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The decade in tech: The gadgets that changed us, the schemes that shocked us

And the good things that failed to remain relevant.
Dominic Ligot | Dec 06 2019

December is the last month in the tumultuous 2010s, a decade that saw the rise of new political heroes and villains, a changing of the guard in different sectors of society, the growing concern for climate change taking a more desperate turn, and an unending cacophony of opinionated people screaming into the Facebook void. In "The Last 10 Years," a series of pieces scattered over these last 30 days, we look back at what happened to try to figure out what comes next. 

 

In a matter of days we will be completing the second decade of the 21st century. As much as the hopes and fears of twenty years ago seem so far removed from our lives today (remember Y2K or dial-up modems?), reflecting on the changes just in the last decade alone can surprise us on just how much technology has changed our lives without us noticing.

 

The Things We Take For Granted

The most obvious and ubiquitous technology in our lives today has to be the mobile phone. If previously in the early 2000s, the trend was for phones to get smaller (think the shift from Nokia 5110s to 8850s), this decade’s trend is the opposite. One of the first of this new breed of larger phones was the Samsung Galaxy Note which ushered the era of phablets (cross between phones and tablets) in 2011. During the same period, 4G mobile technology was rolled out, providing mobile bandwidth that enabled high-speed web applications, video, and internet teleconferencing on mobile phones. Alongside the continued popularity of the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy models, this decade has also brought in the Chinese brands such as Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo to prominence among consumers. 

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Messaging apps are the new preferred ways to communicate. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

Today internet messaging apps are the preferred mode of mobile communication with apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger introduced in 2011 and continue to grow to the present day. More recent messaging apps include Telegram and Signal which gained popularity due to their heightened focus on encryption and privacy. 

In this mobile-centric environment, local banks already offer mobile and internet banking and e-commerce and online shopping is now commonplace. Providers such as Lazada, Zalora (founded 2012) and Shopee (founded 2015) compete with the more established Amazon jump starting drop shipping which by 2016 is a vibrant and growing industry. 

The movies are still big, it's the screens that got smaller. Photograph by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

In 2012, Smart TVs started to hit the market, providing internet access via TV to households coinciding with the adoption of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go. Streaming has also taken over music with many users today subscribing to Spotify instead of stockpiling CDs or downloading music. 

The last five years have seen the rapid adoption of ride-sharing services starting with Uber in 2014 and now replaced by Grab and Angkas — powered by mobile technology and a reaction to the traffic situation in Metro Manila, voted the worst in the world. In 2016, augmented reality applications such as the game Pokemon Go and travel directions from Waze and Google Maps, became common.  

 

The things that left us 

Apart from the digital comforts we enjoy today, it might be easier to appreciate how much things have changed by also examining the technology casualties of the last 10 years. 

The touchscreen interfaces first introduced by the Apple iPhone decimated tactile keypads, spelling the end of the Nokia era and the short-lived popularity of the Blackberry. The venerable Betamax and VHS formats formally stopped production in 2016, while CD and DVD sales continue to fall dramatically as streaming took over consumer video. File sharing services such as LimeWire and Kazaa have fallen out of favor due to legal action and with streaming also providing legitimate sources of content that was cheap enough to discourage piracy. Also with mobile phones already streaming video and audio content, sales of MP3 Players, iPods, and CD Players have suffered. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find blank CD-Rs for sale at CDR-King.

Is there a chance we can re-Kindle this love affair? Photograph by Balázs Kétyi on Unsplash

E-book readers such as the Kindle have fallen to disuse, with tablets and phablets taking over e-book consumption. Legacy messaging apps such as Yahoo Messenger, Skype, and ICQ faded away, failing to keep up with the rise of modern mobile internet messaging. And pioneering social networks such as Friendster and MySpace fell against the popularity of newer and more networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and the more targeted Instagram and Linked-In. 

 

What We Didn’t See Coming

Many of the changes in the last 10 years seem intuitive; however here are some that defied prediction even in hindsight. In 2012, the Data Privacy Act and Cybercrime Prevention Act were signed into law putting legal pressure on companies and individuals to secure the data they are using and implementing penalties for those who are caught misusing digital information such as cyber libel and alteration of digital work. 

