Lisa Kream

Tech's Best and Worst in 2017

We surveyed our team at L4 Digital about what won and lost big this year. We hope you’ll enjoy reading their responses as much as we did.

Somehow, 2017 is nearly over. While it’s tempting to lament the passage of time and wonder just where this year has gone, I’d rather reflect on 2017, wrap it up nicely, and move on.

Before I do, though, you can breathe a sigh of relief: This article has nothing to do with politics. Inhale, exhale.

This year was a big one…for tech. Sure, I’d be remiss to ignore the political elephant in the room, but there were plenty of developments in the tech industry—nearly all of them apolitical—that are worth discussing.

Depending on where you stand, 2017 is drawing to either a merciful or magnificent close. But whatever your views are, now’s a good time to look back on the biggest tech wins, flops, and trends this year. We surveyed our team at L4 Digital to hear what they had to say and, as usual, they didn’t disappoint.

Their answers range in tone from downright apocalyptic to startlingly existential to enthusiastic and hopeful, and I think you’ll enjoy reading them as much as we did. Without further ado, here are (in no particular order) L4 Digital’s most common, most intriguing, or, in some cases, most outlandish responses to our end-of-year survey.

What was the biggest tech win of 2017?

  1. Cryptocurrencies
  2. Machine learning and AI
  3. The widespread cultural shift toward awareness of and respect for cultural, gender, and racial diversity in the tech industry

One of the most commonly-cited tech wins of the year was cryptocurrency and, more specifically, Bitcoin. If you’re still living under that rock you’re always raving about, or are just too embarrassed to admit that you still don’t know what cryptocurrency is, cryptocurrency is a decentralized, electronic cash system that relies on a peer-to-peer network. Our team sees the exploding popularity of cryptocurrencies, which aren’t beholden to gold or big banks, as one of the biggest tech wins of the year.

Several of our team members also talked up the increasing prevalence of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the mainstream consciousness. You may have caught our post earlier this year about these technologies, but just in case, I’ll give you the TL;DR version: They’re fascinating, but fraught with the potential for human misuse. Nevertheless, many on our team are excited about the rapid advancements in the field which are making machine learning and AI more accessible to developers.

Another common response concerned, as one team member memorably put it, “calling out creepos” in the industry. From pushing back against harassment to aggressively pursuing more inclusive company cultures, the tech industry is changing. Our team applauded the appointment of more women to leadership roles, the global discussion prompted by the now-infamous Google Memo, and the industry-wide shift toward respect for all employees (particularly, as one respondent noted, in the wake of Travis Kalanick’s ouster from Uber) as signs that the tech industry is working toward being as diverse as the global population it serves.

What was the biggest tech flop of 2017?

  1. Cryptocurrencies
  2. iPhone X and Google Pixel 2
  3. Snapchat glasses
  4. Machine learning and AI
  5. Cybersecurity

Our team had a lot to say about the biggest tech flops of the year. We’re not cynics; we have high standards.

Surprisingly, several team members called out cryptocurrencies as both a win and a flop. Those who lauded its decentralization also denounced it as being “such a scam”. It’s certainly possible to appreciate the best and worst of a phenomenon like cryptocurrency, but only the fullness of time will reveal whether it’s such a boon or “such a scam”.

Equally as surprising was some team members’ virulent distaste for all things smartphone. If it wasn’t the cost of the iPhone X or the notch at the top of its screen (one of our team members deemed this little notch “literally the worst thing Apple has ever designed”) it was Google Pixel 2’s splashy yet empty features. Tough crowd, it seems—and they only got tougher.

Respondents reserved the most venom for the Snapchat glasses. Comments ranged in acerbity from calling the glasses “a joke”, to decrying them as little more than an immoral way “to prove we do stupid things”. Ouch. Maybe there’s something to #NoFilter after all.

Our team also skewed fairly critical of relatively more serious failures. Some respondents referred to machine learning and AI as “frightening”, while another respondent casually predicted that “AI will kill us all.” The best response though? “How many Terminator movies (and a crappy Mass Effect 3 ending) do we need to tell us how [AI] turns out?”

Many people also detailed their anxiety over the failure of large companies—most notably Equifax—to secure user data. Equifax and other companies, respondents said, have an obligation to do all they can to ensure that their data is completely secure, but many of them fail, much to the endangerment of their users.

If you could make a New Year’s resolution for the entire tech industry, what would it be and why?

  1. Address the gender, racial, and pay disparities in the industry.
  2. Create technology that truly benefits people and the environment.

This question elicited the lengthiest and most heartfelt responses from our team. More surprising than the passion in their responses, however, was the noticeable lack of variation in their answers. Our entire team feels very strongly about the importance of equality and diversity in tech, as well as the sustainability and sensibility of the products they create.

Many people advocated hiring more women to fill executive and leadership roles, while others encouraged companies to directly invest in diversity programs. Taking steps like these, they said, will go a long way toward addressing the gender, racial, and pay disparities that plague the industry.

Our team was equally adamant about being mindful and sensible about the products we create. Their responses were powerful, and are worth quoting at length. (Responses have been edited for clarity. Emphasis added.)

[Think] more human. Build technology that enhances lives [and] human interaction as well. I want to see technology be used to make the fundamental things in life accessible to everyone without taking away essential life skills. Make things that are our [companions] and help us understand each other better. I’m basically asking for world peace [but] with technology’s help.

Think about the philosophy of making money. Is what you are doing a positive in the world? Is the technology you are using or investing in good for the environment? A waste of electricity? Are you taking advantage of your customers? We need to think about providing positive solutions and positive gain for our world rather than squeezing out dollars from people who don’t have the desire to spend [them].

Remember that there are people involved all the way through. Making the products and using the products. Ask the question “would I be okay if a company did this to me?” before deciding to collect the data, build the feature, and connect the service.

Consider the impact of your product or service on your city/country/civilization from an ethical human viewpoint, not just a technical or financial one.

Solve problems for people outside of the industry. Homelessness, healthcare, education.

Onward and Upward

You can never predict what a new year will hold. You can keep an eye what’s trending, watch the stock market, analyze current events—but all you’re ever able to do is guess. You may make an educated, informed guess, but it’s still a guess. The best way to predict your future, or the future of an entire industry, is to be clear about your own vision and values, and resolve to let them guide the choices you make.

We at L4 may not know what kinds of products we’ll be building at the end of 2018 (and try as we might, we can’t predict what will happen to Bitcoin) but we do know this: We’re a passionate group who cares deeply about others, and great people like that really do make great products.

Image courtesy of Cristian Escobar for Unsplash.

Lisa Kream

Lisa joined L4 Digital in 2017 as a Senior Marketing Coordinator. She loves crossword puzzles, literature, op-eds, and podcasts, and hates food puns (even the really eggcellent ones). Lisa has seen the Northern Lights and The Great Wall of China, but still hasn’t seen Citizen Kane.

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