Keeping with tradition, I’ll review some of the trends I noticed this past year, and remark on what they might mean for those of us working in technology.
To some this might seem trivial, but there’s a lot to be said here. With the massive growth of Node.js and many associated libraries, Google’s V8 engine has been stirring up the web world. Write a Node.js program, and I guarantee you’ll never think of a web server the same way again.
Cognitive Computing Begins to Take Form
Earlier this year I stated a belief that 2013 would be the year of cognitive systems. Well that hasn’t been fulfilled completely, but we’ve nonetheless seen some intriguing developments in that direction. IBM continues to chug away at their cognitive platforms, and Watson is now deployed working full time as an AI M.D. of sorts. Siri has notably improved from earlier versions. Vicarious used their algorithms to crack CAPTCHA. Two rats communicated techepathically (I just made that word up) with each other from huge distances, and people have been controlling robots with their minds. It’s been an amazing year.
The cognitive computing/cybernetics duo is going to change, well, everything. I would argue that cybernetics may just top the list of most transformative technologies, but it has a ways to go before we go full Borg.
Wearables Start to Become a Thing
Ah, wearables. We’ve waited for nifty sci-fi watches for so long – and lo! They have come. Sort of. They’re on their way, and we’re starting to catch glimpses of what this will actually mean for technology. I agree with Sergey Brin here: it’ll get the technology out of our hands and integrated into our environment. Personally I envision tech becoming completely seamless and unnoticeable, nature-friendly and powerful, much like our own biological systems, but that’s another article entirely.
Wearable technology will combine with the “Internet of Things” in ways we can’t yet imagine, and will make life a little easier for some and much, much better for others.
Internet of Things
The long-awaited Internet of Things is finally starting to coalesce into something real. Apple is filing patents left and right for connected home gear, General Electric is making their way into the space with new research, and plenty of startups are sprouting to address the challenges in the space (and presumably be acquired by one of the big players).
This development is so huge it’s almost difficult to say what it will bring. One thing is for sure: the possibilities are only limited to one’s imagination.
21st Century Medicine is Shaping up to be AWESOME
Aside from the fact that we now have an artificial intelligence assisting in medical diagnosis, there have been myriad amazing developments in medicine. From numerous prospects for cures to cancer, HIV, and many other disease to the advances in regenerative medicine and bionanotechnology, we’re on the fast track to a future wherein medical issues can be resolved quickly and with relatively little pain. There’s also a different perspective: solve the issue at the deepest root, instead of treating symptoms with drugs.
Every Strategy is a Sell Strategy
This year, tech giants went acquisition-mad. It seems like every day one of them has blown another few billion dollars on some startup somewhere.
Why is this bad? It may be good for the little guy (startup) in the short term – they walk away with loads of cash – but in the long term I suspect it will have a curious effect. It’s almost like business one-night-stand-ism. You build a company knowing full well that you’re just going to sell it to Google or Facebook. If not, you fold.
You can see where this goes. People are often saying they look forward to ‘the next Google’, or ‘the next Facebook’, or whatever. Well there might not be any. That is, all the big fish are eating the little fish before they have the chance to become big fish. Result? Insanely huge fish.
It’s great that a couple of smart kids can run off, Macbook Pros in hand, and [potentially] make a few billion bucks in a few years, with or without revenue. But who is going to outlast the barrage of acquisition offers and become the next generation of companies?
Big Data is Still not Clearly Defined
Big Data. Big data. BIG. DATA.
What does it mean?
The buzzword and its many ilk have been floating around for a couple of years now, and still nobody can really define what it does. Most seem to agree it goes something like: prop up a Hadoop cluster, mine a bunch of stale SQL records in massive company/organization, cast the MapReduce spell and – Hadoopra cadabra! Sparkling magical insights of pure profit glory appear, fundamentally altering life and the universe forever – and sending you home with bigger paychecks.
I’m all for data analysis. In fact I believe that a society that makes decisions based on hard evidence and good data-crunching is a smart society indeed. But the ‘Big Data’ hype has yet to form into anything definitive, and remains a source of noise. (Big data fanboys, go ahead and flame in the comments.)
America’s Innovation Edge Dulls
It’s true. I hate to admit, but it is, undeniably, absolutely true. America has dropped the ball when it comes to innovation. That’s not to say we’re not innovating cool things, generating economy and all of that – we are. But that gloss has started to tarnish. Specifically, America has a problem with denying talented people the right to be here and work.
It could be our hyper-paranoid foreign policy in lieu of 9/11, it could be the flawed immigration system, it could be Washington gridlock or a million other things. It’s not particularly fruitful to pass the blame now. We’re turning away the best and the brightest from around the world, and simultaneously continuing to outsource some of what used to be our core competencies. The bright spot in all of this is that high-tech manufacturing would seem to be making a comeback, perhaps in part thanks to 3D printing, but it’s not quite enough. We need more engineers, more inventors, and more people from outside our borders. This has always been the place people come to plant the seeds of great ideas. Let’s stay true to that.