VIVIAN TONG/THE VARSITY

This has been no ordinary year. We began to realize this within 10 days into 2016, with David Bowie’s death serving as an ominous precursor of things to come. We had an unusually large number of beloved and well-respected celebrities follow him; people huddled together and occasionally running in sync playing Pokémon Go; and the words ‘emails’ and ‘bigly’ used excessively.

What truly made this year unusual were the major votes that shocked not only the people of the countries involved but also the markets, the pollsters, and anyone who was watching the news around the world. But there is one major agent who, for the most part, has lurked surreptitiously while being a chief contributor to the disarray that left us dazed: technology.

Social media in particular has had a major impact during the course of this unprecedented year, due to its provision of a platform for users of similar interests and opinions to congregate. This tool undoubtedly played a role in the formation of movements, as well as contributing to the stunning Brexit vote and successful election of President-elect Donald Trump.

Considering technology’s prominence this past year, The Varsity decided to curate what we think will be the most important tech-related issues for the year 2017.

Cybersecurity

This year, we have seen the issue of cybersecurity rise to a new level, with allegations of Russian hackers influencing the US elections and the October botnet attack on the Internet infrastructure company Dyn, which caused Internet blackouts in large parts of North America for several hours.

In fact, Trump included this issue in his platform by stating that he would improve the US Cyber Command and conduct offensive retaliation to cyber-attacks.

We also witnessed legal disputes centred around technology in the form of the dispute between Apple and the FBI, which resulted in the FBI hiring hackers to devise information from an Apple device related to an investigation.

In 2017, we will probably see this issue gain steam. Given the several vulnerabilities recently discovered due to the aforementioned attack, several cybersecurity experts predict similar attacks in the near future. The developers of the botnet ‘Mirai’ used in the attack have released its code since, meaning that any hacker could get their hands on it and make variations to create ‘mutated’ versions of the attack.

AI

AI has been on the minds of many this year. Billionaire tech genius Elon Musk began a venture in 2015 called OpenAI to build AI in a way that will not be detrimental to humanity. Musk’s venture was prompted by discussions between himself, the renowned theoretical physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, and many other prominent figures regarding the possible negative outcomes associated with AI. In 2017, we could see jobs lost to automation as a result of the growing number of AI ventures providing more everyday-life solutions.

Gene editing

Gene editing has been a hotbed of controversy since it was conceptualized. Now that CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology is available, the controversy has only grown. China reported that they had begun to use CRISPR/Cas9 to experiment on humans in 2016.

A number of startups, such as Editas Medicine, have been created with the aim of applying this technology to treat and cure diseases. It has been announced that they plan to use this on humans as soon as next year. Now that ‘bio-hacking’ — biotech tweaking to improve health and ability — is gaining wider acceptance, scientific applications and ethical considerations regarding gene editing will figure prominently in scientific communities around the world.

Space travel

After many unsuccessful attempts, Musk’s SpaceX managed to land its Falcon 9 rocket onto a drone ship stationed at sea in April 2016. Although Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin was the first company to ever land a rocket, they were only able to do so on land. SpaceX’s achievement is an especially exciting feat of design and physics due to potential implications to the field of space exploration.

Furthermore, the Em Drive thruster — a rocket thruster that appears to defy Newton’s Third Law of Motion — has survived further scrutiny after it passed NASA’s barrage of tests. Space technology has steadily been improving and will continue to become more efficient and inexpensive in the near future.

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