News roundup: 2016
Business Management

News roundup: 2016

Been living under a rock for the last 12 months? Been so immersed in VR Minecraft you’ve forgotten about the real world? We’ve got you covered. Here’s some of the biggest news and trends in tech from 2016.

Any and every election: Data fails

In what was a very odd year, Donald Trump becoming President was probably the most perplexing and unexpected. But, ignoring the fact Clinton won the popular vote and Trump won with less voter share than Romney lost the previous election with, it was a complete failure on the data front.

We’re meant to be in the era of Big Data, Machine Learning, and generally have learned lessons from the previous 50 years’ worth of elections. Instead, any outlet which actually hinted at what would turn out to be the correct result gets their own news story. Look at pretty much any election or referendum of the last 12 months and you get a similar story. Somewhere along the pipeline, something is broken.

Wearable tech wobbles

Apple Watch has gone nowhere. Moto has said it’s not releasing anything for the upcoming Android Wear 2.0. Google Glass v2 has been quiet. We’re still waiting on Magic Leap, and Microsoft HoloLens costs $3000. 2016 was not great for wearable tech.

On the plus side, wearable tech makes more money than the traditional Swiss watch industry, Snap Inc.’s Spectacles seem to be selling out at every ridiculous cyclopean vending machine, Tag Heuer have found a way to convince people to buy its horribly overpriced Android offering, and almost everyone I know has a cheap mobile VR viewer. So it’s not a complete bust.

Facebook: Social media site, news publisher, internet provider, Snapchat imitator?

Facebook’s usual issues over photography and what counts as offensive have now evolved into what is newsworthy. The infamous picture of a girl being burned by napalm in Vietnam is an essential part of recent history; FB’s algorithms say it’s a naked girl so violates policy; FB’s managers agree it should be on the site. Since when do social media networks get to decide what’s newsworthy?

But that’s just the tip of the newsworthy iceberg. After reports that its Trending News feature was biased against conservative publications and headlines, Facebook replaced people with algorithms, which promptly started promoting fake news headlines. Not long after, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to defend his company from accusations that fake news appearing on the site might have helped swing the US elections. So far the best idea people can come with is linking more stuff to fact-checking sites.

The company’s internet-for-all Facebook Basics service was kicked out of India for violating Net Neutrality. But it has apparently brought millions of people online across the rest of the world, many of whom segue on to full on paid internet access before long. November saw news leak that Facebook was considering providing a censorship tool for third parties in an effort to get back into China. It also got into trouble with various courts around the world for trying to link up WhatsApp and FB data.

The social network also launched various apps to try and steal share away from Snapchat, released Facebook at Work to compete with Slack, and is soon going to be offering jobs on company pages. And it started encroaching on eBay/Craigslist’s turf with Marketplace. And had to deny it used your microphone to tweak what appeared in your News Feed. But it has donated some money to help stem the gentrification its caused in California.

Hacks, hack, hacks

2016 was not a good year if you worked in security. Yahoo! got hacked. So did Sage. So did MySpace. LinkedIn. VK. Oracle’s Micros. So did all kinds of banks. And the DNC. The list goes on.

Cybercrime became more prevalent in the UK than regular crime. Dyn was knocked out by a load of insecure CCTV cameras. Ransomware attacks were succeeding at an alarming rate. Cars were remotely messed with. It’s not been pretty. It probably won’t be in 2017.

Privacy? What privacy.

The steam of revelations from Ed Snowden’s leaks eventually dried up after there was literally no one for the government left to admit it wasn’t spying on in some way, shape or form. But privacy has still been a hot button topic.

The FBI and Apple had a long-running battle about backdoors. You can probably expect similar battles in 2017.

The UK passed the IP Bill – aka the Snooper’s Charter – which basically codifies all the intrusive ways the government wants to keep track of everything you ever do, say, and watch online. As well as scare the entire world off of buying UK-based technology products.

GDPR was announced as definitely happening, and everyone has two years to get their house in order. Brexit or no Brexit. President Trump or no President Trump.

Russia blocked LinkedIn for not hosting data locally. China passed some super unpleasant security laws. France did pass some nasty surveillance laws, but they were quickly ruled illegal in court.

The UN also ruled internet access should be a Human Right.

