Young Irish innovators made headlines in 2012, the same year that we gleefully celebrated a major physics discovery, hotly debated privacy legislation and narrowly avoided a global disaster.
Ireland got access to more on-demand media in 2012. Netflix and Spotify sorted us for streaming and UPC rolled out on-demand TV to homes throughout the country. Online, Chrome overtook Internet Explorer for the first time, pop star Justin Timberlake tried to resurrect Myspace, and Facebook took over Instagram for $1bn.
Facebook also hit the stock market in a messy debut that was deemed the worst IPO in a decade. Regardless, it made co-founder Dustin Moskovitz the world’s youngest billionaire by a margin of just eight days.
The real star of the IPO show for us, though, was Irish Facebook engineer Colm Doyle, who helped devise the clever hack that saw Zuckerberg’s timeline automatically update the second he rang the Nasdaq bell.
Less well engineered was Apple Maps, a rare fumble from the iPhone maker. The litany of embarrassing errors in the navigation tool forced CEO Tim Cook to recommend a rival product instead.
2012 also put Dublin on the map as European City of Science with events bringing together international scientists, policymakers, business leaders and the public. The ideal environment for the first Dublin Maker event.
This collaborative sci-tech environment is something Jason Ward, MD of Dell Technologies Ireland, commented on when reflecting on the past 20 years. “Collaboration has shaped the way we’ve been doing business and engaging with others,” he said.
Among Dell’s collaborators is CeADAR, Ireland’s research centre for applied AI, which was established in 2012. “Our team have worked with Ireland’s applied AI centre to ensure Ireland’s start-ups and scale-ups can engage in big data projects,” said Ward. “Strong links with IDA Ireland, Technology Ireland, Software Skillnet and Skillnet Ireland have helped to ensure our own team develop the skills required to grasp the many opportunities being afforded by new technologies.”
Irish innovation on the world stage
Colm Doyle was far from the only Irish innovator in the Silicon Valley spotlight in 2012. Patrick and John Collison’s Stripe was showing its future unicorn potential following a $100m valuation on the back of a fresh Sequoia investment. Meanwhile Intercom, another Irish-founded start-up in San Francisco, secured $1m in backing from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
Back home, the next generation of STEM talent was flourishing and the pages of SiliconRepublic.com were replete with stories of their achievements.
There was 12-year-old developer Jordan Casey building iOS games for the App Store and university student Paddy Mulcahy’s superbug prevention invention which won the Irish leg of the 2012 James Dyson Award. 2012’s BT Young Scientist champions Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle also took the top prize at the EU-wide competition for their space navigation project, and 15-year-old Maciej Goszczycki came out on top at the CoderDojo Coolest Project Awards for creating his own software language.
CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton was among the judges of that last one and, while his coding education movement continued to grow, he took time to talk to SiliconRepublic.com about Ireland’s future coders along with Harry Moran, Shane Curran and Tommy Collison (youngest brother of the Stripe founders).
And Cork teenager Joanne O’Riordan, who was born without arms or legs, delivered her ‘No limbs, no limits’ speech to global leaders at a UN conference in New York. Invited to speak for Girls in ICT Day, she explained how accessible technology had changed her life. (She also challenged those present to build her a robot.)
Physicists’ faith in god particle rewarded
On 4 July, CERN announced to the world that it believed it had discovered the Higgs boson, the so-called ‘god particle’ scientists had been searching for using the Large Hadron Collider.
Shortly after the initial announcement, SiliconRepublic.com got an exclusive interview with Steve Myers, the director of accelerators and technology at CERN. Belfast man Myers explained how the discovery would affect the Standard Model of physics. “There’s a one part in a million chance that they have made a mistake,” he said.
British physicist Prof Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, claimed the discovery was as significant to the physics community as the discovery of DNA was to the biology community.
Some thought the Large Hadron Collider would cause an apocalypse. Others thought the world would end on 21 December 2012 because of an ancient Mayan calendar. The truth is, the world did come close to a cataclysmic event in the summer.
A 2014 Nasa study confirmed that the Earth had narrowly missed a powerful solar storm in July 2012 that could have crippled most forms of technology on the planet, from the internet to GPS to toilet flushes. Had it hit, the July storm could have been as powerful as the 1859 Carrington Event, which caused telegraph problems across the US. It also would have cost the world economy an estimated $2trn.
The coronal mass ejections that cause these events are not uncommon and January had seen a weaker solar storm hit the Earth’s magnetic field, causing planes to reroute and the skies to light up with spectacular auroras.
One giant leap
Also in the sky in 2012 was Austrian adrenaline enthusiast Felix Baumgartner. The skydiver and BASE jumper smashed three world records in October 2012 and became the first person to break the sound barrier without any machine assistance when he performed a freefall of more than 39,000 metres from a helium-filled balloon at the edge of space.
It took Baumgartner two and a half hours to ascend to his jumping off point above Roswell, New Mexico. He then reached the ground within nine minutes and three seconds, achieving a maximum speed of 373 metres per second – greater than the speed of sound.
Google raises Glass to wearable tech
Earlier in 2012, Google orchestrated a less ambitious skydive to showcase a highly ambitious new venture, Project Glass. While still a new enough entrant to the consumer hardware market, Google was already tinkering with an all-new wearable form factor with the unveiling of Glass, a pair of smart glasses with an augmented reality heads-up display that had been rumoured since February.
Wearable tech was the new frontier of computing and Google even submitted a patent for Minority Report-style glove controllers. Glass was much further along in development and was spotted in the wild throughout the year, including on designer Diane von Furstenberg during New York Fashion Week.
But it seemed the idea of wearable technology didn’t sit well with everyone as Steve Mann – considered the father of wearable devices at the time – was assaulted at a McDonald’s for wearing his own computer vision tech.
