2014 saw Artificial Intelligence, 3-D printing and wearable technology expanding into new areas and new gadgets. It marked a turning point with increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. It was a year of upheaval that cast doubt on the viability of cryptocurrencies even as new methods of digital payments were born.
And 2014 continued the lack of diversity in the tech industry and turned a page as cyberharassment percolated to the surface in heated, often abusive exchanges.
Here is a look at some of the stories that made headlines and spurred discussion in the past year.
The automated future
Driverless cars made progress in 2014; and Google’s latest in that direction revealed the first build of its self-driving vehicle prototype. Google hopes the prototype can make its debut in Northern California streets this year.
Gartner market research firm predicts that robots and drones will replace one-third of workers by 2025 and that emerging smart machines, already taking on more diversified tasks, will expand to other job areas in the future.
Increasingly smarter robots are becoming a part of our lives. And that raises a lot of questions about what a future filled with robots may hold.
Exoskeletons are making it possible for some paraplegic patients to get up and walk, although the number of patients who have been able to do that remains small.
Technology has permeated the world of sports. That is particularly true of the Paralympics, where technology gives athletes an edge, although it is their skill and determination that ultimately make the difference.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology’s Africa Initiative is working to create the world’s first commercial cargo drone route, scheduled to be in operation in 2016 to connect a number of towns and villages with vital supplies.
Africa’s money transfer system, M-Pesa, launched in 2007, has some 17 million active users worldwide. And with the recent launch of a mobile wallet in Romania, M-Pesa in expected to continue its advance in the European market.
A generous member of Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency community, donated 14 million Dogecoins or about $11,000, to help Kenya build wells. The donation was done through Doge4Water, a charity set up to help Kenyans get access to clean drinking water.
Mt. Gox lost a great many bitcoins to fraudulent transactions and hackers before it went bankrupt. Here’s an in-depth look at the plight of what was the world’s largest bitcoin digital exchange.
The arrest of BitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem for money laundering for users of the Silk Road digital black market left the Bitcoin community with a publicity crisis in the past year.
Dogecoin exchange Moolah solicited investments from users in an effort to turn the cryptocurrency into a serious business. But a contribution of $50,000 from Moolah founder and director Alex Green triggered speculation that Dogecoin is beginning its decline.
Apple Pay grabbed a 1.7% market share in the first six weeks of its roll-out; and many people believe it is a game-changer. That remains to be seen. But Apple Pay will have to make some changes before it rules the mobile payment ecosystem.
An educational program initiated in 2001 in Cameroon by the Rubistadt Foundation is creating the vanguard of a new generation of women scientists. The initiative was a response to what was seen as apathy among girls towards science and technology education in Cameroon. Today, however, more women are getting into the tech industry with the help of non-profit groups.
An ongoing Samsung Electronics effort to convert shipping containers to solar-powered Internet schools is providing free energy to power new opportunities in health and education in Africa.
Developers chime in on the lack of diversity in the tech industry and the gaming sector and offer suggestions to address the problem.
A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds there’s no difference in Internet usage between whites and African Americans at the same income level, although college education appears to reduce the gap for people under 50.
Video game developers featuring their upcoming attractions at the Electronic Entertainment Expo all had one thing in common — a distinct lack of female protagonists in the industry. And yet, some have argued that 2014 was the year female characters ruled.
IBM came out with flying colors in 2014, ranking as the only company with a female CEO among the top 10 on the National Association for Female Executive’s annual list. The list tracks the top 50 companies where executive women progress faster than the rest of corporate America.
Made with Code is a $50 million Google initiative that aims to attract more girls to coding and show that coding in today’s high-tech world is vital.
Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly declared that he is gay. “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” he wrote in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Surgeons at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital turned to Google Glass to access patient records and look at MRI and X-ray information during surgery.
Intel Corp and the Michael J. Fox Foundation have teamed up for research on Parkinson’s disease. Intel is planning to use wearable gadgets to monitor patients, collect data and share it with researchers.
Wearable tech is still in its infancy, but the market is expected to grow at a rapid pace in the next few years. CNET talked with some top executives to see where this technology is headed.
Kenyan brothers Joseph and Charles Muchene, respectively a certified public accountant and an electrical and electronics engineer have come up with the Boda-Pack, a reflective jacket with direction-indicating LEDs and synchronized brake lights to help curb rising motorcycle accident rates in Nairobi.
