From internet rules to sexual harassment: 2017 was a watershed year in technology
I think we can all agree that 2017 was a mind-boggling year for tech and tech culture. Here at Menlo Technologies we’ve identified 7 of the top stories of 2017.
1. The Repeal of Net Neutrality
Should all traffic on the internet be treated equally?
That’s the question at the heart of the debate over net neutrality, rules that the Federal Communications Commission voted to do away with earlier this month. The net neutrality regulations were instituted by the Obama Administration in 2015 and prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. In addition to scrapping those regulations, the federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service.
The biggest worry about this turn of events? That the internet will become a pay-to-play technology with two tiers: one that has speedy service and one that doesn’t. The high-speed lane would be populated by big internet and media companies. For public interest groups, nongovernmental organizations, charities and millions of private citizens, there would be the slow lane.
According to David S. Linthicum, a consultant at Cloud Technology Partners, the end of net neutrality will not affect companies with more than $1 billion in revenue. “Enterprises that use a particular cloud provider more than others can typically get dedicated lines installed from the enterprise to the cloud provider’s datacenter. That bypasses the effects of net neutrality’s elimination altogether.”
How will the repeal affect small business? According to a report in the New York Times, the American Sustainable Business Council and other small business groups published an open letter to the F.C.C. on behalf of more than 500 small businesses in the country stating that the repeal would be “disastrous” for American businesses.
“The open internet has made it possible for us to rely on a free market where each of us has the chance to bring our best business ideas to the world without interference or seeking permission from any gatekeeper first,” the groups wrote.
Broadband and telecom companies, and even some economists, however, believe that there will be a silver lining to the repeal. They believe that competitive pricing is the fuel of innovation and efficiency.
We shall see.
2. Apple’s 10th Anniversary iPhone
The iPhone X became available November 3, a few months after the impressive iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 plus.
As with previous releases, there are a few complaints about the new device:
- The iPhone X is the first iPhone to employ an OLED display, which brings sharper and more vivid images, but also the risk of burn-in or image persistence.
- The iPhone X’s display to become unresponsive in cold weather (a fix is in the works).
- The price.
All in all, however, consumers are extremely happy with the device, and so far, reviews of the device are downright poetic.
“The iPhone X OLED is bright, sharp, vibrant without verging into parody, and generally a constant pleasure to look at”, said Nilay Patel of the Verge.
Infused into the new phone’s hardware:
- 3D facial recognition
- A groundbreaking neural engine
- Artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and software which could enable much more sophisticated apps.
Many apps needed to be rewritten for the iPhone X to take advantage of the extra screen height, and that has kept developers busy. The phone’s iOS 11 operating system was also the Apple software update to support Augmented Reality apps created with the company’s ARKit development platform.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
2017 was a big year for AI, (“intelligence displayed by machines” by definition)
AI is also a broad term for an assortment of different technologies, including:
- Digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and the Google Assistant.
- In software like Facebook’s Messenger chatbots
- In machine-learning, which is when computers teach themselves how to perform tasks that humans do, including improving farming and widening access to healthcare.
In addition to using AI in medicine to predict diseases and other medical conditions, and spot suicidal users on social networks, 2017 was also the year AI also began to compose music and write movie scripts.
But there are risks associated with AI’s rapid rate of growth and improvement. May wonder if:
- Automated robots will replace jobs
- Online Face recognition will destroy our privacy
- Self-driving cars will take a wrong turn.
The good news is that many of the tech giants behind the new wave of AI are well aware that it scares people—and that these fears must be addressed. That’s why Amazon, Facebook, Google’s DeepMind division, IBM, and Microsoft have founded a new organization called the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.
“Every new technology brings transformation, and transformation sometimes also causes fear in people who don’t understand the transformation,” Facebook’s director of AI Yann LeCun said of the new project. “One of the purposes of this group is really to explain and communicate the capabilities of AI, specifically the dangers and the basic ethical questions.”
We’ll talk more about these issues in Tech Trends for 2018. Stay tuned…
4. Twitter’s 280 characters
In 2017, we’ve learned a lot about Presidential policy through Twitter.
“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter,” said a spokesman from the company, “so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).
The change prompted a range of responses, negative and positive reviews.
“Why say ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn,’ When you can say ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.Still in the box.The box is covered with dust but the baby shoes are wrapped in plastic.The plastic isn’t for sale. It’s not a package deal.I don’t want to part with them but never mind, someone just bought them.”
Will this change attract new users? Maybe we’ll find out in 2018.
5. The Cryptocurrency Boom
If you invested in bitcoin in 2017, well good for you.
Most firms can’t—or won’t—buy digital currency like bitcoin directly. But they’re high on the potential value of the underlying blockchain technology, and finding creative ways to pour money into the sector.
Why are so called crypto currencies are suddenly taking off? Josh Quittner, editorial director at Flipboard, says that these schemes they are a better way to finance startups, new ventures and even the development of the new protocols that power the Net. The hot, new buzzword is ICO — as in Initial Coin Offering — which looks like a superior alternative to the IPO.
Cryptocurrency, however, were also an attractive target for hackers and scammers in 2017
In early December, hackers robbed Bitcoin mining site NiceHash of a reported $70 million, prompting NiceHash to shut down operations for 24 hours.
We’ll see how this trend evolves in 2018.
Need a primer on Digital Currencies? Read Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper on the topic here. (Thank you Josh Quittner)
6. Russian meddling, Facebook, fake news
We know it’s not polite to talk politics, but…
Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential election, according to the company’s prepared testimony submitted to the Senate judiciary committee in December.
Facebook believes 120 fake Russian-backed pages created 80,000 posts that were received by 29 million Americans directly, but reached a much bigger audience by users sharing, liking and following the posts.
“Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook ― of which it’s a small amount of content ― influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said a little over a year ago.
But in September, the Facebook CEO announced that the company will hand over more than 3,000 Russia-linked political ads to Congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“I wish I could tell you we’re going to be able to stop all interference, but that wouldn’t be realistic,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook. “There will always be bad people in the world, and we can’t prevent all governments from all interference. But we can make it harder. We can make it a lot harder. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
7. Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and beyond
Time Magazine’s Person(s) of the Year for 2017 are The Silence Breakers.
Those are the individuals who have come forward with stories of harassment. In Silicon Valley, the issue made headlines in February with a blog post from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who described an incident in which her manager solicited sex over company chat. She complained, but was told to either switch teams or remain on the team and risk a poor performance review from the offending manager. She switched teams, and did well, but in talking to other female employees, she found that “some of them had stories similar to my own.” Fowler later left Uber, and wrote her blog post, which ultimately led to the resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Uber was only one of many, many tech firms affected by scandal this year. In June, the New York Times published a story in which several women in tech named the men in Silicon Valley who they said , prompting the resignation of VC Dave McClure from 500 Startups.
How will the #MeToo revolution change the culture of the Tech world and beyond in 2018? Many wonder if the movement will speed up the number of women in leadership – or slow it down.
2018 might have the answers.
Menlo Technologies is compiling our list of technology trends we’re are watching for 2018.
Send us your tech predictions for 2018 here.