Perhaps the story that garnered the most attention this year was the death of Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Jobs transformed industries and lives be developing products like iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. For the past decade, the public has grown to expect yearly life-changing product announcements from Apple. This year, Jobs and Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S with Siri – digital assistant technology that promises to transform the way people interact with computers. This year Apple also launched iCloud, a system for storing music and data in the cloud for easy access from any Internet-connected computer.
2011 in the Cloud
History may look back on 2011 as “the year of cloud computing.” Apple wasn’t alone in developing cloud services. Just about every major tech company rolled out new cloud services this year. Amazon and Google, which have both been active in cloud computing for years, rolled out public cloud services for music to compete with Apple. Microsoft launched Office 365, a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office to compete with Google Docs. Businesses of all types and sizes are adopting both public and private cloud services for all types of business applications and services. This year has seen the start of a massive migration of data from private computers and servers to cloud servers to be accessed via the Internet.
2011 also goes down in history for its huge amount of hacker activity. Daily targeted attacks increased four hundred percent over 2011. Nearly every form of networked device is at risk: computers, cars, smart phones, and even printers. Several major network and database breaches made the news this year. Perhaps the largest was Sony’s PlayStation network which was out of commission for over a month. More serious was the attack on security firm RSA, where security tokens for hundreds of companies were stolen leaving those companies vulnerable to attack. Many other companies and organizations were hacked in 2011. The Privacy Clearinghouse has tracked a total of 535 breaches in the U.S. involving 30.4 million sensitive records over the course of the year. In 2011 we also learned that some news organizations, such as one belonging to Richard Murdock, have a habit of hacking cell phones to gain juicy tidbits of news. News companies have also been the target of hackers as both Fox News and NPR were hacked and had bogus news stories posted on their Twitter feeds and Web sites. The past year saw the birth of a dangerous virus named stuxnet, that attacks industrial systems. We have also witnessed the rise of hactivist groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec. These groups claimed responsibility for breaking into the networks belonging to hundreds of businesses, law enforcement agencies, and government agencies, including the FBI and U.S. defense contractors, and releasing confidential data for what they consider to be a righteous cause. Dozens of young hackers have been jailed for their participation in these hacker collectives.
2011 has also seen a huge increase in state-sponsored cyber attacks including attacks on government agencies, U.S. defense contractors, and banks, not to mention one drone aircraft. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse China and Russia for many of the cyber attacks. The pentagon has designated cyberspace as an “operational domain” and threatens a military response to cyber attacks. The White house passed a new cyber security plan to help protect the nations critical infrastructure. But, it’s not just the U.S. that is concerned, every country on the Internet is dealing with cyber attacks and working to bolster their defenses. At the global Web Summit, nations deliberated over a cyber-nonproliferation pact to assist in curbing cyber-attacks between countries.
Social and Political Change
In 2011 the Internet and social media served as powerful tools for social and political change. Protest organizers in Egypt utilized Facebook, Twitter, and other online tools to gather public discontent into demonstrations that eventually ousted then-President Mubarik. The revolution fever spread through Internet channels to Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordon, Kuwait, Moroco, and Oman where citizens took to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their governments in what has become known as the Arab Spring. The Web is being used to coordinate protests across the U.S., and around the world. stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement, to express discontent with economic management by banks and governments. In the UK, the Web was used to orchestrate violent demonstrations featuring beatings, arson and burglaries across many cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.
As the Internet and Web empowers citizens to organize and express themselves, governments this year, are debating an Internet “kill switch” that would allow them to shut down the Internet in circumstances of public unrest. Egypt, and other Arab countries have implemented such actions during demonstrations, but still the demonstrators found ways around the Internet black-out to communicate their plight to the rest of the world. In other censorship news, U.S. lawmakers deliberate over the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring Internet Service Providers, search engines, and online financial services to block websites that are accused of infringing copyright. Some feel the bill represents the first significant step towards U.S. government censorship of Web content.
