We live in the information age. You don’t need to go to the library for information. You can pull out your smartphone from your pocket and ask Siri or Google Now or Cortana, and it will read out the latest information for anything you ask. We have resources like Wikipedia for knowledge, Wolfram Alpha for mathematical information and countless news sites and blogs indexed by Google. All of this information is at our fingertips. But we are about to get a lot more information about a lot of new things. We have reached an era of powerful micro-computers that are cheap and affordable. They have a plethora of on-board sensors that can produce data. This data will give us an insight into a lot of topics that we did not know about. It will open up our understanding of the environment we live in, the factors affecting it, and we will learn even more after studying co-relations between the data we will soon have.
Passwords have been around for centuries. When Julius Caesar was fighting a war in Europe, they used a password at the gate before soldiers could enter the camp. In those days, you did not have government issued Photo IDs. The enemy could kill a soldier, wear this uniform, steal his horse and penetrate the their camp. Having a password allowed camps to only grant entry to the soldiers who knew the password. With the advent of the internet, we have used passwords as an authentication mechanism for everything from email and online shopping sites to banking.
It is becoming easier for hackers to break passwords and hijack accounts. We have resorted to using more complex passwords than we cannot remember, and relying on password manager apps to store them. This is becoming very inconvenient. To solve this problem, many companies are working on the next generation of passwords. EyeVerify has developed eye-detection software that detects eye characteristics using a picture from the camera, and generates a password based on the characteristics. They call it the EyePrint. They also detect features like vein patterns in the eyes. So when you want to login to a service, you can simply snap a picture of your eyes and be authenticated. MasterCard is also working on a similar approach. They are using selfies for authentication. This involves analyzing more facial features like position of eyes, nose, mouth, etc. MasterCard believes that this is the future of passwords.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) has existed for a long time now. Designers learn how to use popular software like AutoCAD from Autodesk, and design products using the software. The traditional human designing process is now aided by computers. CAD enables designers to try out different designs on the computer and analyze them before they can settle on a design. Autodesk now has a new research project called Dreamcatcher. With Dreamcatcher, the fulcrum is slightly moved. Instead of computers providing help to the designer, the computer takes over and designs the product, while the human can propose tweaks and pick a design short-listed by the software. Dreamcatcher understands the product that needs to be designed, analyzes the different variables involved and does mathematical calculations to come up with the best design for the product. The human can then tweak or change the design and Dreamcatcher will finalize it.
We have reached 2016. The year 2015 had quite a few incremental advancements in technology. There were advancements with genome sequencing and biotech, technological applications for emerging countries, and a lot of progress in connected tech and self-driving cars. 2016 will likely continue the trend. We are less likely to see ground breaking advancements in smartphones and wearables, but will see more connected devices and technological applications in the automotive space, like self-driving cars. Google has made a lot of progress with its project and others like Alibaba and Baidu are also building teams for developing self-driving cars. We are also seeing US states passing laws that allow these vehicles on roads. Besides self-driving cars, connected home appliances like washers, dryers, refrigerators and microwaves could also gain traction. 2015 was also the year shown in the Back To The Future movie as the “future”. While we don’t have hoverboards yet, we are getting there. The XKCD comic answers all the questions.
Facebook is the social network that defined what a social network was. It took real world social relationships into the digital world. Everything that people did offline, was now online on Facebook. You could have groups of friends, message them individually or in a group. Share posts and pictures, and most importantly get updates from all of the friends via News Feed. Facebook made it simple to stay updated with life events of everyone from your middle school friends to college friends.
Facebook has evolved over the years and has now changed fundamentally. If you login to Facebook today, you will not see status updates from friends, or pictures posted by friends. You will see news stories from Business Insider that were liked by your friends, or you might see other funny content like videos or memes that one your friends commented on. Facebook has turned from a social network to a media hub like Yahoo! was a decade ago. Except in this case, the content you see is what your friends like, so you might enjoy it as well (if you share a similar taste to your friends). Facebook also has Pages which allow brands like Pepsi or Unilever promote their products on the social media website, which show up as sponsored content in your feed. This is the new way to advertise products to the next generation. However, it has morphed a place where you communicated with friends and read about their life events, into a place where you go to read news you might be interested in, watch videos, and consume content that is created by an external website like Business Insider or one of the Facebook Pages that posts humorous content. Of course you might also see some updates posted by friends on rare occasions.
