Top technology of 2013

Rectal software designer Julian Kantor (L) takes a picture of Jonathan Feng (R) as he uses the...

Rectal software designer Julian Kantor (L) takes a picture of Jonathan Feng (R) as he uses the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to experience his program during E3 in Los Angeles, June 12, 2013. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Syd Bolton, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:13 PM ET

It's easy to look back at previous years and pick out the winners in technology. Today, it's pretty clear that the tablet won the war over the Netbook PC (and arguably, over the desktop too). Trying to determine the technology that stepped it up in 2013 might be a little tougher.

Capturing solar power is nothing new, but 2013 saw many advances that are likely to change the economics of renewable energy in general. From panels that can be "painted on" to consumer goods that work as efficiently as those costing thousands of dollars only a few years ago, solar energy will definitely be something to watch out for in the coming years. You have no doubt seen road signs that are self-powered with solar, expect this trend to continue with more and more devices that are outside and expect to see more and more panels on homes and businesses as time goes by.

Collectively known as "deep learning," this article delves into how artificial intelligence with computers is finally becoming more of a reality. With computational power in our smartphones exceeding that of the Cray-2 Supercomputer from yesteryear, we are able to have computers understand our speech and "learn" from previous experiences. Heck, even our plastic loyalty cards in our wallet seemingly have intelligence built in, spitting out offers tailor-suited to our shopping habits. Somehow Amazon knows what else I'm interested in and Netflix has an eerie way of suggesting movies that I will actually like. While this type of technology hasn't peaked in 2013, voice recognition on computers, smartphones and video game consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation 4 has certainly hit an all time high. For those that remember "training" computers to understand our voices, 2013 seems like science fiction.

The 3D printer hit all new heights this year, making great strides in the consumer space as well as in the medical and jet manufacturing fields. That's right, the aviation division of General Electric is using additive manufacturing (the industrial version of 3D printing) to produce parts that are in the engines of jets expected to take off in 2015 and 2016. By producing parts in this manner, GE says that there is less material waste and a lighter end-result product, adding up in manufacturing savings but long-term in terms of fuel savings with the airlines. In the medical world, 3D printed replacement dental parts have been quite common for years but now we're building all sorts of things with the promise of more to come. Replacement kidneys that are grown with tissue from the host are not that far off, and replacement bones are also in the works for those who have them fractured in accidents.

It's hard to say whether the smartwatch is the thing of the future (since the smart phone literally killed off the majority of the wrist watch business in the world) but watches that pair up with our phones does make a lot of sense. Pebble, for example, hopes its product is the clear winner. Smartwatches use a combination of existing technologies, such as e-ink (used in e-readers), scaled down to provide add-on features on your wrist. Telling the time is only part of the story with these watches, but it will still take time to know if this is something of a fad that we will see fade away in a few years.

Finally, it looks like virtual reality is about to become a whole lot more real when Oculus Rift hits the streets. While previously attempts at virtual reality were laughable at best, this device is quite amazing and brings us another step closer to having the holodeck from Star Trek become a reality. Although it's still in development form, some of the greatest minds in the industry are working on this device which will likely make it one of the best gadgets for 2014.

The good news is that it looks like the best is yet to come. Happy New Year!

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or by snail mail care of The Brantford Expositor.

 


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