Yet another year is coming to an end and 2016 is going down in history as a year to remember as a year of too many early deaths (Bowie! Prince!) and maybe also the year when we seriously started discussing filter bubbles and the problem with “fake news” on social media. For us “net-heads”, this isn’t a new discussion, similar voices now being raised to demand that Facebook take responsibility for the content its users post on the service have already been heard, both against Facebook and before that against other services.
- Automation will be this year’s thing
- The internet’s undergrowth hits back
- Amazon is the new Apple
- Internet of Things – an ongoing series
- The virtual reality is here
- War of the nations on the internet
- Internet is dead, long live internet!
First let’s take a look at how I did last year – What will happen during 2016 – and how right or wrong did I get it?
During 2016, you will buy a gadget that is essentially a software dongle without realizing it.
Now I don’t know how it is with you, but I’ll think about my purchases this year. I didn’t exactly buy any hardware that is intimately connected to software this year, so I’ll take off some points for that one. In principle, the argument still stands, but development is slower.
During 2016, you will install at least 15 new apps in your smartphone. And your iPad, and your television. And so on…
Yes, this one is certainly right. During the year, a new version of Apple TV came with an app store, and more and more app solutions.
During 2016, you will start paying for using NFC in some form.
Yes, my bank just launched a “contactless card” as it is called, and more and more payment cards now come with NFC technology.
During 2016, you will use a new AI service that you haven’t used this year. Maybe ordering a pizza directly home to your door via Facebook M?
What happened with Facebook M? I haven’t even felt a whiff of it. But AI has definitely been hot this year, and Amazon is leading the development with their Echo, which has become a sleeper hit.
During 2016, you will pay directly or indirectly to get traffic from a particular service prioritized by your operator.
This is a little sad, but we are continuing to go in the wrong direction. During the year, Telia launched the possibility to “surf for free” on certain social media sites, and despite protests from the net the telco-giants continue to build ”walled gardens” on the open net.
Automation will be this year’s thing
Already in 2014, I capitulated to our new robot overlords. But when things grow with exponential speed, it suddenly goes fast. See this fantastic illustration that shows the development of electronic computation.
During the year’s election campaigns in the U.S., there was much talk about how to get back jobs exported to low-wage countries. I suspect that a similar debate is coming here in the next election campaign, but just as in the U.S., the problem is of course not that jobs will move overseas, but that many can be done by robots.
Just the other day, Amazon showed its super cool new concept for completely automating grocery stores. McDonald’s and Swedish burger chain Max have introduced ordering on large screens instead of from a person. More and more customer service jobs will be solved with bots and automation. It’s no longer just the manufacturing industry that can effectively strike people from their business plan. We will soon have self-driving cars on all our streets, and truck drivers or taxi drivers will not necessarily need to be people anymore. Check out how a Tesla drives around automatically, concluding with parallel parking itself, for example.
This is a development that we should welcome! Lots of monotonous work will be able done by machines instead of people, giving us better service and a better society, as long as we figure out how to support those who no longer need to work.
But I believe that in 2017, we will hear about automation within areas we haven’t thought seriously about. Can doctors be replaced with robots? Why not? If a person can give a diagnosis through examination and test results, why wouldn’t a computer be able to do it faster and safer? Or teachers. Do we need to go to school when all education can be accessed over the net, and specially and uniquely designed for every student with their personal conditions by an AI?
Yes, doctors and teachers clearly have other functions that are harder to replace with machines, but the ideas are starting to come and I think we will have some food for thought during 2017. Even if the gut feeling is that people are inevitable in many places in society, I believe there will be more times when we suddenly realize that’s not the case.
The internet’s undergrowth hits back
Facebook is everything and everything is Facebook. Yes, it can feel that way sometimes. In our survey Swedes and the internet 2016, we saw that Facebook continues to grow in the number of users in Sweden. I belong to the group who predicted early that Facebook would start to decline, but got it wrong, if we don’t just focus on the younger internet users. There, we are indeed starting to see that the youngest users do not use Facebook to a great extent.
So where are these younger users then? Snapchat was the answer in our survey, but is that the whole truth? Of course not. I now have children in the “right” age, so I can see with my own eyes how the next generation of internet users find their own meeting places on the net. For a while, I lamented over Facebook appearing to lead the way in completely killing web communities. It still feels a bit true, but I have discovered that what is taking their place is app communities. My son plays a game called Undertale. He is obsessed with it. So of course he hangs out in the app ”Undertale Amino”. Amino is a platform for interest communities, where Undertale is just one of many special interests one can gather around. It’s like a mini-Facebook just for Undertale fans, where one can share pictures, fan-fiction and other things that the visitors can like or comment on.
App creation is being democratized in exactly the same way as web creation was at one time. When Annica Tiger uploaded her HTML guide it became an indispensable resource for thousands of young Swedes who wanted to learn to communicate via the web. Today, I teach Scratch to many children in our recurring Kid hack, and very soon anyone will be able to make their own apps just as easily (or easier!) as we at one time made our own websites using simple HTML.
