2016 – the year that was

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD



The year 2016 was a tumultuous year for everyone, and that isn’t even considering the political stuff, which I won’t go into here. From celebrity deaths to natural disasters to cool stuff in tech, this has been a very interesting year.

In the case of celebrities, I primarily bring them up because, as an audiophile, I have to express my sadness at the loss of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen. (Gene Wilder gets an shout out because he sang in “Willy Wonka”). There were also a great many non-musicians that passed that we will all miss, but the loss of an artist is felt by all humankind.

When it comes to natural disasters, earthquakes are still the big-ticket ride, and 2016 did not disappoint, from Ecuador (7.8) to Japan (7.4). In this area, tech can mostly help in the area of earthquake prediction, mitigation technologies for buildings and other structures as well as the power, water, and communications infrastructure. First-responder technology can also help here, as better sensors and search robots increase the number of survivors of such calamities.

The area of technology advancements is both interesting and important because often technology forms new tools and services that can (and often do) disrupt society. Already in the throes of assimilation and acclimatization form several waves of development barely digested, society continues to face challenges caused by technology from internet warfare to the ongoing job displacement as a result of robotization.

This was the year that the IoT can be said to have truly arrived, as it was responsible for a major denial of services attack on the internet resulting in the loss of millions of dollars to the economy (and a generally bad day for web surfers and live gamers). That attack both demonstrated that the cloud actually exists as a massive network of intelligent devices, and that we really, really need to think about better cybersecurity at the device level.

What happened was that a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack was performed by agents unknown that caused system-wide disruptions for almost all web users for hours of time and millions of dollars. The reason the attack was so successful was that it targeted infrastructure servers and the Domain Name System (DNS) behind web addresses. The interesting and novel aspect was, instead of using people’s personal computers and unused business machines, using Internet of Things (IoT) devices like baby monitors and smart refrigerators to perform the attack.

In addition, automation, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and drones are continuing to change the world in many ways, from parcel delivery to warfare (which some would argue is just another form of parcel delivery). Self-driving cars, self-flying aircraft, and self-guided robots are all the rage, and development is going at an exponential pace.