This New Year brought with it the end of a decade of spectacular advances in science and technology unlike any other. We started the decade not knowing what Instagram stories are and imagining electric cars and incredibly smart technology as the stuff of the distant future. But as our scope of imagination widened, technology gained immense momentum that would leave the world and everyone’s lifestyle revolutionised over the span of ten short years. A vast range of avenues saw remarkable changes that defined the decade- seemingly utopian technologies like bendable phones and Space X’s reusable rockets, technology that is still in its rookie stages like CRISPR and Neurotechnology research at Neuralink and of course, the technology that became household staple over the decade including, but not limited to, smart wearables, airpods and Raspberry Pi. In this article, we bring to you our own little version of tech awards as we recognise the best of the best of the technology that changed our lives between 2010 and 2019.
The Backbone of the Tech of the Decade: 4G
While 1G gave us voice calling, 2G brought in messaging and; 2.5G and 3G data introduced connectivity. The much awaited 4G, on the other hand, introduced to the world in this decade, opened a whole new world of possibilities in the mobile world that revolutionised the IT sector forever. It soon unlocked a slew of new capabilities, from mobile streaming and hotspot tethering to real-time apps (like Uber, which was just getting started at the beginning of the decade) – all of which had very limited experiences on 3G phones. The 4G experience become central to our everyday lives as the years progressed. No wonder why there is so much enthusiasm about how the next leap forward with 5G is going to shape the decade ahead. While it has been massively overhyped and the current 5G networks are still in their infancy, think about this: 4G was a 5x improvement in speed and latency over 3G, and 5G is a 10x to 100x improvement in speed and latency over the standard 4G. The next decade could be pretty good.
The Most Iconic Scientific Breakthrough: Photographing a Black Hole
Black holes have always been an astronomical fascination: we know they are there, but because light cannot escape from beyond their event horizons, they are also sort of invisible. That was true until last year.
For the first time, scientists captured an image of a black hole in 2019. The portrait subject was the black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy; a galaxy as wide as our solar system. The picture looks like a glowing doughnut of matter surrounding an abyss of blackness identified as the dust and gas orbiting the black hole’s point of no return. The discovery earned the researchers involved the 2020 Breakthrough Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in science. Scientists are now working to take it a step further and capture not just images, but movies of black holes.
The Most Convenient: Fingerprint Sensors and Facial Recognition
A decade ago, fingerprint-reading and facial-identification technology, also known as biometrics, was the stuff that only science fiction and spy-thriller movies could boast of. But 2013 changed all that as Apple added Touch ID, a fingerprint reader built into the home button, as a way to unlock the $200 iPhone 5S. Four years later, it switched to Face ID, which could read faces making it impossible to comprehend that we ever even had to type in passcodes as the only way to unlock a phone only a while back.
Biometrics is generally a great way to secure devices. Unfortunately, the new technology brought new problems with it. While businesses continued to increasingly pitch it as a convenience, grave issues surrounding privacy started cropping up. Case in point: Facebook runs facial recognition on our photos to power name-tagging. This and various other features of the popular social media platform were thrust into the limelight and faced heat towards the end of the decade over privacy issues.
Despite all the controversies, nowadays governments and airports want to make use of this technology to pick out suspected criminals and speed up processing. However, doing so brings surveillance to parts of life that used to be comfortably anonymous until today. The concerns being raised against the use of these systems include claims that they still have several problems with accuracy and often put our faces at the risk of being stolen by hackers. Figuring out the balance of usefulness and protection will definitely be one of the biggest privacy battles of the 2020s.
The Companionable: Smart Assistants
With the release of Ironman in 2008, all we ever wanted was a Jarvis of our own. After years of research, this dream finally took the form of Siri- the first mainstream voice assistant developed by Apple in 2011. Even though we have not reached the stage where google assistant would understand “J.A.R.V.I.S., sometimes you gotta run before you can walk”, it was still a gigantic milestone that managed to leave the world awed.
Assistants like the Google assistants Alexa and Bixby can today understand simple commands like “call Bill”, “play music” and “find restaurants near me’’. You can even connect these assistants to your house lighting, speakers and heating system; and command everything from the comfort of your chair.
With all smartphones having their own virtual assistants the future is for the lazy panda inside us!
The Highly Overrated: Virtual reality
Somewhere in the bowels of Facebook, which acquired pioneering VR-headset-maker, Oculus in 2014, executives probably hoped that this would be the decade that VR finally went mainstream. But consumers have not rushed to make virtual reality a household charm. It continues to be specific to gaming with no foreseeable mainstream use as the sales for VR kept dropping beyond 30% in 2018. Virtual reality took the biggest hit from the new Augmented Reality which needs lesser equipment and makes use of updated software making it easier to use with applications ranging from mobile games to maps and screen assistants.
The Futuristic: Self Driving Cars
If you watched the film Minority Report or even Total Recall, then you are familiar with the ’80s concept of what the future would be like. A heavy aspect of these films was how automation was to take over our day to day duties, including the driving of our cars. Self-driving cars are now a reality thanks to the hard tech workers at companies like Google. Google is in the advanced stages of getting their self-driving vehicle on the road, though they are pretty close lipped as to what the actual specifications of the car itself is. Tesla already has a cruise mode in all their vehicles capable of self-parking, lane centring and cruise control. Utilizing an array of cameras and satellites, self-driving cars could change the way we look at transportation.
Many of the remarkable advances in technologyin this decade,especially in the caseof communication technology, prompted the government to take steps to incorporate technology into our everyday lives.With this aim in mind, the Indian Government launched the Smart City Mission in 2015. We might still be far away from the picture that props up in our minds when we imagine a smart City but this decade, undoubtedly, laid the foundations for the same.
Quite understandably, the complete list of milestones that defined the decade is seemingly endless and this article provides only a glimpse into the expansive world of scientific and technological developments that amazed everyone. While some of the technologies were appreciated widely and praised as being almost utopian, few others were feared to be inherently dystopian in nature. Among all the achievements and controversies, what is undeniable is that we are currently on the edge of yet another, possibly even more exciting decade for anyone who calls Earth home and not just tech nerds.
Article by: Abhishek Michael Chand, Aaranya Prasad, Oindrila Ghosh
Poster by: Kartik Choubisa
(Image courtesy: https://www.oecd.org/science/)