2014 has been the year of wearable tech, with Apple, Google and many others racing to bring to consumers the latest brands of connected wearables.
In Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, Dr. Tom Catena is treating thousands of people who lost limbs in the country’s bloody conflict, many of whom are children. One is a 12-year-old boy who lost his arms in an aerial attack. Surgery saved his life, but 3-D printing gave him back his arms.
Richard van As lost four fingers in a carpentry accident in 2011. The experience pushed him to the Internet in search of a new hand. He found a partner and together they developed a mechanical finger for van As and countless amputees around the globe.
A 3-D printing industry commentator lauds Oxfam for its plan to deploy 3D printers overseas to help people design the products they need for home sanitation and water cleaning. But with the exception of ceramics, the writer argues that the printing process and the materials used have not been deemed to be food-safe.
South Korea’s government has asked its ministries to research the feasibility of a 10-year plan to develop 3D printing into a growth market that transforms manufacturing. But industry experts question whether 3-D printing will become an industry by itself, rather than a compliment to existing industrial methods.
GamerGate started out as a discussion of ethics in gaming journalism but was soon permeated by cyberharassment, abusive behavior and threats of violence against women and critics that drew in law enforcement and caused an online stir.
In the midst of the GamerGate frenzy, feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has been a frequent target of harassment, canceled a public speech at Utah State University in Logan following threats of violence against the host.
As more and more stories emerged of game developers being harassed or threatened, hundreds of game developers and publishers signed an open letter, demanding an end to hateful speech and harassment within the games community.
Sixty percent of women in the game industry have experienced sexism – any discomfort or discrimination caused as a result of a person’s gender. Almost 77% of women and about 55% of men have female friends in the game industry who have experienced sexism.
A Pew Research Center study found that online harassment is a common phenomenon, at least in the United States, with nearly three-quarters of American adults who use the Internet witnessing online harassment, and 40 percent being harassed themselves.
A report from the Association for Progressive Communications’ Women’s Rights Program, which tracks instances of online sexual harassment and the ways in which they were addressed slapped the top three social networks with a failing grade for their “public commitment to human rights standards.”
Cybersecurity and privacy
Perhaps the biggest cybersecurity event in 2014, the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment wreaked havoc with the studio’s computer systems, leaked sensitive data online, and led Sony to delay the release of The Interview — a comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korea’s leader. The film was eventually released in some theaters and made available via online streaming services.
Antivirus maker Bitfinder reports that the FBI’s seizure of massive ransomware operation Cryptolocker might have only succeeded in stopping its delivery system. The company argues that Cryptolocker, which hijacked computers and locked out their users to demand a ransom, is alive and well. And that was just the tip of the iceberg in a year that saw a marked increase in ransomware attacks
Some of the world’s biggest technology companies agreed to donate millions of dollars to set up a group to fund improvements in open source programs like OpenSSL, the software whose “Heartbleed” vulnerability wreaked havoc with the computer industry in 2014.
As if Heartbleed wasn’t enough, a malicious piece of software called ‘WireLurker’ infects iPhones and iPads when the devices connect via USB to a Mac computer that has an infected app already installed. The malware appears to spread through a third-party app store in China.
Possibly worse than the infamous “Heartbleed” flaw, the vulnerability in an application in Linux versions up to 4.3 went unnoticed for 22 years. It allows hackers to write to files they typically should not be able to access and modify system information. A patch attempted to address the flaw shortly after it was discovered. But researchers say additional vulnerabilities rendered the patch ineffective.
Cybersecurity company Symantec uncovered a sophisticated malware-based tool called “Regin” or Backdoor Regin used by government agencies for mass surveillance. Regin has been in use since 2008 and has been detected in 10 countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico.
U.S. technology companies are under escalating pressure to let police and spies tap into smartphone data and emails in the name of fighting terrorism. Silicon Valley is putting up a fight.
A consumer group filed a lawsuit with the French High Court in Paris against Google, Facebook, and Twitter, arguing their privacy policies are too complex for the average user to decipher.
Google has scrubbed tens of thousands of URLs since the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that EU citizens have the right to unlink their names from online search results. Some have criticized the EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” requirement as a form of censorship.