Hacks, innovations and all on video: 2020 in review

Cybersecurity remained the main concern throughout the year with even the mighty US government falling prey to a hack. Although video conference platforms gained notoriety, there were more meaningful tech innovations in health industry

Long-drawn battles are expected to be a hallmark of the Big Tech industry.
Long-drawn battles are expected to be a hallmark of the Big Tech industry.

In February, a report by Cyberventures said that the intensity of attacks would increase in 2020. As against an attack every 19 seconds, the cybersecurity firm indicated that there would be a cyberattack every 11 seconds. In 2016, the world was facing one cyber attack every 40 seconds. What analysts or cybersecurity experts could not fathom was that the US would fall prey to a cyberattack. While it was always clear that as organisations deploy work from infrastructure, many would fall prey to cyberattack-neither can you build up years of cyber-hygiene within a few months, nor anticipate problems of moving all systems online-nobody could have predicted the US to be vulnerable. As the year comes to a close, authorities in the US realise that Russian hackers targeted most, if not all, government systems. This group is also blamed for stealing coronavirus research from top vaccine makers.

The US may have moved to transferring information via USB drives and hard-disks; this cannot be a viable solution as more utilities are moving online. This was also the year that cyber menace claimed its first victim, with a patient in a German hospital dying because of cyberattack caused outage. India also faced the ire of cyberattacks, as a utilities provider to Mumbai had to shut operations, causing a long-term power cut for the financial capital.

Talking about failures, Google systems failing for a few hours showed the world how dependent our lives had become on one tech company. Although Google did not issue a detailed statement, a few months ago, the company had claimed that it was the target of one of the biggest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

The end of the year also came as a disappointment for gaming fans. Cyberpunk 2077 released in December failed to live up to expectations. Although the game has received rave reviews for its storyline, Sony had to pull down the game from its network because of bugs and latency issues. This marks another big failure for aspirational games. Star Citizen, one of the biggest crowdfunding exercises with $300 million, is still the biggest gaming debacle. However, the start of a new decade with yet another gaming disappointment does not bode well. On the other hand, Facebook, Google and Apple all entering online gaming marks the start of a long-drawn battle for online gaming.

Long-drawn battles are expected to be a hallmark of the Big Tech industry. Troubles have been mounting for tech titans. Despite all of them doing brisk business in 2020, they also faced the ire of authorities across the world. Apple and Google are both fighting anti-trust litigation in the US. In the EU, they have been subjected to fines for monopolistic practices. Google and Facebook are fighting the EU and Australia to pay publishers for news. Most countries are framing regulations which will require these companies to spend billions to deconstruct their models and make them more accountable. The EU and UK were the recent ones to release such rules. India, with its data protection law, won’t be far behind.

Apple, however, has also become the subject of praise and appreciation. Although the tech giant was losing value as an innovator, in 2020, Apple regained its mojo as being the innovator. The company introduced its silicon chips, changing the industry forever. While everyone was looking at smartphones, Apple quietly revolutionised the dead laptop industry. The new chips are high on performance and battery life, something that many of its competitors haven’t achieved with RISC architecture and ARM chips. A Reuters report now claims that Apple may be unveiling a self-driving vehicle in 2024 with better performance and battery life, upending yet another space.

The real innovation came in the health sector. While Microsoft, Google and companies like Dassault were gung-ho on tech at the start of the year, the pandemic and resultant search for vaccines witnessed marked innovation. Vaccines were developed in record time, with many companies relying on tech to fast-track the process. Besides, the first mRNA vaccines were administered to people, signalling a change in the vaccine development process.

Governments, on the other hand, also relied on innovation in tracing and tracking efforts. India’s long-forgotten smart cities started using their Integrated Command and Control Centres to help people with telemedicine and provide services. The Agra smart city model showed how city government’s could leverage tech to track and trace infections and check if the hospitals were running out of beds. Most cities developed dashboards in a rare city-university collaboration initiative. Contact tracing apps besides aiding in curbing the spread, invited scrutiny on government surveillance.

A greater achievement was the collaboration with start-ups; the government shed its scepticism and invited start-ups to help build coronavirus solution. Hack the crisis events across the world attracted thousands of entries with the government implementing many such solutions.

The real turnaround was for the video-conferencing industry. Hardly, anyone knew about Zoom and other products. But the pandemic forced organisations to opt for video-conferencing and collaboration platforms. Companies also led innovation to make video conferencing more interactive and less tiresome. The world is now waiting for a Zoom for VR or an AR Zoom. As work from home gains traction, many are expected to Zoom towards more such platforms. Cybersecurity will remain the common thread running through all these services.

It was a big year for bitcoin as the currency crossed $20,000 in value for the first time since 2017. Cryptocurrencies are also expected to gain currency as governments drop scepticism of these assets and allow trading in currencies. Moreover, Libra is coming.

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