On the last day of 2016, I found myself in the middle of a seemingly unending road along the countryside, thinking about the year that was. A lot unfolded in the last twelve months and looking back, it becomes rather hard to summarize all the events that took center-stage. In terms of Politics, Technology, Law, Climate & Natural Disasters and Health and Medicare, 2016 might have been the year that set precidents to how we deal with these issues in the future.
That being said, I aim to highlight a couple of the most important ones while trying to avoid making this article into one of the many list-based, click-bait content that will soon fill your social media feed.
Data, Cloud & Security
With the increased number of mobile and communication devices in use, the most important factor that received due diligence was security and encryption. In April, Whatsapp started providing end-to-end encryption for all its messages, thereby making it impossible for anyone to intercept private Whatsapp conversations. Following closely were Google with Allo and Facebook with its messenger app, both however, being opt-in features for the moment. Why this was more important than you think, had to do with the Apple – FBI case where the Federal Bureau subpoenaed Apple to provide a means to unlock cyptographically protected phones.
In continuation of how large organizations handled the security of their customers and investors, the largest hack-unveil of 2016 possibly had to be the One Billion Yahoo accounts that were compromised. While Yahoo announced that unencrypted passwords, credit card information and bank information was not compromised, given the total internet users stand at three Billion, the one Billion number is shocking!
A rather new security threat that took over most of 2016 was Ransomware. Conceptually, ransomware consists of malicious bugs that lock down and encrypt a computer’s hard drives and the only way to unlock the data requires a key that is held by the attacker, who will hand it to you for a price. Several users from across the world were affected and had to shell out amounts ranging from a few to upwards of ten thousand dollars. The sector most affected by ransomware last year was medical-care with hospitals like MedStar Health reportedly held ransom for upwards of $19,000.
To stay safe from ransomware, always make sure you backup your data to a cloud of an offline hard disk and stay away from click-bait links and ads. In case you are affected, immediately unplug all storage devices attached to the computer before taking the next step of deciding whether to pay the attacker or do a master-wipe.
Dyn, one of the largest Internet Infrastructure companies faced a Distributed Denial of Service(DDoS) attack. The attack resulted in service outages on websites such as Netflix, Spotify, Reddit, The New York Times and WIRED, among others. A few hours later, everything was restored and in November, Dyn was acquired by Oracle.
In the world of Cloud, Dropbox, the cloud service used by over 500 million from around the world, moved from servers hosted by Amazon to their own super-servers. Using a proprietary technology called ‘Magic Pocket’, Dropbox manages to store upwards of 500 petabytes (one petabyte is million gigabyte!) This bold move only goes to signify how smaller companies (Dropbox is smaller than most of its competitors in size) are making bold moves and changing the rules of the game.
In the gaming department, apart from the several big banner studios and their large production releases this year (Batman – The Telltale Series, Dishonored 2, Final Fantasy XV, Call of Duty:Infinite Warfare, Gears of War 4, Uncharted 4:A Thief’s End among others), there was a growth in indie developers pushing ideas and concepts to another level. Labels such as ‘No Man’s Sky‘, ‘Darkest Dungeon‘ and ‘We Happy Few‘ were launched and then there were games such as ‘That Dragon, Cancer‘, a story about a father’s journey through his son’s cancer diagnosis, relapse and eventual demise. When the game was featured at PAX Prime, the largest annual video game expo in the United States, everyone who played the game was moved to tears and shock.
All in all, it was great to see how newer ideas were fearlessly experimented with and smaller studios took bigger risks to come out on top.
Health Care & Research
2016 was also significant in better understanding the evolution and genetics of humans (homo sapiens). Researchers and Anthropologists working on excavation sites in the Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia, made interesting discoveries that help picture a better understanding of skeletal remains that were similar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbits.
Homo Floresiensis, or the Hobbits, seem to have been around until rather recently on the evolution timeline – 12,000 years ago. The discovery of when H.Floresiensis existed brings up interesting questions about how they must have interacted with the Denisovans and Neanderthals and more importantly, how their extinction can be related to the arrival of modern humans.
Dr. Joshua Schiffman, an oncologist has begun to study and analyze why certain animals are more prone to cancer than others. His study group includes the largest land mammal – the African elephant. Being the largest in size, Elephants have the most number of cells in the body. Theoretically, this should make them most prone to cancer. However, elephants almost never get cancer and while research still has a long way to go, this resistance is attributed to the genetic structure of the animal.
The pachyderm’s success of fighting off cancer is attributed to the gene TP53. When a cell with faulty DNA is getting synthesized in the body, TP53, the tumor suppressor gene, encodes a protein, p53, that will allow the cell to grow further only when the DNA is corrected. While humans have two copies of TP53, elephants have 40 versions of the same gene! When a human cell with faulty DNA is being created, p53 tries to correct the DNA structure. In elephants however, the protein p53 directly kills the cell instead of spending energy in correcting it.
The field of medicine made a lot of progress with newer drugs and vaccines, giving people all over the world and across different economic zones, hope for a healthier future.
At the same time however, our increased dependence on medicines and self-prescribed medication led to the development of drug-resistant strands of viruses and bacteria. As VICE News and Al Jazeera investigated in India, several water bodies and ground-water tables in the country were found to be contaminated with antibiotics that were flushed out by pharmaceutical companies into lakes and canals. While most of the water is treated to “surface discharge standards”, what remains debatable is whether such water is truly free of effluents and can be deemed safe.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
It’s freezing and snowing in New York–we need global warming!
