Hey you. Yeah, you. Guess what happened in 2020? Yeah, I know. The COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and a few extra pounds <yawn>, but news never sleeps.
While you were video conferencing half dressed, taking a nap, streaming Netflix or learning how to work from home amid cacophony and constant distractions, you may have missed one or more tech stories that will probably impact us all in 2021 and beyond. Or maybe with the constant cycle of screaming headlines, you forgot about a major development.
The bad news is that 2021 is going to be a lot like 2020 since we're still in the middle of the pandemic. The good news is that we've learned a lot quickly. Some organizations have been thinking very seriously about the future and they have some interesting things planned or in the works.
So, sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
1. Tech Giants Are in the Hot Seat Again
Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai were quite literally in the hot seat in July defending what Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are doing, respectively, because U.S. House Judiciary has antitrust concerns. Being too big and powerful is bad, m-kay? Monopolies stifle competition, which means smaller businesses and consumers pay the price.
These days, "price" isn't just about dollars and cents. It's about privacy, freedom, and democracy. That's why we're hearing catch phrases like "the war on democracy" and new books have titles like, The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans & Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity.
A fundamental problem is that tech moves at warp speed while legislators, regulators and courts move at Model-T speed. The rest of us could help by boycotting those companies, but we're just too into selfies, iEverything, Google Everything and Prime.
2. NVIDIA Doubles Down on AI-Driven Computing
If InformationWeek published a "gee-whiz" list of chip companies, my vote would place NVIDIA at the top of the list. I've had other chip loves before including the Motorola 68000 series, Intel X86 series including Pentium and TriQuint's gallium arsenide chips. What's gets me totally stoked about NVIDIA chips (GPUs) are their impact on our evolving digital experience expectations.
Of course, NVIDIA is also an AI company -- one in a growing universe. In September, the company announced it was acquiring Arm Limited from Softbank for $40 billion. The combination of the Arm CPU and NVIDIA AI will result in AI computing capabilities for cloud, smartphones, PCs, self-driving cars, robotics and edge IoT. We can't wait to see what that's all about, especially because it has nothing to do with the Kardashians.
Even without NVIDIA, it's obvious that dumb devices are out, and smart devices are in. However, a convergence strategy alone is way too boring if NVIDIA's history is any indication. I mean, why follow a trend when you can create one?
3. The Tech War on COVID-19
Everyone wants COVID-19 gone yesterday whether they believe it's real or not. However, the numbers are headed in the wrong direction. As part of the war against COVID, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Energy tapped IBM and other supercomputing leaders to help find a solution, fast. The resulting COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, headed by IBM, consists of private companies, academia and government. Hundreds of PhDs and AI engineers have joined this effort for a well-rounded team of human + machine brainiacs. As of this writing, there are 43 consortium members, 92 projects, 6.8 million CPU cores, 50,000 GPUs, 165,000 nodes and a computing speed of 600 petaflops. Whoa.
But wait. What about cloud? It turns out that financial cloud broker Strategic Blue partnered with Amazon Web Services, strategic service provider Intervision, data science consultancy Pitch Black Pikka, and researchers from the University of California at San Diego, to create the Cloud Fund to Fight COVID-19 program. This program accelerates funding for research and community projects running in the cloud because research needs to happen now, not after long grant writing and approval projects. Speed is everything, especially now.
4. APIs May Be Copyrightable…or Not
Copyright law extends to software because, like a book, software is a literary work. However, not all forms of software are copyrightable. At issue in the Oracle v. Google case is whether APIs are copyrightable, so IP lawyers and we in the tech industry, are dying to hear what the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has to say. If the SCOTUS decides APIs are copyrightable, it may stifle innovation or at the very least cause a whole slew of problems that the API economy solved, not the least of which is saving precious software development time.
Despite what aggrieved parties hope, SCOTUS reviews about 100 to 150 out of 7,000 cases per year, so perhaps it's not surprising that the Court declined to review the case when Oracle first filed a Writ of Certiorari. Was Google's use of 11,000 lines of API code spanning 37 APIs fair use? Or more fundamentally, should APIs be copyrightable? Those two questions alone have fueled a decade-long battle.
In the earliest days of the lawsuit, the District Court found fair use. The Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, reversing the decision on copyright infringement grounds. At the time, SCOTUS declined to review the case. The case was subsequently remanded (sent back to the District Court) and the unanimous jury verdict was fair use. On appeal, the Circuit Court reversed again, finding copyright infringement for the second time. Two years ago, SCOTUS agreed to review the case, although Google and Oracle just presented their arguments. While everyone is wringing their hands about API copyrightability, the outcome of the case may turn on a procedural error. The Circuit Court of Appeals may have overturned the jury's fair use verdict too quickly because it didn't spend enough time reviewing the evidence. Pass the popcorn.
5. 5G Phones Are Here
The iPhone 12 5G phone is here! YAY! More speed is always good when you want to watch movies, stream video or FaceTime with your BFF. OK, but what's the fine print? Well, for one thing, you need a data plan, of course, and you may want to choose an unlimited plan unless you like receiving shocking cell service bills. Also, 5G and LTE are not available in all markets or from all carriers, but that's been true of every new network upgrade. Still, who reads the fine print?
