Why you should care
Because in 50 years, you’ll be living the iDream.
Flaming phones and fake news aside, 2016 was a banner year for technology’s biggest names. Some tech titans stepped out of their gilded Silicon Valley silos and entered the political fray with government backdoor battles or Thiel-size donations to Donald Trump. Others bled into pop culture, as the world collectively lost their minds over Pokémon Go and HBO’s viral comedy series Silicon Valley finally reached peak geek. But of course, innovation doesn’t happen only in Silicon Valley and a few bold moves elsewhere in the world truly jetted us into the future, despite not making headlines. So, here are the up-and-comers and little-known trends you may have missed this year.
The Dawn of Driverless Trucks
Google’s slick driverless Sedans weren’t the only cars to hit the roads this year. So did their lumbering, gas-guzzling cousins — trucks. If the sight of a giant 18-wheeler barreling toward you sounds frightening, then brace yourself. These trucks are already speeding down highways in Nevada, Ohio and California and are poised to win the self-driving race — driver not included. Meet the quiet architect behind the movement: a soft-spoken, bespectacled man who once fought in the Israeli Army and masterminded Google Maps.
How Drones Will Transform This Massive Continent
Once known solely as war machines, drones now have an unlikely ally in Africa. Rwanda, a nation no bigger than Maryland or Haiti, is leading the world in leveraging these zippy aerial vehicles for development and health care. In a country where easy and painless access to remote villages is hard to come by, drones have delivered life-saving medicines to those who need them most. Rwanda is even set to hold the world’s first drone port by the end of 2017 and these little bots are critical to vaulting the nation’s humanitarian efforts ahead, despite the lack of infrastructure for transportation. In short — no roads, no problem. Start sending in the drones.
The Legal Powerhouse Who’s Fueling Airbnb
You may not recognize her name, but Belinda Johnson is turning the once stuffy legal profession on its head. No longer the purview of nerdy coders, Silicon Valley has opened its doors to an outpouring of lawyers like Johnson who help startups navigate thorny, gray areas. In many ways, tech companies enter unknown territories before laws are even in place to regulate them, which makes for some heated battles between a fast-moving tech world and often slower-moving government. So, when Airbnb goes to court, the always polished Johnson is on speed dial, ready to nail ’em and carve out public policies where none existed before. One of the first executive hires at Airbnb, the legal powerhouse is now being hailed as the next Sheryl Sandberg.
The Next Frontier In Medicine: Paging Dr. Robot
In Singapore, R2-D2 may soon diagnose your cancer. The tiny island has long been on the bleeding edge of technology, and robots are no exception. Going beyond the cold, mechanics of surgery, robots are now entering more human-centric arenas inside hospitals and clinics as — gasp — warm and friendly caregivers. Terminal patients can share their final wishes on their deathbed with a steely bot while more chipper dancing droids can assuage the fears of kids who are getting their yearly shots. The prospect of a robot takeover inside these places of healing may be unnerving to some, but an even scarier issue looms large: Could robots take better care of Grandma than you?