Driverless cars & drones

Governments are falling over themselves to allow companies to test driverless cars on their roads. Tesla gave every one of its customers some sophisticated faux-autonomous lane changing features – which promptly lead to the first autonomous fatality – and almost every major automaker announced its driverless timeline. Comma.ai came, went, then came back again. Apple finally publicly confirmed it’s working on something. People are starting to worry that means human drivers will bully subservient robot cars.

The sky is yet to be darkened with a swarm of Amazon Prime drone deliveries, but the likes of the US and UK have started passing more drone-friendly regulations, especially when it comes to commercial use. Obviously reports about drones flying around airports and headlines about massive anti-drone radio laser death guns (or anti-drone eagles if you prefer low-tech) are now rife.

AI

Pretty much every week saw some high-profile tech of scientist – most notably Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking – some out and warn us about the danger artificial intelligence posed to the human race. A few came out and said we’d all be fine, but that’s not nearly as good a headline. Weekly studies outlining how robots and automation were going to take all the jobs were occasionally rebutted with the “but we’ll create new jobs” line, but mostly experts said the answer has to be Universal Basic Income.

Oh yeah, and some Google-owned startup beat a grand master at some game called Go. Apparently it’s a big deal and has been referenced in every presentation about AI this year or something.

Acquisitions

There were a lot of them.

Tesla bought a German engineering company so it could move into Europe as well as CEO Elon Musk’s other company, Solar City. HPE sold whatever wasn’t nailed down. Yahoo was finally snapped up by Verizon (assuming it doesn’t get called off in the wake of Yahoo admitting a massive breach). Oracle decided the best way to show its Cloud credentials was to buy Netsuite. Dell has been shedding whatever it can ahead of the merger with EMC. Everyone who’s anyone bought an AI startup (or five). Walmart hoovered up Jet to compete with Amazon. Softbank got its hands on ARM for some reason. Intel bought a drone company. Microsoft couldn’t buy Salesforce so went for LinkedIn instead, and beat out Salesforce in the process.

No one wants to buy Twitter. Not even Salesforce or Disney. And Twitter would rather shut down Vine than sell it.

Chatbots and Voice

We all knew AI was coming. The rise of VR was on the wall. But chatbots? Those weird automated things you used to get on the likes of MSN Messenger? What? Driving the next era of customer experience? Eh? What’s that, Tech Crunch have one? Right, let’s make two.

The arrival of Alexa & Amazon, and later on Google Home, however, were less bemusing. Who doesn’t want an always-listening computer to control their house, answer questions, play music, and generally creep on you?

Explosions

If you’re going to make a phone, or tablet, or phablet, don’t make it explode. Simple logic.

Other

A raft of tech companies – led by vocal Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff – campaigned against proposed discriminatory LGBT bills in Georgia and North Carolina, showing that even though diversity levels might be terrible, at least these companies have some soul.

Pokémon Go was pretty good, but not proper AR. Google beat Oracle in the lawsuit over copyright and APIs. It was a record year for African startup funding. Both John McAfee and Carly Fiorina made brief runs for the White House. Raspberry Pi became the best-selling UK computer ever.

Apple probably announced a new iPhone and some novelty feature no one asked for. Some Chinese companies you’ve barely heard of started making phones that are just as good as ones from the big boys. Lots of tech execs said stuff that makes them seem out of touch. Nokia confirmed it was re-entering a phone market that probably doesn’t need it. BlackBerry finally conceded that it’s done with phones. Microsoft pretty much did the same with Windows Phones. Google killed off Project Ara modular phone and bricked an IoT device it had acquired a while back.

One company exec said 5% of interactions with his company’s Siri-like virtual assistant were sexual in nature. Anything and everything suddenly had an IoT version released. Every city, town, and hamlet in the world claimed to be an up and coming tech hub. That guy who said he invented Bitcoin decided not to bother showing proof.

Things that haven’t happened

Quantum computing, graphene and seamless AR are yet to be things. No one has found that killer use case for VR. No one bought Twitter. Diversity levels are still pretty shocking. The tech bubble hasn’t burst (but you could argue it’s deflated a bit, especially after Powa Technologies folded). The Blockchain hasn’t changed the world. Bitcoin hasn’t replaced currency.

Microsoft obviously never joined the Linux Foundation. Oh wait…

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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