We’ve seen some spectacular developments in the technology space this year. The race for smart devices – be it smartphones that are as good as full fledged PCs or PCs that have shrunk down to the size of a cube or wearables that attach themselves to almost any body part (yes, we mean every body part), or drones that can launch missiles and alternatively shoot wedding videos, or even something as innocuous as light bulbs that can be controlled remotely – the list of advancements in every sphere is mind boggling.
The midas touch of technology touches almost every sphere of life. There are developments in every field, every industry, that make you go WOW!
Then, there are those that are simply unfathomable. Like when you see videos of dogs speaking (yes, that happened this year) or when frogs and fish start dropping out of the sky (it’s more common than you think).
Similarly, the tech industry too is not devoid of such strange occurrences. News, announcements and moments that make you go - WTF just happened! With this article, it is our sincere attempt to bring you most, if not all of the jaw dropping incidents from the world of technology that made 2015 the incredibly interesting year it was.
1) Google makes human skin
Google is a mysterious organisation. In a secret underground bunker (we kid) not far from the Googleplex there are ongoing experiments being conducted that often lead to spectacular “moonshot” leaps in innovation. Who knows, the day might not be far when Google turns us all into humanoid robots controlled by a centralised AI hive mind. Before you start suspecting that the normally rational blokes at Digit are on something let us clarify: we’re just huge Sci-Fi buffs.
So, coming back to reality – and this is where things start getting weird – Google is making human skin in a super secret lab, full of some of the world’s brightest minds (sounds like a plot for the next spielberg film?). Google’s life sciences division, aptly called Google X laboratories, has been developing synthetic yet life-like human skin, which they say is part of an experiment to create a wristband that can detect cancer in early stage or even impending heart attacks. The said band would allow for a diagnosis way before any symptoms appear in a potential patient. So Google is literally stepping on the toes of modern medicine. Overkill much Google? All this for a wrist band!
What’s the end game here? Surely, they are not going to stop at a band. Did you know that back in 2013 December, Google bought a bunch of robotic companies that made the world think they are building a robotic army? Did you also know that Google started and runs a company called Calico (California Life Company), that is tasked with solving one of life’s greatest mysteries – aging? Whatever may be the plan here, it’s so far removed from Search and Advertising (Google’s mainstay) that we have to sit up and take notice. Google sure is not telling us everything and it is safe to say that many such WTF moments, from the tech giant, are still in the pipeline.
2) Robot arm kills human
Let’s start with a surreal fact. The word ‘Robot’ actually comes from the Czech word ‘Robota’ which means forced labour. So, when we heard of a robot killing a Volkswagen factory worker back in July, the news left us speechless. It wasn’t just the news itself but the way it happened, that was more shocking and hard to swallow. The 22 year old employee was working to fix a bunch of older generation assembly line robots at the VW factory in Kassel, North Frankfurt. He would have never imagined that a giant robotic arm would grab him and then pin him to a metal cage, breaking his bones and causing internal damage to his body! Yes, you can say it, WTF!
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) go hand in hand. While the real cause of the this one employee’s death still remains a mystery, It is a small window to what machines are and could be capable of in the future. Tesla Motor’s father, Elon Musk, once said that AI could be the “biggest existential threat to humans,” and this was not the first time an incident like this occurred. The first reported ‘murder’ of a man by a robot happened almost 36 years ago, when a 25 year old Ford factory worker, Robert Williams, was similarly slammed to death by a robot at the Ford assembly line situated in Flat Rock, Michigan. 36 years down the lane, the very face of robotics and AI has changed, what remains the same is the lurking sense of insecurity and fear that surrounds this industry.
3) Man buys Google.com for $12 and owns it for exactly 1 minute
Did you hear this one? While hunting for domain names this ex-Googler (and one of Indian origin no less), stumbled upon the domain name of one of the world’s largest tech conglomerate, Google.com, available for a price of $12. WTF! After buying and owning the search giant for a whole minute, Sanmay Ved’s purchase was cancelled and his money refunded as the registration service used by him to purchase the domain name was also owned by Google (obviously). After pointing out this security flaw to the Google team, Ved was rewarded with an undisclosed sum of money by Google. “I wrote back and told them it was never about money, and asked that the money be donated to charity to the Art of Living India Foundation,” Ved wrote in a blog post and he went on to describe how the ‘bug bounty’ was not what he was after. Bounty or not, just imagine having the power of owning the largest search engine in the world, even if it was just for a minute. Now wouldn’t you like that?
Image: The Business Insider
4) Fallout 4 launches, Pornhub traffic falls
Let’s first have a huge laugh at this headline. We couldn’t help exclaiming this as our number 4 WTF moment of 2015. So, there’s finally proof that gamers are addicted to 2 things and 2 things only- games and porn (not like we didn’t know this already). Pornhub’s insights blog reported this bizarre downfall of numbers in a post stating, “Compared to an average day, we saw a slight 5% increase in traffic among gamers in the early morning hours from 3-4 AM. At this point we assume everyone’s download completed and the gaming commenced...Starting at 5 AM traffic began to drop, down as much as 10% from 7 AM till noon. In the afternoon traffic returned to normal, but after 6 PM it dropped again when we assume that 9-5 workers arrived home and fired up their games. After midnight it seems like everyone finally took a break, and traffic jumped as high at 15% above daily norms.”
There you have it- proof! Isn’t Google Analytics a wonderful little tool? The data clearly points out that gamers had their viewing pleasure during the time that their copy of Fallout 4 was downloading, then again at noon (siesta time) and then again around the midnight hour. The secret is out guys but no need to start cleaning up your browsing history, this data is completely anonymous. So, go ahead and play on! *All puns intended.
