As the internet of things starts to take off, a whistleblower sounds an alert on how user data is being collected for government surveillance.
As of 2013, the red carpet question ‘Who are you wearing?’ could have been answered with a tech brand. From rings to wigs, wearable tech came out in force.
Glass testers were recruited and pairs of smart specs were donned by tech influencers. Robert Scoble wore his in the shower. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak admitted to being “oddly attracted” to Google Glass, though rumour had it that the iPhone maker was refining its own wearable tech product.
The so-called iWatch was the subject of the kind of hyperactive rumour mill only Apple fans could power up. But while Apple was still keeping its smartwatch up its sleeve, Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear and the Sony SmartWatch was already on its second generation by mid-year.
The former was launched at a Samsung event ahead of IFA in Berlin, which is also where Silicon Republic’s Elaine Burke first got to try out the much-talked-about Oculus Rift VR headset for a dizzying ride on a pixelated rollercoaster.
And while hardware was finding new space to occupy in our lives, social media was becoming more transient. Hundreds of millions of ephemeral Snapchats were being sent every day and the popularity of Twitter-owned Vine’s short-form clips forced Instagram into video.
One Irish company finding success in deciphering this new media landscape was Mark Little’s Storyful, which was acquired by News Corp for €18m in 2013. Meanwhile Microsoft, still trying to carve out a name for itself in the smartphone market, had bought Nokia’s device business for €5.4bn, announcing the deal just days after CEO Steve Ballmer revealed his plans to retire.
The internet of things
As was evident in 2013’s wearable tech trend, more and more machines were becoming connected, or ‘smart’, devices. This internet of things (IoT), which included billions of sensors as well as gadgets transmitting data, was taking shape amid a maker movement that saw technologists and inventors piecing together electronics and other objects like they were Lego sets.
Suitably, Intel made its presence felt at the Rome Maker Faire with the unveiling of its Galileo dev board based on Arduino open-source standards. Key to Galileo was a new system on a chip (SoC) designed by a skunkworks team in Ireland led by Philip Moynagh.
The Quark SoC X1000 was the first product from the Intel family of low-power, small-core products. And, to the Irish team’s credit, the first batch of Galileo boards was marked ‘Designed in Ireland’. By the year end, Intel had set up an entire division dedicated to the internet of things.
Big year for 3D printing
Another major 2013 tech trend driven by the maker movement was 3D printing. Our former editor John Kennedy was right on the money when he predicted that this would be a big year for small-scale additive manufacturing.
3D printing was used to create everything from batteries to food, fashion and even guns. Rightfully freaked out by this last part, tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom had designs for 3D-printed guns removed from his file-sharing website, Mega.
Mcor Technologies, Inspire 3D and FabAllThings were just some of Irish start-ups jumping in the sprint to print, with Mcor’s machines using one of the most affordable materials around: A4 paper.
Summer of Snowden
One person who might have cautioned us against the heavily sensored and connected world we were building in 2013 is Edward Snowden. The former CIA employee and NSA contractor became one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers when he revealed details of a number global surveillance programmes including PRISM, which collected user data from some of the world’s biggest tech companies.
Memes debated whether Snowden was a hero or a traitor, but one former US vice-president was unequivocal in his stance. Snowden, however, was unbowed: “Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honour you can give an American,” he said.
Snowden was later granted asylum by Russia having sought protection in 20 different countries, including Ireland. Weeks later, another US whistleblower wouldn’t be so lucky. Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking confidential information including video footage of a Baghdad airstrike and thousands of US diplomatic cables.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission was pulled into the spotlight amid this long-running affair. Commissioner Billy Hawkes said his office would not investigate Apple or Facebook over the transfer of personal data to the NSA because of the Safe Harbour agreement, which made assurances that data transfers between the US and EU would adhere to the latter’s standards of data protection. However, the European Commission initiated a review of this agreement in light of Snowden’s revelations.
The year ended with tech leaders urging US president Barack Obama to move decisively on surveillance reform. Meanwhile, the data debacle led to a wave of new encrypted messaging services. The Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde made an attempt but the breakout app was Telegram, which came from the founders of Russian social network VK.
Shining a spotlight on women in STEM
Something there was no covering up in 2013 was that the world of STEM continued to be dominated by men, largely leaving women out of the spotlight and the conversation. This led Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea to launch Women Invent Tomorrow on International Women’s Day.
First announced as a year-long campaign in partnership with Accenture Ireland, Intel and the Irish Research Council, its aim was to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
As part of the campaign, Silicon Republic highlighted 10 Irish women who were pioneers in STEM history, and invited readers to help select Ireland’s greatest woman inventor for the chance to win a prize. In September, physician Dorothy Stopford Price was chosen as the favourite and our competition winner later took a trip to NASA’s Space Centre Houston and the Intel Museum in Silicon Valley.
This was just the beginning of Silicon Republic’s continuing efforts to put women in STEM in the spotlight, and a spirit of change was in the air.
