Tech highlights of 2011. Predictions for 2012


It’s been another quiet year in the tech industry. Still no flying cars, thankfully.

However, we did get a phone we can talk to, lots more computers we can stroke and put our data in a cloud. We have also seen the use of social media to help topple governments. Google launched its own social network and all the top social sites had design updates – people moaned, briefly. The growth of mobile devices continues almost unabated, contributing to the incredible growth data which was largely unrelated to actual telephone calls. May be we should use an old name for them instead?

There was the passing of many icons in the computing field. Obviously Steve Jobs but also many less widely known but no less important individuals such as, Dennis Ritchie, developer of the C programming language and UNIX; John McCarthy, creator of LISP and who coined the term AI (artificial intelligence); Ashawna Hailey, who created the first AMD chip and the HSPICE program which is used by much of the industry to design silicon chips. They and many others will be missed.

So as is traditional (and probably a bit predictable) at this time of year, I asked some of our bloggers what their personal tech highlights were from 2011 and what they predict will be big in 2012.

Jessica Benjamin

Most memorable tech moment from 2011

Buying a cup of coffee — using my smartphone. I’ve only been drinking coffee for a year now, but I’m already a regular gold-star customer. I kept forgetting my reward card that gives me discounts and free extras so I wanted to try the phone app, since that thing rarely leaves my sight. I ordered my signature drink and skeptically showed the cashier the app’s barcode screen. Even though it took a few tries, she scanned my phone and then handed me a recipe. It felt like a magic trick. I didn’t even need to sign anything. It made think of all the things I might one day do with this gadget.


What is your tech prediction for 2012?

I haven’t had cable TV since 2008. Now, I don’t even own a television set. But I can still chat it up about latest episodes of Happy Endings or The Biggest Loser or Glee. I don’t understand why anyone buys what you can get for free – legally! It started with a big stir in the industry since on-demand began threatening advertising and things only continue shifting in the viewers’ favor. I can’t imagine that television can sustain the same model I grew up with. I don’t know exactly where it will go, but I know it will start to fall even more in line with all the trends today – any time, any where, any device.

Adrian Bowles

2011: This one is easy for me – on the evening of February 16, in the underground lounge of a NYC ping pong club called Spin, I watched the final Jeopardy game in which Watson triumphed over human champions. When Ken Jennings – who had previously won 74 consecutive games – noted “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” on his final Jeopardy answer, I knew that I had witnessed a fundamental shift decades in the making. This wasn’t an incremental improvement over the knowledge-based systems I worked on in the 1980s, it wasn’t a parlor trick, it was a preview of an approach to solving complex problems that has changed the way I think about computing.

2012: Next year will be known for many technology changes in consumer markets, as increasing mobility, analytics, cloud computing and social systems change the way we interact with computers. The most fundamental shift, however will be much more subtle but ultimately more important. 2012 is the year that people will begin to see value in computers delivering probabilistic rather than deterministic “answers” to complex questions. Since the time of the Eniac we have been conditioned to see computationally derived answers as right or wrong – correct or incorrect. The world has never worked that way, but that is what we have expected from machines. In 2012 we will see examples of computers guiding humans to make better decisions using imperfect information in critical domains such as medical diagnostics, and learn to become comfortable with uncertainty.

Katie Keating

2011: Honestly I want to say Watson winning Jeopardy was the top tech moment of 2011–buuuuut I’m sure someone already said that. So besides Watson, I think the top 2011 tech moment was probably the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4S. For a long time, consumers have had the ability to truly have a computer in their pocket with the advent of smartphones. But with Siri, you can have the answer to a question in an instant, a reminder ping you as you walk in the door, or a venue for a geeky chuckle at her response to “Where to babies come from?” And no more excuses for forgetting to grab milk on the way home. Pretty amazing.


2012: Continuing in the mobile vein, I really think something like Google Wallet or some other form of mobile payment is really going to take off. This just seems like a natural next step for mobile. IBM Benchmark showed this year that 2011 Black Friday and Cyber Monday mobile purchases grew nearly 200% year-over-year. Retailers are tailoring their mobile shopping experiences to individual customers and offering deals and coupons exclusive to their mobile sites. And things like Foursquare coupons redeemable upon checking in at brick and mortar stores are becoming more popular. I think we’ll see this trend skyrocket next year through mobile payments and mobile “wallets.”

Chris Nott

2011: I live in the UK and in mid-February I happened to be hosting a customer in IBM’s Almaden Research lab in California. This coincided with the broadcast of the Jeopardy! with Watson, IBM’s analytics system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. I was completely unfamiliar with the game and how it worked. My immediate reaction watching Watson perform in the first programme was its speed. I have worked on unstructured data analysis projects in the UK, but Watson’s ability to return a response so quickly across such a diverse range of fields impressed me.

2012: We shall see commercial exploitation of social media data in 2012. Business processes will take advantage of insight and intelligence derived, and organisations better equipped to predict events. We shall see new and nimble companies overtaking well known organisations which are too slow or unable to innovate quickly enough. And we shall see high profile occurrences of the tension between use of social data by major corporations and privacy resulting in loss of customer trust, for example, individual concern when ‘too much’ personal insight from social analysis is exposed by a company back to them.

The next 5 in 5

Of course every year IBM now brings out a list of what it thinks will be the next 5 breakthroughs in technology in the coming 5 years – 5 in 5. Some may seem far fetched, others very real and almost with us now. It’s a really interesting list this year with a wide range of ideas but I won’t go into detail as the videos below do a much better job.

Smarter Computing Analyst Paper - HurwitzTo effectively compete in today’s changing world, it is essential that companies leverage innovative technology to differentiate from competitors. Learn how you can do that and more in the Smarter Computing Analyst Paper from Hurwitz and Associates.

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12 Responses to Tech highlights of 2011. Predictions for 2012

  1. Jessica Benjamin jabenjamusibm says:

    Heya Karl, where's your highlight and prediction?!

  2. Karl says:

    Why did I know YOU were going to ask me… I was interested in the new Di2 Ultegra groupset being released, electronic gear shifting for road bikes. Still in two minds as to whether this is a good thing for cycling or just wrong. Cycling has been about human power and this seems to go against that requiring to be charged from the mains electricity but I can see the advantages for racers – even though I'm certainly not one.

    Next year I predict we will still not have flying cars, probably many fewer cars on the road as it gets so expensive to drive. Getting back to computers, as Adrian points out the workload optimised thing is going to become more evident as the economy gets tougher. Businesses can't reduce the amount of compute they need to employ but they will need to make it more efficient in many ways while remaining a thriving business.

    And will someone please give the countryside decent broadband…

    • Jessica Benjamin jabenjamusibm says:

      No flying cars…but I'm still holding out for personal rocket-ships. I will never forget when I was little, my mom's friend told me that when I grew up I'd be able to take one down the street to the movie store. Sheesh, what did she know…who goes to the movie store any more?

  3. I have yet to order coffee using my smart phone but I really think that with the increase of mobile computing will come more financial transactions using a mobile device, including banking transactions.

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  11. Bryan Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing your tech highlights of 2011 and predictions of 2012. This blog is really good as a discussion point of view to exchange our knowledge for the benefit of everyone's organization.

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