FOMO competes with FUD, confusion competes with understanding, and greed competes with fear (on both the buyer side and the issuer side). Most people buying into crypto assets have checked their judgement at the door.”

Via Wall Street Journal on Youtube.

3. IPHONE X

The new iPhone X is only third in Google Trends top searches of 2017 — and the iPhone 8 is second. It’s still second to the iPhone 8 in top searches in the consumer tech area.

But hasn’t thought about buying it? Who hasn’t read reviews? Who hasn’t seen the daughter of an Apple engineer going viral on Youtube for showing her dad’s iPhone X before it was released causing her father being fired?

Well, I’m among those who wanted it even before it was announced; who woke up at 3am the day it was released; who got it right away. And I love it!

Here’s how CNET reviews it:

4. SOCIAL MEDIA ALGORITHMS

WIRED titles: “2017 was the year we fell out of love with algorithms.”

Fake news, Russia’s interference in the US election, hate and extremism online… Those are all phenomenons that have spun out of social media algorithms abuses.

Interesting fact: The Collins English Dictionary named “fake news” as Word of the Year 2017, winning over another related word that made the shortlist, “echo chamber.”

WIRED cites Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the US House Intelligence Committee. Last month, in a hearing about Russian interference in the 2016 election, he threw this accusation at Facebook’s top lawyer Colin Stretch: “Part of what made the Russia social media campaign successful is that they understood algorithms you use that tend to accentuate content that is either fear-based or anger-based.”

Even David Axelrod, director of UChicago’s UChicago Politics and former advisor to president Barack Obama, addressed the phenomenon in an interview with Nieman Lab: “Everything is pushing us toward algorithm-guided, customized offerings. That’s true in politics and in journalism. That worries me.”

“Letting algorithms become bogeymen can also blind us to the reason they are so ubiquitous,” WIRED writes. “They are the only way to make sense of the blizzard of data the computing era blinds us with. Algorithms provide an elegant and efficient way to get things done — even to make the world a better place.”

Is that so?

“Using algorithms to analyze our metadata can personalize everything from our searches on Google to the products we’re recommended on Amazon to the news stories Facebook thinks we’ll be interested in,” Digital Trends explains. “But personalization isn’t always good. The so-called ‘filter bubble’ effect can mean we get stuck in online echo chambers, never presented with news that conflicts with our own world view.”

5. UNICORNS

Looking at the Collins English Dictionary shortlist for Word of the Year 2017, in addition to “fake news” and “echo chamber,” another tech-related word made the list, “unicorn.”

By the way: the word “Insta” also made the list.

Collins defines it as: “(1) an imaginary creature depicted as a white horse with one long spiralled horn growing from its forehead, regarded as symbol of innocence and purity (2) a recently launched business enterprise that is valued at more than one billion dollars.”

Obviously, the latter applies to my list of most talked-about in tech in 2017.

According to Recode, which cites PitchBook data, 57 startups became unicorns this year, the third-busiest year for companies reaching $1 billion valuation, and seven lost their horns.

6. CYBERSECURITY

PitchBook, which I mentioned in my previews entry, explains that “Cybersecurity — or, in many cases, the lack of it — has made its fair share of headlines this year, from the Uber data breach that cost the ridehailing company’s chief security officer his job to the WannaCry ransomware attack.”

Not only cybersecurity has made headlines throughout the year, but investors and VCs have shown a lot of interest in the sector with the highest amount of capital of the past decade invested in the industry.

“So far in 2017, VC investors have invested about $4.2 billion in cybersecurity startups, eclipsing the previous high reached in 2015,” per PitchBook’s data. Two companies, Rubrik, Inc. and Illumio, are also unicorns with valuations over $1 billion.

7. AI

Artificial intelligence — or AI — and machine learning are everywhere. Literally! They are in our smartphones, in our homes, in our car. They power our social media experience, our Alexas and Google Assistants, our personal banking, and nearly every other part of modern life. Virtually every big tech company is pouring funds into AI. Academia is publishing papers and research.

According to James Vincent of The Verge: “Artificial intelligence boomed this year like few other areas in tech, but despite the scientific breakthroughs, glut of funding, and new products rolling out to consumers, the field has problems that can’t be ignored. Some of these, like company-driven hype and sensationalist headlines, need better communication from the media and experts. Others challenges are more nuanced and will take longer to address, such as bias in algorithms and the growing threat of tech firms becoming AI monopolies as they hoover up data and talent.”

Experts compare AI to electricity because it’s a resource with the potential to transform a broad range of industries.
TEDxLakeCome via Youtube.

Even governments are taking “high-profile steps towards advancing AI over the past two years,” as the Center for DataInnovation explains. “These range from prospective research about the potential impacts of AI to large amounts of funding and ambitious strategic plans to bolster national capacity to take advantage of the technology.”

Via Corneliu Bjola on Twitter.

8. ELON MUSK

Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Hyperloop, Solar Roof, OpenAI… Should I say more?

Elon Musk has been redefining tech for years. And he’s perfectly summed up 2017 in a less than 280-character tweet:

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