It has become an end-of-year tradition for me to devote this column to a look back at the year just past to recap some of the noteworthy happenings in the world of Information Technology. 2014 failed to record any seismic events equaling the magnitude of last year’s revelations of government eavesdropping, yet there were a few stories that made headlines on those tech news sites followed by so many techies like me in the IT industry.
The World Wide Web turned 25 years old in April. It was some time around then the WWW surpassed one billion web sites. To put this number in perspective, if one were to visit each one of those web sites and spend thirty seconds looking at each site, that job would require over 1,000 years. For a very brief period 25 years ago it was possible to visit every web site on the WWW, but the growth in the number of web sites has been exponential since then. Today it would be impossible to visit even 1% of the web sites on the internet without nonstop mouse clicking 24 hours a day for a decade, and by then who knows how many sites there will be.
On June 10 the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) announced that the regional registry for Latin America and the Caribbean had reached exhaustion of the available pool of unallocated Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) addresses. Technicians have known for years this day was coming and have been able to prepare for it without disrupting all of our internet access. The internet continues to get bigger, and bigger IP address numbers are required. The day is coming closer when we might not be able to use a simple IPv4 address such as 192.168.0.1 and be required to learn how to use longer IPv6 addresses such as 2607:f0d0:1002:0051:c0fe:e0b0:ec52:e004.
In October ICANN announced its divorce from the U.S. government. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the private agency entrusted with overseeing the assignment of domain names for the whole world, and that basically puts it in charge of running the whole internet. This organization used to be part of the U.S. Department of Commerce but for the last 16 years has been semi-independent. It now plans to break completely free of U.S. oversight, taking us into uncharted territory where nations such as China, Russia, Iran and corporations such as Google and Facebook are eager to assert their control over how you and I are allowed to use the internet.
A term that has become familiar this year to everyone who reads the tech news is “technological singularity.” There have been some major advances in the field of Artificial Intelligence, bringing us closer to the “technological singularity” when we build an intelligent machine that can design a better thinking machine. The eminent British physicist Stephen Hawking is among those who warn that the development of intelligent machines could pose a major threat to humanity.
If the machines do take over, it might be fair to ask if anyone is going to tear themselves away from watching videos long enough to notice. This year saw a phenomenal 39 percent increase in consumer use of streaming video. Netflix and YouTube now account for half of all internet traffic in North America and about a third of all traffic worldwide. This tectonic shift in the way consumers now use the internet is very likely to precipitate changes in the way Internet Service Providers charge for “unlimited” internet access in the future.
In the final analysis after looking back at the 2014 tech news, there was not much news that made headlines or had much effect on the lives of consumers and everyday internet users. Some of the items mentioned here could really be in the headlines next year though.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico. The opinions expressed are his own. He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.