Top ten in tech for 2018
Definitely not the greatest year for technology, but maybe not the worst. Here's my list (in no particular order) of the top ten tech news stories for 2018.
1. The founder myth takes a battering
Tech founders have achieved an almost super hero status - think Steve Jobs - but this year we saw a number of them falter. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost $15 billion in a year of controversies (see below). Elon Musk began 2018 with bravado by launching a Tesla into space, hit a low-point with injudicious tweeting, but has appeared to the end the year OK. Meanwhile Steve Jobs wanna-be Elizabeth Holmes is facing fraud charges following the collapse of her company Theranos.
2. #delete Facebook
It was an 'annus horribilis' for the social media giant after it was discovered that personal data from 87 million accounts was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used the data to influence elections. CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself being questioned by the US Government , where Washington showed it can out-Hollywood Hollywood in drama, if not in tech knowledge. But many users concerned about the issues raised were left wondering if they could actually delete Facebook from their lives, given its enormous reach.
3. National CTO - not yet, maybe never
In opposition Labour MP Clare Curran campaigned for the appointment of a National Chief Technology Officer, and when she became a Minister it looked like it would finally come to pass. But the botched process, which resulted in the appointment of Derek Handley, and subsequent withdrawal of the offer, saw her leave Cabinet. And we're still waiting for a National CTO to be appointed. [UPDATE: Since this post was first published, Digital Services Minister Megan Woods has confirmed that the CTO position has been scrapped in favour of a "small group of people" to assist in guiding New Zealand's tech environment.]
4. Year of China
It was the year in which we really began to think about the fact that China has some of the best tech in the world and is deploying some of it in ways that might even surprise our old friend George Orwell. Facial recognition surveillance cameras in Shenzhen that name and shame jaywalkers, and a social credit system in which citizens are scored on their behaviour (with real-world consequences). But while governments like New Zealand are taking a hard line regarding Huawei being involved in the 5G rollout, many organisations are looking at ways to get closer, with Google rumoured to be returning to the land of over 772 million internet users.
5. Creepy tech
Not everything new development tech is met with universal applause, especially when it gets a little too human for comfort. Google unveiled Google Duplex at its developer conference, in which a voice assistant was shown to make mundane appointment calls (for example to the hairdresser, to the restaurant) and carry on a conversation like an Actual Person. Meanwhile Amazon's Alexa was caught out recording a family's conversation and sending it to the husband's employee.
6. Digital Divide
As broadband infrastructure reaches 99.8% of the population, discussions about the digital divide are coming to the fore. A couple of excellent reports this year, notably "Out of the Maze: Building Digitally Inclusive Communities", have highlighted just how necessary it is for all New Zealanders to have equal access to the internet, especially as more government services, including the education system, go online.
7. Robots stealing jobs
Dystopian futures got a real outing this year, with many studies, here and overseas, looking at the impact of new technology on the future of work. A report from Infometrics says 31% of current jobs are at risk of being automated, but rather than panic, maybe it's better to plan?
8. Smartphones reach $2K in price
While PCs might be reducing in price, smartphones are getting more expensive. The 2018 releases from high-end hardware manufacturers Samsung and Apple were around the $2,000 mark, with the iPhone XS Max 6.5-inch display at $2,099. This might explain why nobody queues for the latest iPhone anymore.
9. E-scooters arrive on our shores
New Zealand joined the latest tech craze when Lime unleashed 1000 e-scooters on the streets of Christchurch and Auckland in October, and more recently in Upper Hutt. Many were horrified that you could ride the footpaths of our cities travelling at up to 27kmph without wearing a helmet. While others saw the opportunity to join the gig economy and make up to $150 a night as 'juicers'.
10. Don't believe the hype
It's the story that in many ways sums up the tech year. If you are looking for a gripping holiday read this summer, then you can't go past Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up by John Carreyrou, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal. It's a modern-day Greek tragedy in which the CEO, who modelled herself on Steve Jobs, drove the company's value up to over $9 billion peddling a product that was supposed to provide accurate blood tests with just the pinprick on your finger. Too good to be true? Turned out it was.
This Top Ten in Tech was discussed on Radio NZ's Nine to Noon show here.
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