We at IIS are partners in Weld – a Swedish platform for developing your own advanced websites or apps without needing to know how to program. More and more of these services are showing up that let you create and publish mobile apps without the need to learn advanced programming.
So what happens when Facebook becomes too broad, too big or maybe too limited, and if they start being tougher on “fake news” on the network? Yes, more will start looking for alternative social networks, starting with the youngest. And it is great to see that even if technology changes and the giants become even bigger, those small interests will continue to find their “own” channels. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the Dark Web yet…
Amazon is the new Apple
Something hit me when I saw the incredibly stylish and well-made video demonstrating Amazon’s new smart, completely automated supermarket concept: This feels like something Apple should have done.
Since Steve Jobs died, many people like me have been predicting Apple’s decline and fall, but that’s not what I’m talking about now. Apple continues to make great things, even if many jokes are being made about the new Macbook and all the adapters it needs.
But now, be honest all you other Apple fans out there – how long ago was it that Apple introduced something that made you feel “wow”? And not just in terms of products, but conceptually? Apple has competition there – first and foremost from Elon Musk, who with Tesla, Hyperloop, SpaceX and not least solar power roofs, feels like a superhero. But also from Amazon. When they released their video demonstrating Amazon Echo, I thought it was completely ridiculous. I certainly still think that video is, but now I have an Echo at home, like many others.
So Amazon presented its new smart solution for supermarket shopping, and suddenly it feels as if the innovation torch has switched hands. Don’t be surprised if Amazon releases a self-driving car, a new watch that is smarter than iWatch, or a completely new product that blows us all away. I like this – more companies creating really cool technical solutions that are also good for us.
One area where Amazon still has a lot of work to do is entertainment. I have two Fire TVs at home, and even if they are very good, they aren’t Apple good yet. Especially since its missing really polished, well-made apps. But Amazon accelerates slowly and don’t show signs of wanting to give up – on the contrary, they increase the pace and are investing heavily on launching their service ”Prime Video” globally next year.
I would not be a bit surprized if we see Amazon take large strides next year. Maybe by deciding to grow through buying up another company?
The Internet of Things – an ongoing serial
It’s starting to feel a bit tedious, but I can’t help but talk about the Internet of Things again. The abbreviation “IoT” (Internet of Things) shows up everywhere, and during 2016, I think the big breakthrough finally came – though it also brought with it an increased uncertainty on the web mainly through lots of poorly secured devices that can be used for attacks.
Yes, soon everything will be connected, and it’s starting to be difficult to buy a TV that doesn’t have wifi or a car without smart measuring functions and apps. At this year’s Internet Days, both Chris Heilmann and Mikko Hyppönen mocked several, according to them, unnecessary connected gadgets such as water bottles and mattresses. But the question is whether we should begin to get used to the idea that in the future everything will certainly be connected to some extent and instead start thinking about what kind of world we want when it happens. If we do not collectively work to raise security standards in connected gadgets, today’s IoT bot attacks will seem like just a gentle breeze. Having more gadgets connected to the internet also means that we must be more safety conscious.
Change the password on your gadgets that are connected to the internet! It is not ok to have a web camera at home that can be reached by using admin/admin as your username and password. It’s not only that the entire internet can see you in your underwear being the problem anymore – your machine can be used to attack others on the net.
The funniest/dumbest gadget this year, apart from the connected mattress that Mikko Hyppönen talked about that also sends a warning to your mobile phone if the mattress is …um… “used” while you aren’t at home, is the “smart” thermometer that no longer shows if you have fever directly on the stick, but instead demands that you have an app. Or maybe Coca-Cola’s fantastically unnecessary “selfie bottle”.
Anything still goes then, within the Internet of Things, and even if it’s easy to make fun of all the unnecessary gadgets being sold with the argument that they have access to the internet, I think that we will soon see enormous benefits. Not least in combination with automation.
The virtual reality is here
I remember one summer sometime in the mid-90s when, for the first time, I picked up a VR helmet. It was at the Gröna Lund amusement park and the system was (probably) something called “Virtuality.” It was clumsy, heavy and blurry. With really useless graphics and slow update frequency, it was almost un-playable, but also super-cool. In 1995, Nintendo launched its ”Virtual Boy” in Japan and the U.S., but we Swedes could only hear about it and it wasn’t until many years later that I was able to try a headache-inducing red and black game in Nintendo’s disastrous attempt at VR. No, VR was not a hit in the 90s.
Virtual Reality, the promise formulated best in William Gibson’s classic novel ”Neuromancer”, went into hiding for almost 20 years. I don’t believe anyone thought that VR was something that would come back, but suddenly, many years later, it happened. A new VR start-up called Oculus Rift did a successful Kickstarter campaign and everyone who tested their early development machines were gushing over the possibilities. Could Virtual Reality come back and actually work this time?
This year I seriously started to try a little VR, first with the HTC Vive that we have at the office. Fun games, extremely expensive hardware and fairly limited possibilities. A heavy helmet that must be in an area where one has room to install sensors on the walls and to move around. But it feels real when one climbs a mountain or jumps around in space. Then I bought Sony’s VR kit for the PS4. It’s still expensive, though a little less that Vive, worse resolution and a ton of cords. And I also became a bit motion sick almost immediately when I started to play. No, the technology is not 100% there, but it’s getting closer. And now it’s starting to get interesting as we can now start to think about future applications.