That same year, CoderDojo began running weekly sessions specifically for young girls at Dublin City University, Enterprise Ireland appointed its first woman CEO, and Twitter appointed its first woman board member. Towards the end of 2013, Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou wrote a Medium post that challenged tech employers to reveal the number of women engineers they had on staff, demanding that these figures not be hidden away. This would be the start of a whole host of changes for gender diversity in tech.
Three new Irish research centres
Finally, 2013 saw three new Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres added to the Irish sci-tech ecosystem.
As we predicted, big data got bigger in 2013, hence the timely launch of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Billed as the largest investment in a single research centre in the history of the State, Insight secured funding of €88m for six years. It brought together 200 researchers and numerous industry partners, and started a collaboration with RTÉ to make 60 years of its archive digitally accessible.
Irish science also took a plunge into a new energy sector with the launch of the Marine Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) research centre at University College Cork (UCC). To be housed in the newly constructed Beaufort Research Centre, MaREI later secured substantial funding from SFI and a roster of 45 industry partners.
The Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research Centre (AMBER) followed with a €58m investment. Based at Trinity College Dublin, AMBER also brought together researchers from UCC and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to number almost 100 scientists.
In other news
11 January: Programmer, entrepreneur and internet activist Aaron Swartz dies by suicide as he faced 30-plus years in prison and a fine of up to $1m for illegally downloading 5m articles from an academic library.
23 January: Scientists reveal that they have encoded data including the complete sonnets of Shakespeare on a strand of synthetic DNA.
7 February: Sky enters the Irish broadband market challenging Eircom, Vodafone and UPC.
8 February: Silicon Republic hosts the Future Jobs Forum in Dublin, discussing Ireland’s challenges and opportunities in the global battle for talent.
20 February: The first Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences are awarded. The prizes are funded by Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner, Anne Wojcicki and Priscilla Chan and reward researchers with $3m for discoveries that extend human life.
13 March: The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, the world’s most powerful radio telescope, is officially launched in Chile.
2-4 April: Hacking group Anonymous takes aim at North Korea, claiming to have obtained thousands of user records from a government website and later taking over the country’s Twitter and Flickr accounts.
11 April: WordPress endures a major brute force attack, affecting almost every major web hosting company in the world.
17-18 May: 13-year-old Irish coder Jordan Casey attends TiEcon in Silicon Valley as the youngest ever entrepreneur to speak at the conference.
31 May-3 June: The Transatlantic Communications and Light Gathering on Valentia Island begins an international heritage project to explore the historical role the island played in linking Europe and North America as the eastern terminus of the first commercially viable transatlantic telegraph cable.
17 June: The chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary announces that the publication will bend its rule that a new word needs to be current for a decade before inclusion, so that the next edition can include the modern definition of ‘tweet’.
18 June: As part of Project Loon, Google launches a fleet of solar-powered balloons intended to deliver wireless internet connectivity to remote locations.
19 June: Decorated CRANN researcher Prof Michael Coey becomes the first Irish member of the European Academy of Science.
24 June: An Bord Pleanála gives Intel the go-ahead to construct a $4bn 14nm chip plant in Leixlip.
3 July: Astronaut Chris Hadfield retires following many months in the media spotlight for his images captured aboard the ISS and starring in the first music video from space.
11 July: DARPA and Boston Dynamics unveil Atlas, an autonomous 6ft humanoid robot.
18 July: An Oireachtas committee report recommends new rules to stop cyberbullying on social networks.
25-28 July: The legacy of Dublin’s designation as the 2012 European Capital of Science sees the inaugural Festival of Curiosity take place in the city.
12 August: Elon Musk publishes a paper proposing Hyperloop, a new form of transport consisting of a solar-powered vacuum tube through which cars would travel at almost the speed of sound.
12 August: UPC launches the Horizon set-top box, combining a Wi-Fi router, DVR and digital TV services.
11 September: Google marks 10 years in Ireland with the opening of The Foundry, a €5.5m innovation centre in Dublin.
12 September: Twitter announces that it has filed for an IPO, via Twitter.
16 September: Ireland’s first community-owned windfarm is opened in Templederry, Co Tipperary.
22 September: GAA Football sponsor Eircom uses 360-degree photo-capture technology from FanPic to capture a group photo of the more than 82,000 people in attendance at the All Ireland final in Croke Park.
26 September: NASA reports that the Curiosity rover has found evidence of an ancient streambed on Mars.
7 October: Wi-Fi access and mobile services arrive on transatlantic Aer Lingus flights.
8 October: François Englert and Peter Higgs are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their theory on the origin of mass, which was confirmed by the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012.
17 October: Eircom launches eVision, a TV service delivered via its fibre broadband network.
5 November: India launches its first Mars-bound spacecraft.
10 December: The European Union launches the €80bn Horizon 2020 R&D fund at the Convention Centre in Dublin.
14 December: China’s Chang’e 3 mission reaches the moon, marking the first lunar landing since the ’70s.
19 December: The European Space Agency launches the Gaia space telescope.
30 December: Three Irish applicants make the shortlist of 1,058 candidates for Mars One, a proposed privately funded one-way mission to Mars.
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