Climate change and Global Warming was one of the hotly contested and debated topics with several superpowers simply refuting them.
One of the largest polluters in the world, China, stepped up their game and took on the challenge of reducing their emissions over the next five years. By reducing coal burning and diesel vehicles, cities across China saw a massive drop in PM2.5 and PM10 levels.
(An older study of China’s air quality by Berkeley Earth.)
Metropolitan cities saw a surge in pollution levels and in cases such as Delhi and the National Capital Region, evasive action was taken and stringent norms were laid down for diesel vehicles. Bangalore sees a continued rise in PM2.5 levels especially in areas such as Peenya and the C.B.D.
The country saw more than its usual share of cyclones and rainfall patterns were unpredictable and volumes, dismal.
Environment & Regulation
In Bangalore, the National Green Tribunal woke up to developers and builders encroaching on natural drains that was becoming the major reason for the city flooding during the monsoons, encroachment of sensitive areas and the death of several lakes. Several projects were stopped and penalties were imposed. There was severe hue and cry about the National Green Tribunal being a quasi-judicial body that does not take part in city or town planning and thus, should not be allowed to dictate the development laws of a city. However, the mandate issued by the National Green Tribunal severed as an eye-opener and has paved a way for a more transparent development scheme.
Another pressing topic that has not drawn sufficient public attention is how French giant, DuPont, shifted its Teflon operations to countries like India and China. Teflon, a household name, is a surfactant – a substance that reduces the surface tension between a solid and a liquid. Owing to these chemical properties of Teflon, Dupont and 3M over the years, manufactured unimaginable quantities of C8, the primary substance in Teflon. The problem was that across most countries, contamination of C8 in the air and water bodies and ground water was found to be higher than what was deemed safe for consumption. With an average half life of 3 years in humans, C8, a PFOA (perfluoroocatanoic acid) has the ability to bio-accumulate, thereby being dangerous. After the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned the manufacture of C8, DuPont moved operations to China and maybe India and Russia, thereby spreading the C8 contamination across the world. At the time of the last study in the United States, it was found that 99.7 percent Americans above the age of 12 had traces of PFOA in their blood.
Probably, the story that had most people’s attention was the American Presidential election, and of course, stories of the election being manipulated by Russian backed hackers. Everything said and done, it can’t be denied that Donald Trump won, somehow! Reputed journalists and political writers contribute the Trump victory to disinformation rather than manipulated facts, but now that he’s elected, what remains to be seen if he will really build that wall around the U.S. – Mexico border, create more jobs, cut taxes, prosecute Hillary Clinton and bomb the ISIS. A lot of people talk about how Trump is going to spell disaster for the United States, but honestly, I don’t see the situation being much different had Hillary Clinton gotten elected.
50 days ago, the Indian economy had a showdown with a complete demonetization. Policy-maker(s) implemented a doing-away of the existing 500 and 1000 rupee notes. The bold move was claimed to curb the accumulation of undisclosed currency, since most of this money would be in 1000 rupee notes. The first 30 days saw newspapers and media outfits talking about never-ending queues at banks, the death of a man at a Mumbai ATM and the unease demonetization had caused. A few days after the demonetization announcement, new 500 and 2000 rupee notes were introduced to keep the Cash In Circulation steady. However, several news reports of undeclared assets in new 500 and 2000 rupee notes continue to surface, only making everyone wonder if the demonetization had any effect at all?
Recently, Surajit Mazumdar, an economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University wrote an article about how the RBI’s numbers of valid and invalid currency go to show that demonetization has failed.
Moral Of The Story –
It has been one hell of a year!
We are at the forefront of changing the way we perceive technology. The Internet of Things was real big this year, especially with Amazon’s Echo and the assistant, Alexa. Pair that with IFTTT, the only thing that limits what you can do with it is your imagination.
Another first in terms of machine learning and algorithms taken to the next level was the announcement of supermarkets without checkout counters. Amazon Go, a concept in beta, promises to be the best shopping experience, ever!
India saw two cyclones back to back – Nada and Vardah, bringing the repercussions of climate change to a very tangible level. Climate treaties were signed and implemented, and given how things are going, China is claimed to meet their emission levels ahead of schedule.
Ice-caps have been melting at a faster rate, driving Polar bears into areas of human habitations in search of food.
Demonetization is being tagged the biggest blunder by government in 69 years of Independent India.
A majority of Americans are shocked at the results of the Presidential elections. The world has its eyes on Russia and the likely Trump-Putin relationship.
The United Kingdom’s decision to exit from the European Union caused the rupee to strengthen over the Sterling, apart from a large number of the younger British population protesting the move, owing to Immigration laws and more stringent employment rules.
2016 also saw a wave of immigrants moving into Europe, fleeing the crises in the Middle-Eastern countries. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was in the spotlight for her open-door policy towards immigrants and her proposals aiming to rethink the current immigration rules.
While it is difficult to really sum up a year that was, it becomes important to highlight how we are constantly reacting and amending our understanding of the way humanity is being shaped. It is impossible to predict how tough or pleasant 2017 is going to be, but looking back, one thing is for sure – we will learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.