A scene from The Great Hack, the Netflix doc that explored the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Photograph from Netflix

Although enforcement and prosecutions are still few, these laws are significant when considering the Cambridge Analytica scandal which came to light in 2018 where personal information from Facebook was used to profile and influence users to drive the outcome of the Brexit vote and the Trump election, using the Philippines as the testing ground. 

In the last decade, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are now referred to as social media - as these platforms, particularly Facebook, are now the primary way Filipinos access news and content through the internet. As of 2019, Filipinos now lead the world in time spent on the internet and social media, despite internet speeds in the country trailing the rest of the world. 

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) brought by providers such as Coursera, EdX, and Udemy have risen to popularity becoming a primary method to learn everything from cooking to computer programming, resulting in an unprecedented knowledge explosion and democratization. One significant area of technology that has been driven by MOOCs is in the use of artificial intelligence resulting in the development of algorithms that power Computer Vision, Language Processing, Recommendation Engines, and Automation. 

As of 2019, Filipinos now lead the world in time spent on the internet and social media, despite internet speeds in the country trailing the rest of the world. 

Not all the AI developments have been pleasant however. In the last decade, we’ve seen chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay go awry tweeting genocide, someone deprived of their passport renewal due to racially biased facial recognition, and deaths reported from wrong directions on Waze and a malfunctioning self-driving car. At the same time news feeds and content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube managed by algorithms are creating echo chambers where users are continually exposed to similar content without their awareness — they will see what they like to see. Social media is now an environment conducive for fake news and mass disinformation. 

 

The Next 10 Years

It’s easy to try to play oracle and make some predictions about the next decade, but if there’s a thing to be said about the last 10 years, it’s that it’s almost impossible to determine where technology will be by 2029. Many of the things we discussed would sound magical or science fiction to someone from 2009, if not downright frightening. One consistent theme to expect is that technology and lifestyle are intertwined today more than in any other era and these trends are not slowing down. It’s impossible to imagine an analog existence these days, everything we do is through digital and is digitized. 

In 2015, the World Economic Forum first coined the phrase “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” which involved “Cyberphysical Systems”. One of the characteristics that describe this revolution is the sheer amount of data that permeates society to the extent that machines, learning from this data, can and will become independent of humans. Apart from beating humans at chess and Jeopardy, we’re already seeing the AI genie slowly escaping from the bottle and it’s still hard to tell how far this will impact everything we do. In an environment of discriminatory AI there is a need for people skilled in data to help shepherd us through the change, in a similar way the first car-drivers and mechanics were in demand in the 1900s when the world shifted from horse-carts to automobiles. Except today, we’re waiting for automobiles to drive themselves and hoping they don’t run us over in the process. 

With our daily lives becoming more and more wired via mobile technology, ethical issues such as privacy, security, digital ownership, become an important consideration in our activities. At the same time, the irony is while some parts of our society wrestle with too much data, some other sectors such as public health and social services don’t seem to have enough information to navigate. The Philippines just experienced its worst epidemic of dengue in a decade and polio has made a comeback, and our road traffic problems continue to worsen — clear examples of what can only be termed as data poverty. 

One thing that’s sure is the world of the next 10 years is a data-driven world. Data rights are human rights. Social problems are data problems. In this world, data is definitely the new oil, but if we’re not careful, it can also be the new pollution. 

 

Dominic Ligot is a data analyst, entrepreneur, and technologist. He founded CirroLytix, a machine learning research company focusing on data ethics and social impact and also co-founded the Analytics Association of the Philippines. Carlos Nazareno is a web and indie game developer and a board member of Democracy.Net.Ph, an ICT rights advocacy group. 

 

References: 
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2. Globe 4G Launch https://wickedsago.blogspot.com/2011/04/globe-launches-first-4g-network-for.html
3. Smart 4G Launch https://www.techinasia.com/smart-communications-launch-lte-service-philippines
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11. Waze Augmented Reality https://www.slashgear.com/waze-android-auto-hands-on-the-reason-for-android-in-the-car-26492776/
12. Pokemon Go AR https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinanderton/2016/11/14/augmented-reality-the-future-and-pokemon-go-infographic/#1284957c7e98
13. MP3 Players are dead https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2017/05/11/527829909/the-mp3-is-officially-dead-according-to-its-creators
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