Cars were a mechanical marvel. They were a combination of engineering breakthroughs integrated in a brilliant manner. The mechanical machines provided transportation within cities and long routes. They even got more economical over time and now most people on the planet own a car or have at least travelled in one. With the rise of technology, these mechanical machines evolved into technological instruments. Today, most cars are technology on wheels. There is not much mechanical left in them. Pressing the gas pedal does not move levers, but sends digital signals to the on-board processor. Everything from gas and break pedals, to the radio, to odometer and fuel readings is digital. There are various digital processors in the car and almost every action sends signals to different processors. These processors are similar to the ones on the computer or a smartphone. That means they are vulnerable to hackers. As we have moved to digital cars, the car makers have started hiring computer engineers and security researchers to prevent cars from being hacked. This has also given rise to car security companies that make devices to monitor cars with mobile apps and get alerts when theft occurs.
Mobile payments have grown into a big market. Peer to peer mobile payment services are used by almost everyone. When friends go out, they split the bill and pay each other using mobile wallets or mobile payment services. When college students split rent for housing or utility payments, they turn to mobile payments. Mobile payments are also used for purchasing goods and services from small sellers or shops. A few years ago, mobile payment apps were pretty new and used only by a smaller tech savvy group (though SMS based payments have been popular in Africa since several years). Services like Venmo (now owned by PayPal), Square Cash and Google Wallet have now emerged and most consumers are now using these services. In the last few years, the usage has grown from handful of tech savvy users to almost every consumer. This has gotten attention from the big banks as they wish to get a piece of the pie and enter the mobile payments market.
Machine learning has a plethora of applications. One area in which machine learning is being used is the field of medicine. Researchers perform experiments in labs to study effects of medicine on different animals. When a drug works on a monkey or mice, they start a clinical trial on humans (after endless amounts of paperwork). If the clinical trial is successful on a diverse sample of subjects, then the FDA approval starts. After FDA approval, the drug can be marketed for mass distribution across the country. At this point, the drug makers spend money on marketing, sales representatives, providing incentives to physicians that agree to prescribe the drug, and advertising on TV and the internet. The drug is known to treat a certain condition, and has a list of known side effects. Millions of people across the country take this drug and it works for most of them. This is a system that has been in use for decades.
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.