While activists and AI were making themselves heard, Steve Jobs’ death came at a time of shifting power across the tech industry.
In January 2011, Steve Jobs took a medical leave of absence from Apple. Following a few summertime public appearances, he fully resigned as CEO, handing the title over to Tim Cook.
In October, a couple of days after Cook took to the stage to introduce the iPhone 4s, Jobs passed away.
Shortly before his death, Jobs revealed plans to build a 150-acre ‘spaceship’ Apple campus in Cupertino, which he intended to be “the best office building in the world”. Meanwhile, other tech giants were building their presence here in Ireland.
Google announced an 11-acre data centre in Dublin and acquired the Barrow Street buildings housing its EMEA headquarters, having already bought the city’s tallest commercial office block for its future growth.
A filing to the Companies Registration Office revealed that Twitter was also setting up shop in Dublin. A formal announcement came in September and, soon, Laurence O’Brien was named Twitter’s first hire in Ireland.
LinkedIn was also expanding in Dublin and, as Facebook started planning for a 2012 IPO, CEO Mark Zuckerberg paid a brief visit to the company’s 200 Irish staff on his way to Paris for the eG8 tech forum. His visit coincided with a rooftop concert at the company’s dockland’s HQ.
Activism and hacktivism
2011 was the year of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, and social media’s influence on political movements was evident as activists drove support and organised online.
The immediacy of real-time social media gave the rest of the world intimate access into the turbulent events in the Middle East and North Africa that opened the year. Egypt responded to protests against president Hosni Mubarak with a controversial internet blackout, just when the US was considering an ‘internet kill switch’ of its own.
The proposed US legislation was intended as a response to cyberthreats to national security. Governments recognised powerful hacking groups posed a threat but it was a corporation that was hit hardest in 2011.
Sony believed Anonymous to be responsible for the attack on its PlayStation Network that caused a 23-day outage of the service and compromised 77m user accounts, though charges were later brought against members of LulzSec.
Ireland’s own Fine Gael suffered a much more minor attack from two teenagers. Ahead of a general election, the party’s website was defaced and its messaging replaced with the Anonymous logo. It later emerged that the hackers also captured personal information from about 2,000 users of the site.
The kids are alright
Meanwhile, another teenage coder was using his powers for good.
James Whelton had already made a name for himself as the first person to hack the iPod Nano. At 18 years old, he had just completed his Leaving Cert and already had backing from Enterprise Ireland as an entrepreneur. And so he teamed up with investor Bill Liao on an idea that would give other technologically gifted children the chance to shine.
Initially called Computer Dojo, CoderDojo set out to foster coding talent among Irish schoolchildren in a shared learning environment. What started on a Saturday in the National Software Centre in Mahon, Co Cork soon became a global movement.
That same summer, UK games developer David Braben was developing an inexpensive computer board for beginners to tinker with, aiming to inspire a new generation of programmers. Like CoderDojo, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is now a charity furthering STEM education.
Also in 2011, IBM established the Pathways to Technology or P-Tech model with educators in New York. P-Tech aims to address the tech skills shortage through STEM education for secondary school students. Ireland would later become the first country in Europe to adopt this model.
Rise of the robot overlords
While IBM was planning to educate more young people, its Watson supercomputer was continuing to learn at an advanced rate. In 2011, the computing company celebrated 100 years in business with a major victory for its AI.
Big Blue had been preparing Watson to challenge human contestants on Jeopardy since 2009. In a televised exhibition match in February, Watson trounced two of the all-time greatest human Jeopardy contestants, including 74-time champion Ken Jennings.
Jennings took the defeat in good spirit, writing, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords,” on his gameshow screen.
That summer, Watson was awarded Webby’s Person of the Year award. The computer’s response to presenter Lisa Kudrow was “Person of the year – ironic.”
Siri gives voice to AI
In another sure sign the computers were getting sassy, 2011 saw the introduction of Siri via the iPhone 4s. Apple’s new built-in assistant would respond to voice commands, though there were fears it wouldn’t understand Irish accents.
Siri was the most-liked feature on the new iPhone by a wide margin, with journalist and entrepreneur Mark Little tweeting that he had developed “an unhealthy but intoxicating relationship” with the voice-led tech.
Siri also caused a stir among Apple’s competition, with Google chair Eric Schmidt describing it as a “competitive threat” and analysts predicting it could cause Samsung to lose its top spot in the smartphone market.