5) Volkswagen dupes more than 11 million customers
Well, Volkswagen makes it to the list for a second time. We must say that they have had their hands full this year. The company not only has dangerous robots that kill their employees but they are also into cheating their customers, not one but millions! All was hunky dory with the German car manufacturer till September this year when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), sweeped in with the biggest blow the company has ever been served and they deserved every bit of that flak.
If you were the one that was hiding from the world, playing Big Boss in MGS 5: Phantom Pain, and missed most of what happened in September, let us enlighten you. The EPA found that most VW cars in America were being sold with what is called a ‘defeat device’. What these not so smart people did not realise was that every act of crime eventually gets caught. The said ‘defeat device’ could detect when VW diesel engines were being tested and changed the performance of the car to improve those test results. This led to the discovery of the fact that the engines on VW cars were emitting 40 times more Nitrogen-Oxide than the permissible value in the US. This complete assery made not only us, but the world go...WTF!
“We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW US Head, Michael Horn (Stating the obvious are we?), while the group’s Chief Executive at the time, Martin Winterkorn admitted to breaking the trust of his consumers and resigned.
VW may very well make up for its blunder by recalling and fixing all these cars but the environment is not going to recover from the damage already caused. Something else that seems tough for VW to recover, would also be the trust and loyalty of its customers.
6) Apple makes a pencil even after Steve jobs calls it “yuck”
“Who wants a stylus? You have to get em’, put em’ away. You lose them. Yuck,” said Steve Jobs. So, you can Imagine the tech community’s reaction when Apple Marketing Chief, Phil Schiller announced that the new iPad Pro will also sport, what the company is calling, the ‘Pencil’. WTF happened to Apple’s strategy of being unique? The stylus, or as Apple termed it, the ‘Pencil’ is something that the former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, disliked and dismissed as an add-on tool that has no class. Years later, under the leadership of Tim Cook, Apple created its digital stylus aimed at professionals who would prefer a precision tool instead of using just their hands. Aping Samsung much? Although we haven’t yet had a hands-on with the Pencil but the general feedback from the community seems positive. What’s left to see is if this is hint of more such “inspirational” products coming from Apple.
7) Hideo Kojima quits Konami or should we say no more Kojima Metal Gear games?
After 29 years of making larger than life video games for Konami, Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear Solid, just up and resigned from the company. His exit was a huge WTF moment for both, the gaming industry and gamers alike. October 9 was Kojima’s last working day at Konami and with his exit rumours of the Metal Gear games going out of production spread like wildfire. Although the company assured fans that the MGS game series was not going anywhere, everyone had the same question on their minds- why would Konami shut down its best game maker and his production studio? Yes, it did take longer than expected to make Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain and the production of the blockbuster game did cost Konami a whopping $80 million, but the reasons for Kojima’s exit were quite the contrary. Apparently, Konami is now betting big on mobile gaming, which is something that does not really fit into Kojima’s artistic vision. Afterall, going from a no bar screen size to a 6-inch display is not the most exciting offer for someone whose ideas need a crazy level of execution. Konami minus Kojima will forever remain a dark, WTF day in gaming history
8) Lenovo and Google bought the same ‘e’
On a lighter note, this observation stirred the tech community for quite a while. The two tech majors- Lenovo and Google, both redesigned their logos this year. First came Lenovo and then Google followed. Both logos sport the same slanted ‘e’, Even the angle of the slant is identical. No one knows how and why this happened. Some called it a coincidence and others thought this slanted ‘e’ was becoming a trend. Headlines across tech media read that both companies ‘fell in love’ with the same ‘e’. Love or not, that tiny ‘e’ sure did create a lot of buzz. Another cool WTF moment in 2015’s tech history.
9) Apple iPhone 6s, Apple watch prices in India.
WTF! Rs. 14. 2 lakhs for the Apple Watch edition, Rs 92,000 for the iPhone 6s Plus 128GB model. What is/was Apple thinking? The iPhone 6s and 6s plus started selling in India in October, followed by the Apple Watch in November, but there’s just one word to describe Apple’s India pricing strategy- Ridiculous! Did a bunch of people actually sit down at Cupertino and say “Hey! let’s sell our stuff at exorbitant prices, in an emerging market, so no one can afford it.” The result was a fall in both enthusiasm and sales of the devices. “The only thing that’s changed is everything,“ said Apple CEO Tim Cook, while unveiling the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. While we all know that statement was untrue for the iPhones, it sure was true for the reception the devices received in India. Last year, we had no place to stand, let alone hold the iPhone 6 our hands, during the 2014 midnight launch of the device. This year, the story was completely different. The queues outside the Apple store could barely be termed as queues and midnight looked like it’s supposed to- dark and deserted. Same was the case with the Apple watch. Although sales numbers have not come at the time of writing this article, the watch is already old news. Firstly, it arrived in India almost 9 months too late and its “amazing” prices were just the cherry on the cake that left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths.
10) Robot killed by humans
“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots!” tweeted the creator of Hitchbot, the friendly robot which hitchhiked across Germany, Canada and Netherlands but finally came to America to meet its demise. WTF guys! Do you have no self control? Hitchbot was a social experiment to find out if people can trust robots rather than the usual way around. The answer is a sad no. The Hitchbot was vandalised beyond repair on reaching Philadelphia. So much so, that its arms and legs were severed and it was left for dead in a location which even the the creators could not track. This is just no way to treat our future generation, wouldn’t you agree? With that, we’ve come to the end of our top ten WTF moments in tech this year. Technology in 2015 has impressed us to the point that we have literally started leading dual lives, one that is virtual and the other that’s real, and most of you would agree that the line separating the two are fast diminishing. Hence, shocking moments such as those mentioned above are important to realise that we are still human. Mean yet funny, judgemental yet believers, but human nonetheless.