A few realtors have already begun to use “virtual showings” to look around a location or house virtually. There are already several companies who sell “virtual showrooms,” and the service to scan products in order to show them in VR to clients. And a couple of years ago, Marc Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, bought Oculus Rift to build the next generation’s meeting place in VR. The film when he shows the technology is worth seeing, if only because it’s entertainingly embarrassing. The technology, however, seems promising, I think. It can certainly be very nice to hang with your friends around the world in a virtual world and we should remember that what we are seeing now are just early technology demos.
Virtual Reality is already here, one sign being that the VR headset has been named “this year’s Christmas gift”, but it will really get red hot during the next year, because it’s now that the technology starts to come together that working, exciting applications start to take form. So far almost all games are based on simple tweaks of regular, old games. I think that if VR is going to succeed, there needs to develop completely new ways to play. And when it comes to applications, we have to ask ourselves if it’s actually more comfortable to put on a VR helmet to chat with our friends than to just run Google Hangout or some other video conference service.
I look forward to 2017 when the initial charm starts to wear off and actual smart applications come for VR. And overall, when VR starts to leave the playground and enter a more professional area.
War of the nations on the internet
Now that 2016 is coming to an end, one of the largest and most important battles for the world’s future power is unfolding and it’s taking place over the net. For the first time in the American presidential election campaign, hackers became a main focus, while the campaign was ongoing. Trump was accused of being Putin’s puppet and the democratic party’s head office was hacked and saw its e-mails spread over the entire internet via Wikileaks.
But it’s now after the election that things are beginning to be really interesting. For now, large parts of the American intelligence establishment are publicly accusing Russia of “hacking” the election and working to get Trump elected.
When 2016 reaches its end, we can’t know what 2017 will bring, but my thought is that if Trump is sworn in as president in January as planned, it won’t last long. If just a tenth of the accusations prove true, he will not be able to stay. But regardless of how it goes, it’s interesting to think about how the internet made all the spies’ work easier.
Russia (and the U.S. or other countries for their part) can now influence things abroad much easier at a distance than in place. It is no longer necessary to have thousands of agents in place all over the world, and as we have connected more of our business, sensitive or not, to the internet, we have unwittingly exposed ourselves to the hackers of the world. There have been plenty of security experts warning about this type of development, imploring all to begin encrypting their traffic. But the question is whether encryption would have helped when the handling of IT security is so incompetent as it seems to have been with the DNC.
A few years ago, I saw in my crystal ball that countries would start taking responsibility for cyber-attacks. We are close to it now when Russia more or less openly brags about helping Wikileaks influence the election in the U.S. It is a dangerous time we live in, and anyone dealing with sensitive information of any sort needs to start thinking about information security. It’s not easy, in fact it’s very difficult, but if one wants to keep something completely secret in the future, they need to have a strong eye on protection.
Next year I think the cyber war will enter the next phase. Even if we have already seen how, for example, Russia uses the internet and hackers to win control over a foreign power, I believe it will be much worse before the world’s cyber defences get started. 2017 will be a good year for security experts and firewall developers!
The internet is dead, long live the internet!
The internet’s death is constantly foreboded. If it’s not that IP addresses are about to run out, it’s apps that will devour the web or Facebook taking over everything. But the internet constantly bounces back and returns stronger than before.
This year, the security guru, Bruce Schneier, warned us that the time for fun and games on the internet is over and that it’s time to realize that the internet can be dangerous. As I mentioned above, unsecure connected devices can form a botnet that manage to create gigantic attacks against the internet’s infrastructure, and to top it all off, it seems that many now blame the internet for Donald Trump’s successful win of the election in the US.
When we put together this year’s Internet Days, we didn’t mean for it to become a theme, but since it was so near the American presidential election, many of the keynote speakers used their time to analyse how the internet has become the way it has – a platform for hate and disinformation. But we can take back the internet! The good guys always win at the end of the movie, and on the internet no darkness is stronger than the powers of good that still love the internet for what it actually is: the most important invention in the history of mankind.
2016 was the year that we got to know more of the dark side of the net. Journalists were threatened by trolls. Women were attacked and made to feel unsafe on social media, chat rooms and in online games. The net has opened up an abyss of darkness in some of our fellow humans that it’s hard to grasp how it can even exist. What is it that motivates all this hate and the hard words? I don’t recognize the net at all from the pioneer days that prevailed during my first years on the net, and I think it’s very depressing if young children and young adults are forced to grow up with a net that is dangerous and hateful rather than pleasurable and free.
But if you want to feel a little hope again after the very dark internet year of 2016, I recommend Erica Baker’s incredibly inspiring speech from this year’s Internet Days. She describes the same feeling of how the net went from a wonderful place to an unsafe habitat for the powers of darkness. But her final words are ”Save the world with me”. And we will do that on the internet in 2017 together. C’mon!