Year in review: technology triumphs of 2012

Technology is developing at breakneck pace. As 2012 comes to an end, we look back at the top tech stories that have defined the year, and could shape the future.

Never in history has technological change been faster than it is today. Each year brings a new crop of innovations, a new set of boundaries pushed and records smashed; each year, more things that were once impossible become part of our everyday lives. But what are the most important developments of 2012?

Gadget wars

One of the biggest drivers of technological change is the search for profit – a search that has been spectacularly successful. This year, after all, is the year that saw Apple become the most valuable company the world has ever seen, worth nearly half a trillion dollars.

With so much at stake, rivalry is fierce. In August, Apple beat Samsung in what reporters called ‘the tech trial of the century’ – winning a one billion dollar payout from the Korean firm for patent infringement.

Samsung lawyers immediately fired back a patent claim of their own. But the controversy has set tech experts thinking: what is the point of having patents at all? They are meant to ensure that inventors are rewarded for their ideas, but when they are used as legal weapons, they can stifle innovation.

Tech of the year

One of the most exciting tech projects around took a big step forward this year, with the first live demonstrations of Google Glass. Google’s ‘augmented reality spectacles’ can superimpose digital information onto the real world.

And while Google engineers try to revolutionise our lives at home, NASA has been hunting life on other planets. Arguably the single most impressive technological achievement of the year was the moment when a team of scientists in America used a robotic skycrane with pinpoint precision to land the multibillion dollar Curiosity Rover 350 million miles away on the surface of Mars.

Homemade miracles

The Mars mission was an incredible feat of engineering, but it is unlikely to change the way we live back on Earth. Less high-tech, but potentially much more disruptive, was the arrival this year of the first really affordable 3D printers. Soon, thousands of people will be able to build all sorts of machines just by downloading the parts from the internet and ‘printing’ them at home.

The rise of DIY manufacturing could be bad for factory workers in China. It could also be bad for people who like privacy. One of the most popular hobbies for home engineers is building small scale personal drones. Combine a drone with a cheap camera and you have a flying surveillance machine that could get almost anywhere. The rise of the robo-paparazzi cannot be far away.

The wild net

The anarchic spirit of the DIY manufacturing brigade was born online – but internet freedom has been under threat this year. Back in January, anti-piracy campaigners launched bills in Europe and the USA that would have allowed websites to be blocked when accused of copyright violation. Supporters said the bills would prevent crime. Opponents said they would kill free speech. In the end, opponents won the battle, but this war will run and run. The internet, some commentators now argue, is like the lawless frontier of the old American West. The chaos may be exciting, but it cannot last for long. The days of the wild internet are numbered.

A year of conflict

In the end, this year has not been dominated by big inventions. Rather, it has been a year of conflict, of battle lines being drawn, of territory being staked out. The young tech companies who started the revolution years ago are now giants. Their fight will be long and bitter. The internet is no longer uncharted territory. It will become the scene of a furious debate over freedom of speech and privacy rights. The upside? With conflict comes creativity. For the moment, at least, the march of progress shows no signs of slowing down.

You Decide

  1. Many big tech firms seem more interested in fighting than working together. Is that a good or a bad thing?
  2. Do you think technology will keep on getting better forever?

Activities

  1. In five minutes, come up with an idea for an invention that you think could change the world. Then pitch it to your class.
  2. What do you think is the most important invention of 2012? Do some research to produce a report on your favourite new technology.

Some People Say...

“Technology makes humans weaker.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

American West
During the 19th Century, settlers from the East Coast of America started moving west in huge numbers in the hope of finding land and gold. Far from the authorities, they lived a dangerous, lawless life, but also enjoyed a certain freedom. The age of the ‘Wild West’ was over by around 1890, when the frontier was officially closed to new settlement claims.

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