In the last few years, we have gone from smartphones to smart-devices. We have intelligent home appliances, wearables and even smart vehicles. Technology is making everything convenient and autonomous. While we have basic smart-features in cars today, auto makers around the world are working on the next generation of smart cars. The main goals for smart vehicles include reducing accidents, and adding autonomous features so the drivers can take their hands off the wheel.
The next wave of cars would have distinct technology that would differentiate them from cars we have today. Cars would have speed limit alerts with cameras that would scan for speed limit signs and alert the drivers if the car is going faster. It would even alert the driver by haptic feedback through the steering wheel or gas pedal. The cameras would also monitor pedestrians and alert the driver if someone is moving towards the front of the car. They would scan for lane markings and alert the driver if the car is straying away from the lane. The cars would also be able to detect if you are too close to the car in front and alert the driver to keep safe distance. There are some cars that would even monitor vital signs of the driver through the seat and be capable of pulling over if there was a medical emergency that could cause the driver to lose control. These technologies would reduce driving accidents and make driving safer. Besides safety, smartcars could also include features such as monitoring bad roads along the city and report them to city authorities so the roads could be fixed. In this way, all cars could become a way to monitor infrastructure and bring attention to issues that need repair. This would allow bad roads to be fixed before they cause accidents.
The internet is arguably one of the most life changing creations. Most of us take the Internet for granted. We have constant access to internet and can get all the information we need in seconds. We can also broadcast information and stay connected via email, social media or blogs. But a lot of the world does not have access to internet or has access to a small subset of censored internet data. Information is one of the most empowering things. Access to information can shape your thinking and help you make better informed decisions. It can expose you to different things that you did not know existed. Having access to all the academic knowledge from around the world can improve quality of education. This would lead to more knowledgable individuals making smarter decisions. In countries like Cuba where internet access is limited, expensive and censored, people have created a black market for data. There are people in Cuba that sell a 1TB hard drive loaded with content like music, movies, TV shows and other media from around the world. Some even setup WiFi hot spots and connect their hard drives so people can access the content nearby. On the other end of the spectrum, many countries in Africa don’t have internet access. There are some areas that have the ability to get 3G data connections but people don’t see a need to pay for internet access.
Technology is changing everything. Its changing how we think, how we interact, our social norms and every aspect of our life. It is also helping us progress in every field. One of the fields that has been completely changed by technology is genetic research. In the 1980s, the cost of whole genome sequencing was in millions of dollars. Over the years, the cost has been falling. In a few decades, the cost reached about $250,000. While that is still staggering, its much more affordable compared to millions of dollars. However, the cost has been falling steadily over time. It reached just $7000 a few years back and has just reached $1000 now. People can get whole genome sequencing for $1000. That is a more affordable price for people that would want their genome sequenced. Scientists and researchers have also been hoping to reach the $1000 price tag as it would make genome sequencing more accessible and would also allow us to gather more data from more people and use the data to make a difference. It can be used to understand diseases better, develop cures for the diseases and even enter the world of personal medicine. Its the beginning of the pharmaceutical revolution.
The year 2014 has ended and 2015 is upon us. The theme for 2014 was wearables, more smartphones and some advancements in TVs. We saw curved TVs, 4K TVs and more 3D TVs. Most of all, wearables were the big thing. We saw all kinds of wearables from smartwatches to fitness trackers to authentication bands. Pebble started shipping Pebble Steel, Google started shipping the LG Watch and Moto 360. Samsung’s $600 watches were down to $199 with Android wear installed. However, not a lot of people outside the tech world bought these wearables. CES is around the corner and we will likely see the trend continue. There will be more TVs (slightly cheaper this time), more wearables that people would want to buy, and home automation gadgets. As we have seen wearables get smaller, now we will see them get stylish and more fashionable so people would want to buy and wear them. We would also see more economical wearables with smartwatches in the sub-$100 range. CES will also showcase home automation and smart kitchen appliances. We will start seeing washers, dryers, refrigerators and kitchen appliances talk to each other. So 2015 might just be the year wearables start becoming common and people start getting smart appliances.