Digital promises and progress: The year in tech

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Lately it seems like each year in technology offers more promise than delivery. 2015 was not the year we saw a smartwatch on every wrist, a personal digital assistant that truly understood us or a tablet that really could replace a laptop.

We did not get a government that will nuke Bill C-51. Nor did we get a real solution to pop-up ads. And a self-driving car? Uber is the closest we came.

But, we did get progress, in some areas -- remarkable, almost magical, progress. Although AI isn't at 10 on the Jarvis scale it is a far cry better than it was at the beginning of the year. To most of us, not deep in the weeds of artificial intelligence research, it seems like our personal digital assistants got way smarter this year. And on the processor front, we're seeing great strides in the computing power of the chips in our mobile devices. The new iPad Pro's processors rival that of low to mid-level laptops already. By next year our phones will have horsepower on par with the desktop units most of us rely on day-to-day.

And, we've see progress on the competition front too. 2015 was the year Microsoft got its mojo back. There is no doubt that its Surface tablet was the antecedent to Apple's newest iPad, and its Surface Book is a worthy adversary to Apple's laptop line. Redmond's even got its OS act together and has come up with a design language on par with Google's and Apple's, an astonishing feat for a company that historically has had the taste of a Klingon.

But, we've seen some stalling, burnouts and no-shows too. Despite solid efforts like the tablet apps from La Presse and the Toronto Star, newspapers still don't seem to be able to staunch the bleeding. They continue to show themselves to be too big, too slow and too, well, grumpy to fully embrace a chance that, to be honest, has been coming at them since the early '90s.

And, the taxi industry, another giant ripe for disruptive innovation, stumbled and bumbled in its response to Uber, the app and service most customers love because it is faster, better and often cheaper than the alternative offered by an industry mired in licensing nonsense and shoddy service. Yes, Uber raises issues about misogyny, union busting and precarious labour. But, it also demonstrates that, for most people, those concerns are trumped by convenience brought to us by a brilliant app and interface.

Our privacy didn't fare well this year either. Just when it looked like there was going to be progress on this front, along come the attacks in Paris and suddenly calls for banning public Wi-Fi, back doors on encryption and spying on video game chat hit the airwaves. And, of course, on Facebook, we've all continued to overshare and even, last month, let an unknown company rifle through the underwear drawers of our posts so it can produce a useless word cloud.

Ah, but there is next year. Surely next year we will get Jarvis, the cars from Minority Report, sanity about privacy, tablets that can do it all and newspapers that find a way to keep the lights on.

Oh, and robots that don't treat us as pets. That too.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Adam Simmons/flickr

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