1. One woman’s blog can disrupt even the biggest disruptor. Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post titled ‘Reflecting on one very strange year at Uber’ in February and it sparked a massive response that set off alarm bells about the ride-sharing company that had become the darling of venture capitalists. Fowler’s blog post called out the entrenched sexism and harassment that was part of Uber’s workplace culture and shone a light on the failure of co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick and his management team to control it. Among other plaudits, Fowler was named Person of the Year by the Financial Times for her whistle-blowing.
2. And expose a culture that badly needs fixing. Fowler’s blog and other factors led to a wholesale re-evaluation of Uber. While the company, valued at over a billion dollars, had scaled quickly and was now active in many countries around the world, its culture and infrastructure had in many cases failed to match that growth. Along with the entrenched workplace culture problems, some drivers were also speaking out about their frustrations, as were passengers. By the end of June, big investors put the hard word on CEO Travis Kalanick and he resigned from his position.
3. Silicon Valley (and tech more broadly) also had to face up to its gender equality and harassment problems. The fallout from Susan Fowler’s revelations soon spilled out into the broader Silicon Valley and tech communities, with big-name venture capitalists Chris Sacca and Dave McClure forced to come out and apologise for their own poor behaviour with female colleagues and associates. Gender equality and sexism were finally acknowledged as major problems in the tech industry.
4. Facebook is now a fundamental part of our civic life and society. With more than 2 billion active monthly users worldwide, Facebook’s influence as a platform for news and opinion is now so great that some are even calling it a threat to democracy. Donald Trump’s election win brought all this to a head and 2017 has seen Mark Zuckerberg hauled before the US Congress to explain exactly what part his social network might have played in alleged Russian interference in the election campaign.
5. Things get done when Elon Musk is challenged to deliver on Twitter. Want something done? Maybe challenge Elon Musk to do it! In the wake of the South Australian energy crisis, Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes picked up on a story in which Tesla battery boss Lyndon Rive said the company could fix SA’s problems within 100 days. Cannon-Brookes directed a tweet to @elonmusk and the Tesla founder soon responded saying, yes, they could install 100-300 megawatt hours of batteries required to prevent the blackouts SA had experienced. The project was completed by the end of November.
6. Amazon made Australian retailers quake in their boots. Jeff Bezos became the world’s richest man in 2017 and he also managed to strike fear into the hearts of Australian retailers when it was announced Amazon would launch here by the end of 2017. While Aussie retailers have not yet been destroyed by Amazon, retail is now a very different game in Australia.
7. China’s version of Amazon, Alibaba, has been growing as well. Considered by many to be China’s very own version of Amazon, mega e-commerce company Alibaba has continued to build its brand and operations beyond the Great Wall. With massive growth throughout southeast Asia and moves into India as well, Jack Ma’s company enjoyed another highly successful year in 2017.
8. YouTube has serious problems with unsavoury and extremist content. Owned by Google parent company Alphabet, the world’s biggest video-sharing site had to face some nasty home truths during 2017. Firstly, advertisers were dismayed that their ads were being shown alongside extremist content, including Islamist jihad videos. Secondly, people were more generally disturbed that this extremist content was even on YouTube. Thirdly, YouTube was failing badly in moderating and filtering some very questionable material slipping through as children’s videos. YouTube has taken steps to remedy these problems by hiring up to 10,000 more human moderators for content, but trust in the site has been shaken.
9. AI takes another step forward as AlphaGo beats world’s best chess-playing computer program. Artificial intelligence was on a lot of people’s minds in 2017, with the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates weighing into the debate about whether AI will doom us all or not. Make no mistake, AI is very much here and it’s baked into all parts of our everyday lives. The question is, how far will it all go? After AlphaZero, the game-playing AI created by Google sibling DeepMind, taught itself to play chess in four hours and then beat the world’s best chess-playing computer program, experts acknowledged the potential for AI was almost infinite. Scary stuff, indeed.
10. Bitcoin mania hit hard. Some have called it the Tulip Bubble of our time, but it’s even bigger than that. Digital cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, have taken the tech and finance world by storm, going from a murky, strange, impenetrable digital oddity to a murky, strange, impenetrable digital oddity making some people very rich. Last December, you could buy 1 bitcoin for around $US750. As of writing, the price is just above $US16,000.
11. And blockchain, the technology underlying bitcoin, is starting to be taken very seriously.Bitcoin and other digital currencies are made possible by an underlying technology called blockchain. Think of it kind of like the operating system that underlies the software that allows our computers to do what they can. Hard-headed, cautious types in banking and finance might be sceptical about bitcoin, but they’re starting to put serious money into blockchain as the next big engine for disruption and growth.
12. Ten years on and there’s still a substantial appetite for the iPhone. It might not be received with quite the same level of breathless hysteria as it was say five years ago, but the iPhone is still a very big deal for Apple and those who love their products. Apple launched a new iteration of the iPhone this year, celebrating 10 years of the iconic smartphone, and once again proved it still has one of the strongest brands going in consumer tech.
13. Virtual reality is still waiting for its big moment in the sun. Virtual reality is fast becoming the perpetual hope and disappointment of the consumer tech industry. For the past few years the promise has been that this will be the year everyone will want a VR headset underneath the Christmas tree; not in 2017 it seems. Sales are slowly getting better, but VR is still on the outer for mainstream consumers.
14. But virtual assistants are very much here and now. Amazon has Alexa, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, and Google has Home, just to name a few. These are the personal assistant devices that can play your music, do your shopping, and control your home’s various devices. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re proving a big hit with tech-savvy consumers. Expect to see more of these personal assistants as our homes get hooked up to the internet via Internet-of-Things devices and sensors in coming years.
15. The NBN continued to be an embarrassment for all concerned. Have big government infrastructure programs always been this problematic? Probably. But one can’t help but get the feeling that the National Broadband Network will never be spoken of in quite the same glowing terms as something like the Snowy Hydro electric scheme. It’s been stuff up after stuff up, and frankly, Australians are pretty sick of it all. 2017 was another year of woe and trouble for the NBN.
16. Cyber security has continued to be a major headache. Digital technology is a wonderful thing. There’s one big hitch, however: security. The past year has seen another cavalcade of major cyber hacks and viruses, including the aptly named WannaCry virus, which held hundreds of thousands of computers to ransom and infected the computer system of the UK National Health Service, among other big organisations.
17. Driverless vehicles may be on the roads sooner than we think. We already have driverless vehicles operating in industries like agriculture and mining. It won’t be long until we start to see the limited introduction of driverless and autonomous vehicles on our roads. Big tech companies like Google and Uber, and auto makers like Tesla, Ford and Volvo, are among those ploughing huge money into this area. We won’t be trading in the family car overnight, but in years to come, many more urban dwellers especially will be opting for driverless vehicle services rather than maintaining the expense of owning a car.