19 Dec 2019

Technology best and worst of the decade

From Nine To Noon, 11:06 am on 19 December 2019

Technology correspondent Sarah Putt examines the tech ideas and events that have happened between 2010 and 2019 that have changed the way we live.

Putt begins the list with a reflection on the terror attacks in March this year and how it showed the way the internet can be used to spread terror and hate.

Developing programming and coding technologies, website design and cyber space concept.

Photo: 123rf

She says the Christchurch Call, which came as a response to the attacks, was a very positive move.

“It’ll be really interesting to see, as we move onto the next decade, how that progresses.”

The Arab Spring

Going right back to the beginning of the decade, the Arab Spring showed how technology can be used to spread messages of protest and democracy instead of hate and fear.

However, the movement began to curdle a bit when overthrown government’s left a vacuum of power that was seized by extremists and anti-government protests began to turn into civil wars.

It also led to dictatorial government’s realising they could simply shut the internet off in times of mass unrest – a trend that has been increasing year on year.

An Internet divided

Third on the list is the Edward Snowden revelations that the NSA had been conducting massive surveillance on its citizens using the internet.

“China is a country that’s absolutely showing the way here – in a very bad way.”

The New York Times reports that China’s surveillance ability means that the police can find the identities of people on the street and discover who they’re meeting with and whether or not they’re members of the Communist Party.

The problem is exacerbated in the West by the growing control of the internet by just five companies, the FAANGs – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google.

She says that while they make amazing tech, it’s concerning that they have such a tight control over the framework of the internet and how it affects our lives.

Artificial intelligence

AI was still somewhat in the realm of science fiction at the beginning of the decade. It sure isn’t now.

One of the main turning points, Putt says, was when Google’s Deepmind AI programme beat the reigning Go champion in 2016 (Go being similar to Chess but with many more possible moves and strategies).

“You’ve got people like the late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk saying we’ve gotta be thinking about this, as humanity we’ve gotta be thinking as a species where we’re going with AI.”

The Speed of connectivity

It’s not all dystopian this decade. Putt says not many people would have imagined in 2010 that by the end of the decade we’d have internet speeds second only to Japan.

Stage one of the ultrafast broadband rollout has now completed bringing fibre to households across the country.

“We’re in a really good position in terms of being up there with the world’s best in connectivity that’s available.”

Cambridge Analytica scandal

First surfaced in 2018, the scandal revealed personal data from 87 million Facebook accounts was being sold to influence elections.

“People began to realise that saying, ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’ actually meant that your data was going places you hadn’t expected it to be.”

The scandal bought into focus concerns over data privacy and there was even a movement to delete Facebook.

The Internet of things

We can now collect data from a myriad of places, including around the home, and as we get more connectivity, our homes and cities are becoming ‘smart’. But there’s a flip side to that too.

“Just this week RNZ ran a story about an RFP that Kāinga Ora has put out for an Internet of Things type solution in state houses which are, ostensibly, to create healthy homes but what will it mean for the tenants? Will it tell them if there’s overcrowding or in breach of lease?”

She says we need to question who has the oversight of the information and what it’s being used for.

A quickfire on things that failed to take off

Self-driving cars: “I think it’s going to happen, but I think we’ve got a while to wait”

Virtual reality: “I just find it a really uncomfortable experience. I think it’s really over-hyped.”

Cryptocurrency: “I think there’s a really good theory around it, but there’s a long way to go.”