Privacy and Transparency
Privacy and transparency were huge issues in 2011. Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of leaked confidential government documents to the public. In reaction to the move, several online banks and financial services have blocked Wikileaks transactions, leaving Wikileaks financially strapped and struggling. Google and Facebook have both been scrutinized and criticized by European and U.S. governments for collecting private data about users and using it for marketing and ads. Both companies are under mandatory privacy audits in the U.S. for the next 20 years. The U.S. is considering regulations to curb Internet companies from tracking users online, while the industry has come up with its own “Do Not Track” option which no company seems to be implementing with any seriousness. Cell phone companies have also been the focus of government attention as it was discovered that many handsets regularly send private usage data to the cellular providers. Net neutrality also remains a hotly debated issue, as the FCC put new policies in place that require telecom companies and ISP’s to be more transparent about their network management practices and to provide equal treatment to all Internet applications.
Mobile Tech Industry
It was an active year for the tech industry with many shifts in power and influence. 2011 was the year of the tablet. While Apple’s iPad remains the market leader, dozens of Android tablets are now also competing in the market. High-end eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet incorporate LCD displays and offer added functionality to compete with tablet PCs at a lower price. The success of the Kindle, has contributed to the success of eBooks. Amazon reports that it now sells more ebooks than paper books. The cellular industry has seen major shifts as well. At the beginning of 2011, AT&T held an exclusive contract with Apple for the iPhone. Now Verizon and Sprint share that privilege. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, however, Android has become the most popular smartphone platform due to the many inexpensive Android handsets available. AT&T’s bid to buy TMobile was shut down by government regulators. Verizon and AT&T are buying up spectrum in competition to provide the best service to the most customers.
Entertainment Tech Industry
3D TV’s still haven’t really taken off like expected, but Microsoft’s Kinect and XBox game system have been a huge success in living room entertainment. The Kinect’s motion-driven game controller has transformed gaming into a physical activity. Dance games have become all the rage displacing the previously popular guitar playing games. Speaking of living room entertainment, Netflix grew huge in 2011 with Netflix users eating up as much as one third of all Internet traffic. Netflix blew it though, when it nearly doubled its fees, and lost hundreds of thousands of customers. In the mean time, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all have plans to take over TV and living room entertainment.
Winners and Losers
2011 has seen renewed investment in the tech industry allowing young companies like Groupon and Spotify to rapidly grow into major players. Meanwhile established companies work hard to stay relevant by using their talent and market position to control the direction of the industry. Google launched its social network Google+, providing the first serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is growing rapidly, with 62 million current users. Some believe it will grow to 400 million in 2012 – still significantly shy of Facebook’s current 800 million users. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple have been successful at ininnovating and staying relevant against fresh young talent, while Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blackberry have been less successful. 2012 will be a telling year for many of these companies.
2012 and Beyond
2011 has been a remarkable year for those of us that enjoy observing technology’s impact on people, cultures, societies, and the world. So what can we expect in 2012? Well it’s all conjecture, but I think it’s safe to assume that information security, privacy, net neutrality and government censorship will grow to become more demanding issues. The rapid rise in serious cyber attacks from numerous sources makes it seem likely that 2012 will feature prominent and perhaps catastrophic attacks on major online resources, and national infrastructure. There is likely to be a call-to-cyberarms as governments and populations recognize the extent of their online vulnerabilities. With the stressed state of the global economy and the upcoming national elections in the U.S., our online lifestyles are sure to become the focus of political expression from politicians, their supporters, and disgruntled citizens and groups. While there are a lot of indicators to fuel pessimism for 2012, there are also many indicators that support optimism. Technologies continue to evolve to provide better communication, more rapid problem solving, and more engaging forms of expression and entertainment. Without a doubt, 2012 will bring many new technologies with which we can improve our lives and our world. Technology does more than merely amplify the human condition; it provides opportunity and freedom of expression for populations that have been downtrodden and oppressed. It is the great equalizer. It provides opportunities to advance civilization and culture. It is likely that we will continue to see radical global change brought about with the help of technologies in 2012 and beyond. Managing this change in a positive direction will require strong and wise global leadership from political leaders, as well as from teachers and students like you.