The year 2013 brought with it smart watches, deep learning and memory implants. What will be the defining technological trends in 2014?
Recent years have seen a renaissance in the development and marketing of electric cars. At the forefront is Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, which introduced its Model S electric-powered sedan in Europe last year. In 2014, 13 more electric cars will be available in the expanding niche market, among them models from the venerated German car makers BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In the face of increasing environmentally conscious consumerism and a widening network of recharge stations, electric cars will continue to demonstrate strong growth and innovation throughout this year.
The argument for electric cars is straightforward. They are vastly more efficient than conventional engines, have competitive standards of safety and have only become more attractive with the increasing price of oil. By using battery-operated engines, they also become more environmentally friendly. Even though the market will continue to grow in the Global North, electric cars are a far cry for Global South countries like Pakistan where lack of infrastructure make adoption unfeasible. Together with other advances in the automotive industry such as the successful testing of self-driven cars, electric cars will be one thing to keenly observe in 2014.
Following Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing on NSA’s massive secret data-collecting operation, big data has been at the forefront of news in 2013. Apart from spying, however, mass data collection has already been used for a variety of useful tasks ranging from developing strategies for malaria vaccinations to managing commuting routes in crowded cities. It is also used in the study of social networks and international relations. The year 2014 is likely to see a continuation of growth of this extremely promising field of study.
One of the most accessible developments in big data is collecting data from cheap cell phones. Compared to the digital social networks, cell phones are ubiquitous in advancing countries and using data from booster towers, for example, can provide insight into people’s behavior. Although this data will probably be used for marketing more than anything else, the technology in itself is interesting and can help analyse and solve networking-related problems.
Wearable technologies, the most conspicuously futuristic of tech developments, are the future of consumer electronics. The most highly anticipated wearable gadget is Google Glass, a hands-free optical head-mounted display with natural voice recognition. In other words, it is a smart phone that reflects directly into the eye and responds to user commands. Last year was big for Google Glass as it broadened availability to a wider range of testers and developed software applications for the product. This may be the year Google Glass enters the consumer market.
Is it wise to have a computer plugged onto you? Proponents of the technology, such as Professor Thad Starner from Georgia Tech, claim: “on-body devices are really the next revolution in computing.” By reducing the time between intention and action, he predicts, the device will change the way humans think and act. Upon consumer availability, Google Glass will undoubtedly conjure a storm of debate over everything ranging from privacy laws to attention-deficit disorder in children. Regardless of whether it augments our brain or shrinks it, the development of Google Glass will be one thing to keep an eye on in 2014.
Although the concept of a digital currency has been around for at least a decade, it is only in 2013 that Bitcoin took off and brought cryptocurrencies into the public limelight. With an increasing number of governments now taking notice of Bitcoin, 2014 might be a crucial year for this new type of monetary beast, which draws its power from the internet rather than from a central bank.
Proponents of Bitcoin claim that a cyptocurrency is tamper- and inflation-proof, and makes transactions cheaper and easier. On the other hand, the currency has also been used extensively for money laundering and has a wildly volatile price. The fact that many have made a fortune of millions by getting into Bitcoin early on attracts many people to exchanges all over the world. It remains to be seen whether Bitcoin will ever see mass adoption, but if it does, 2014 is probably the year which will answer that.
Omar Hayat is a freelance writer who contributes to several local publications.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 16th, 2014.
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