Regardless, it was Apple that marked the year’s major milestone for voice technology, and the popularised ‘feminine’ voice for Siri would spark a debate on the sexism embedded in assistive technology that continues today.
Nokia’s ‘burning platform’
As Apple and Samsung streaked ahead, the old guard of phone-makers took a tumble.
The once-mighty Nokia found itself all but finished in the face of its smartphone competitors. In February, CEO Stephen Elop issued what became known as the ‘burning platform’ memo letting staff know just how dire the situation was becoming.
“The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over two years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes,” Elop wrote.
A $4bn investment in R&D was not enough and Elop planned a major executive shake-up along with a new strategy. However, Nokia’s lack of “accountability and leadership” led him to believe they had “poured gasoline on our own burning platform”.
In April, Microsoft came to the rescue, signing a deal with Nokia promising billions in payment for a partnership to develop Windows Phone devices. A relieved Elop called it a “win-win”.
A few months later, an employee at BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion published an emotional open letter to the ailing mobile company’s co-CEOs, urging them to make “bold decisions” to get the firm back on track.
In other news
1 January: An iPhone glitch hits some users, preventing their new year’s alarms from going off.
9 February: Activision Blizzard announces that it will disband the Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue developing the game.
19 February: An Irish gaming group concludes 42 hours of playing Halo: Reach non-stop, setting a new Guinness World Record for the longest video-game marathon on a first-person shooter.
27 February: The Social Network wins three Oscars.
29 March: While still in stealth mode, Stripe bags about $2m in investment from Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz and SV Angel.
24 April: WikiLeaks and other organisations publish more than 700 classified documents about Guantanamo Bay detainees.
26 May: Ireland’s first electric vehicle fast-charge point opens at a Topaz service station in Co Monaghan.
14 June: Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, convenes the Next Generation Broadband Taskforce comprising CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market and some internet service providers. Their job is to help Ireland reach an EU target of 30Mbps broadband for all and 100Mbps for half of Irish citizens by 2020.
12 July: Neptune completes its first orbit of the sun since its discovery in 1846.
14 July: Spotify finally arrives in the US, after years of painstaking negotiations with music labels. Within weeks, it was embroiled in a patent suit.
20 July: Apple publicly releases OS X Lion via the Mac App Store.
21 July: NASA’s Space Shuttle programme concludes with the successful landing of Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center.
5 August: The solar-powered Juno spacecraft launches on its mission to Jupiter.
8 August: Amazon blames a lightning strike for an outage at a Dublin data centre, which disrupted services for up to 48 hours. However, both the Met Office and ESB Networks later dispute this claim, leaving the event shrouded in mystery.
15 September: A prankster posts an academic profile of Dr Conan T Barbarian on the Trinity College Dublin website.
24 September: Following warnings that the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite might endanger inhabited areas as it was decommissioned, the six-tonne NASA satellite fortunately falls into a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean.
29 September: US venture capital player Polaris launches its Dogpatch Labs Europe start-up hub in Dublin.
30 September: Kerry entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly is named Overall Net Visionary winner at the Irish Internet Association’s awards ceremony.
24 October: A tweet from a spoof Twitter account derails the presidential campaign of Seán Gallagher during a live RTÉ debate moderated by Pat Kenny.
25 October: The first generation of the Nest Learning Thermostat, an early internet of things consumer product, is released.
28 October: On its 10th anniversary, Silicon Republic announces investment from SOSventures that sees it spin out as a new company with co-founder Ann O’Dea as managing director.
9 November: Flash Player concedes to the superiority of HTML5 for mobile media, leading to job losses at Adobe.
18 November: Mojang Studios officially releases Minecraft.
26 November: The Curiosity rover launches on its mission to Mars.
1 December: Developer Trevor Eckhart claims that Carrier IQ software, which is installed on millions of smartphones across numerous manufacturers, logs almost all user activity. His discovery would prompt legal cases against the California company.
5 December: The existence of Kepler-22b, an exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone orbiting a Sun-like star, is confirmed, 600 light years from Earth.
7 December: Facebook rolls out Timeline globally.
12 December: The process of laying the first subsea cable in 11 years begins from north Dublin to Anglesey in Wales.
15 December: In an open letter, Google’s Sergey Brin, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington and many others warn that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act will have a “chilling effect” on innovation and result in the US government having the power to censor the internet.
18 December: The discovery of the ‘let it snow’ Easter egg sparks a flurry of Google searches.
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