SOPA, PIPA and ACTA: a saga
But the most notable tech battle of the year was the lengthy debate over attempts to control online piracy.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) had been introduced as bills by US politicians in 2011. Critics of the measures claimed their freedom was being restricted, and both proposals were met with strong opposition.
In early 2012, digital entertainment companies Nintendo, Sony, EA and others rescinded their support for SOPA. Weeks later, websites including Wikipedia, Reddit and Craigslist blacked out to protest the acts. Silicon Valley leaders also came out against them, including Google’s Sergey Brin who warned that they would lead to censorship and monitoring similar to Iran and China, as well as threatening innovation and the underlying architecture of the web.
Yet even as SOPA and PIPA were defeated in the US, Europe was set to introduce its own intellectual property enforcement rules via the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Anti-ACTA hackers attacked Polish and Irish government websites in retaliation but still the ACTA deal was signed in Tokyo by countries including Ireland. A French MEP who had led investigations into the validity of ACTA resigned in disgust, calling it a “masquerade”. Thousands took to the streets in protest of the act and world wide web creator Tim Berners-Lee threw his support behind them. In July, the European Parliament voted to reject ACTA and its death knell finally sounded in December.
In Ireland, fears of an amendment to the Copyright Act 2000 becoming an ‘Irish SOPA’ prompted Michele Neylon, TJ McIntyre, Simon McGarr and Ian Bergin to launch the Stop SOPA Ireland petition, which amassed about 80,000 signatures. ISPs also criticised the Irish SOPA, but nothing, it seemed, would stop Minister Seán Sherlock, TD, from powering ahead.
Sherlock debated the decision and opened up a review of Irish copyright law as a consolation, but not before 2012 drew to a close with a landmark court case demanding ISPs block The Pirate Bay, putting his rules to the test.
In other news
5 January: Cook Medical, the largest privately owned medical device company in the world, announces a €16.5m investment in a new R&D operation in Limerick.
17 January: A treasure trove of fossils, some of which were collected by Charles Darwin, are showcased in an online museum exhibit after they had been lost for 165 years.
31 January: The heads of three Irish institutes of technology announce their plans to form Munster Technological University.
24 February: The first credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer board is released.
27 February: Engineers Ireland publishes a report reviewing Ireland’s energy infrastructure and flags oncoming challenges including security of supply, competitiveness and carbon emissions.
5 March: Kony 2012, a documentary made as part of a campaign to arrest Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony, is released on YouTube. The viral video was viewed by 70m people in just four days and continued trending for much of the year. By year end, the debate on whether the viral campaign was awareness-spreading at its best or slacktivism at its worst was not yet resolved.
29 March: Jeff Bezos announces he is making plans to recover the Apollo 11 rocket engines from the Atlantic Ocean floor.
15 April: A hologram of the late Tupac Shakur performs at Coachella with Snoop Dogg.
24 April: Google Drive is launched.
15 May: Irish businessman and financier Dermot Desmond invests in the i-LOFAR radio telescope project destined for Birr in Co Offaly.
24 May: Intel president Paul Otellini confirms that the company’s Leixlip plant is one of three global sites selected to produce its 14nm chips.
28 May: The Irish Government launches its Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020 with actions including increasing onshore and offshore windfarm developments and building a sustainable bioenergy sector.
5-6 June: Observers look to the skies to see the century’s second and last solar transit of Venus.
6 June: A magnitude 4 earthquake off Ireland’s Co Mayo coastline is detected by a newly installed seismometer on the Cliffs of Moher.
14 June: The remarkably energy efficient Sequoia supercomputer built by IBM using its Blue Gene/Q architecture sees the US top the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers for the first time in two years.
21 June: The European Commission tries to inspire young women into STEM with its ‘Science: It’s a Girl Thing!’ promo video. It is not well received.
21 June: Video footage captured by drones spying on the European headquarters of Google and Facebook is released as part of the Science Gallery’s ‘Hack the City’ exhibition.
24 June: Scientists from University College Dublin, University of Cambridge and Irish company Equinome publish research tracing the origin of the ‘speed gene’ in thoroughbred racehorses back to a single mare.
25 June: During the Euro 2012 football tournament, London’s Metropolitan Police Service launches an investigation into a Twitter user who directed racist comments at England players Ashley Cole and Ashley Young following the team’s quarter final defeat.
16 July: Yahoo appoints long-time Google technology executive Marissa Mayer as its new CEO.
16-17 July: NASA captures images of an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan calving away from Greenland’s Petermann Glacier and drifting downstream.
6 August: NASA’s Curiosity rover lands on Mars.
8 August: Katie Taylor’s Olympic boxing semi-final prompts an 800pc increase in network activity across Ireland and the UK as spectators tune in to the midday fight online.
9 August: EirGrid sees electricity demand drop significantly during Taylor’s final bout as a nation held its breath.
24 August: Apple wins a patent trial against Samsung and is awarded $1bn in damages.
25 August: Voyager 1, the NASA space probe launched in 1977, exits the solar system and enters interstellar space.
14 September: Facebook reaches 1bn monthly active users.
28 September: Eamon Leonard is named Overall Net Visionary at the Irish Internet Association’s annual awards ceremony.
1 October: NASA releases an eerie recording of how Earth sounds from space.
19 October: The Health Innovation Hub project launches at University College Cork to support healthcare companies to move faster on developing products and services.
8 December: COP18, the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, agrees to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 and establishes for the first time that rich nations should compensate poor nations for losses due to climate change.
12 December: The Pope sends his first tweet.
21 December: Gangnam Style becomes the first YouTube video to reach 1bn views.
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