5G isn't one thing either. There are different speeds (millimeter wave (mmW), mid-band and low band), each of which has tradeoffs. There are also 5G brand name twists that are sure to confuse consumers. Some iPhone 12 users are apparently complaining about battery drain and dropped connections, which is being interpreted by Investopedia as a warning sign that Apple's reputation for quality isn't as solid as it once was. While Apple has been working with service providers to help make 5G phones a reality, the company doesn't control those networks. And, the higher speed connections are more likely to cause the effects consumers are complaining about. The reality is, the phones will switch to 4G as necessary, such as in locations where 5G isn't available or in circumstances when 5G doesn't provide a performance benefit.
6. High Profile Twitter Accounts Are Hacked
If you're going to dream, dream big. That's what some hackers did when they decided to hack high-profile accounts, including those of Kanye West, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, President Elect Biden, and Former President Barack Obama as part of a Bitcoin scheme. Powerful companies including Apple and Uber were also targeted for their clout.
One big concern was the personal information may have been sucked out of accounts. While President Trump is famous for doing his own tweeting, a lot of famous people consider social media someone else's job. So, they have an agency or social media consultant posting stuff for them, which omits the personal information hackers seek. Still, 45 account passwords were reset using Twitter tools designed for the actual users. Of all things, Twitter said it was "embarrassed." I, for one, think Twitter needs better crisis management messaging.
7. Oracle and Walmart Get Social
In August, President Trump signed an executive order banning Americans from doing business with Tiktok owner ByteDance due to national security concerns. Since then, two federal judges issued injunctions against the order with the second one prohibiting the Commerce Department from banning Tiktok app downloads.
Meanwhile, in September, Oracle beat Microsoft in a bid for TikTok's US operations. As it stands now, Oracle and Walmart would own a combined 20% stake in a new company called Tiktok Global. However, ByteDance missed its December 4 deadline to complete the deal and all three parties (ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart) are mum for now, which is fine with us. Our brains are on holiday anyway.
8. Collaborative Computing is the Future
Remaining competitive means operating in the now, which can sometimes mean counterintuitive acquisitions. It's hard to argue with Salesforce's acquisition of Slack, though, because it makes a lot of sense. The deal gives Slack instant access to Salesforce's massive customer base and Salesforce will become more collaborative than it is now. In fact, Slack will become the new interface for Salesforce 360, which is great news for Slack lovers.
The forward-looking part of the deal is creating an operating system for the "new way to work." The result will be a unified "collaborative computing" platform for connecting employees, customers and partners with each other and the apps they use every day within their existing workflows. Makes total sense, but many enterprise software vendors have been saying similar things for years, but they haven't been referring to their efforts as an operating system.
People love Salesforce and Slack, except maybe those who still hate computers and tech veterans who gripe about Slack in the same ways they griped about Bulletin Board Systems.
9. Remote Work Necessitates Edge Security -- Ya Think?
IT departments from all over the world should be congratulated for their heroic efforts in 2020. As if the everyday pressures of working in an IT department weren't enough, they literally had days to make remote work a reality at a scale they hadn't imagined before. Like the entire workforce in a lot of cases.
Of course, the need for edge security became obvious thanks to Zoom bombing, which Zoom addressed with security options such as placing guests in meeting rooms so they could be individually vetted before being admitted to a Zoom conference and AES 256-bit GCM encryption. More recently it added an At Risk Meeting Notifying notification, which warns owners that their Zoom conference URL has been shared online (which was a popular way Zoom bombing occurred in the first place). Meeting organizers can also suspend the activities of disruptive participants.
More generally, IT and security teams have become even more sensitive to the need for enhanced edge security, which has fueled interest in Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA). ZTNA overcomes many of the things that drive us crazy about VPNs. For example, the number of VPN connections are limited, while ZTNA is dynamically scalable. Also, connecting to a VPN from a personal device may introduce a security risk, whereas ZTNA limits the attack surface.
Although companies and IT departments have learned a lot about remote work and the importance of edge security this year, don't get complacent because bad guys are counting on it.
10. Self-Driving Cars Are Becoming A Reality
GM is testing its new Cruise self-driving vehicle in San Francisco. Amazon's "cartoonist" Zoox taxi was seen in San Francisco's Union Square. Apple is working with TSMC to develop self-driving car chips. Is the iCar next? And if so, will we be willing to part with tens or hundreds of thousand dollars a year just to be the cool cat who always has the latest and greatest? Because if we are, suddenly annual iPhone upgrades are going to seem cheap by comparison.
The number of companies working on autonomous cars, taxis and trucks is too vast to mention here, but some of them have been testing their vehicles for the past couple of years. At some point, self-driving capabilities will be as commonplace as cruise control. Also common will be datasets about edge-case human behavior in self-driving cars and an array of hacking and criminal opportunities that we don't even want to imagine.Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio