Show Hide image

The best new technologies (probably) arriving in 2017

Spoiler alert.

In 1956, during the General Motors Motorama exhibit, a short film aired suggesting that the world would have driverless cars by 1976. Inexplicably, everyone also sings. Those of us who are still waiting to get our hands on these hands off cars might scoff at the video, which teaches us all about the dangers of making unfounded predictions about the future.

But, hey, let’s do it anyway! Here are the best technologies that maybe/possibly/hopefully will be arriving in 2017.

Robot chefs

If we ignore the part about robots dooming us all by forcing us into unemployment, the idea of a robot kitchen assistant is a dream come true. A year and a half ago, Moley Robotics said their robot hands would launch in 2017, claiming they would be able to cook 2000 meals at the push of a button. Whilst the undoubtedly expensive equipment won’t be one for all of us next year, the robot hands pave the way for a future where you might never have to stir your boyfriend’s beans again.

Google’s modular phone

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to stop us all buying a new iPhone every six months. The modular phone will allow users to slot in and out different parts of the device (such as cameras and speakers), meaning when phone technology improves you can simply swap in a new module rather than buy a whole new phone. The Ara phone has been delayed before, but Google hope it will be on the market in 2017.

Virtual touch

Electrovibration technology is seen as the way forward in allowing us to really “touch” the stuff on our touch screens. The tech will hopefully allow us to feel different textures, which could potentially help amputees and the blind, whilst also improving everything from gaming to online shopping.

Instant charging

The technology to improve batteries has been around for a while, with StoreDot unveiling their prototype fast-charging battery way back in 2014. Whilst battery life has been threatened by ever-slimming phones, there’s no reason that instantly-chargeable batteries shouldn’t be on the market soon. Get the hint, yeah, Apple?

The male “pill”

Research into male contraception is still ongoing 55 years after the pill was introduced in the UK (for the reason why, see: patriarchy). Nonetheless, there have been significant breakthroughs in the last few years, with RISUG and Vasalgel – both contraceptive injections – currently undergoing clinical trials.

The Moon Express

Whilst commercial trips to the moon may be another few years off, the first private company has permission to land on the moon in 2017. The Moon Express will launch its lunar landing next year, with permission from the US Government.

Fully waterproof iPhones

Though the iPhone 7 is partially waterproof (and for that we sacrificed our beloved headphone jack), fully waterproof iPhones are not yet widely available. With both the technology and the consumer demand available, 2017 will hopefully become the year that you can start keeping your phone in your back pocket again. (Bonus: Samsung also might release a phone you can fold.)

The e-shower

Speaking of water, the Hamwell’s e-shower could potentially help alleviate the world’s water crisis. The shower will recycle the water you’re using in real time, meaning you use a much smaller amount, and is commercially available next year. The water is caught in a tray, filtered with UV light, and then poured back over your head. Trust us, your great grandchildren will thank you.

Fake news detectors

With “fake news” being the hottest two words of the moment, it seems unlikely that the furore around the stuff won’t lead to practical solutions. Facebook are already said to be developing solutions, whilst various organisations are attempting to roll out real-time fact-checking. Could we live in a future where it’s impossible for politicians to lie? Well, no, but at least we'll get better at telling when they're doing it.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Banning Britain First is great, but we can’t rely on Facebook to save us from racist populism

There are darker niches on social media, and wider social pressures behind them. 

Facebook's biggest UK political party is no more. The social media site has banned Britain First, the fringe far-right political party, which, despite having no elected MPs, MEPs or even councillors, amassed more than two million Likes on its page.

The ban is the most visible move to date that social networks are keen to be seen to be taking action against extremist content among a political backlash against the tech giants from countries across Europe, and the US itself.

It follows a similar ban of the party’s leaders from Twitter earlier this year, after President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos posted by Britain First’s deputy leader.

Facebook’s move takes out one of the most powerful distribution channels for anti-Muslim content online. The page used quite sophisticated social media strategies to spread its message, posting inoffensive patriotic imagery – support our armed forces; oppose animal cruelty – to reach a wide audience, while thrpwing more explicit anti-Muslim posts into the mix.

This blend of content was itself dangerous, serving to normalise anti-Muslim views among a huge audience of casual Facebook users, many of whom were older adults. Last year, we analysed more than one million Likes on Britain First posts – about six weeks’ worth – for BuzzFeed News, finding that, while relying on a hardcore of several hundred users, the page worked successfully to reach a large pool of casual viewers, some of whom would likely be unaware of the group’s motivations.

This made the public Britain First page a powerful tool for reaching potentially sympathetic would-be recruits, but also in generating an active core membership – a power Facebook clearly recognised with its decision to ban the group.

But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking we can tackle the rise of populism with a scattergun technological fix. The social pressures behind the popularity of such groups won’t change, and so, without clear policies, Facebook risks political incoherence and accusations of censorship. 

Britain First and the material they post have been extensively covered in the mainstream media for the past 18 months, yet they were allowed to continue posting more. Facebook must explain why such posts were considered acceptable over this period, before suddenly becoming unacceptable now. The far right is talented at exploiting “censorship” to its own advantage, claiming it is speaking the truths that those in power do not want to hear.

That doesn’t mean the group should have been allowed to continue on Facebook, but it does mean the limitations of speech are on each social network should be set out clearly and in detail.

This is particularly important because Britain First’s Facebook presence was just the most visible part of a far-right Facebook ecosystem – the nastiest content is much harder to see, hidden away in closed groups which admit new users by invitation only.

Because such groups – which often go by names such as “NO SHARIA LAW” or similar – are hidden, it is much harder to track their activity and their membership, but they number in the hundreds and some have thousands or hundreds of thousands of members. While Britain First might be the visible portion of anti-Muslim Facebook content, its these groups that likely pose the larger challenges, especially as it is not in the open where it can be challenged.

Going further, tackling the public groups helps disrupt the feed of users who could be radicalised into becoming active members of the far-right, but could serve to further radicalise those already within the private groups. There is a delicate balancing act to be tackled, and one which serves to show how important Facebook is now in public policy debates: in practical terms, a US technology company is now more influential than government policy when it comes to online extremism.

It will be a welcome relief to many that Britain First content won’t pollute their feeds any longer – but it highlights how much power we have delegated, how much Facebook can shape our rules, and how tech is running ahead of our laws and our own social decisions.

Banning Britain First from Facebook might be a move many of us like – but we shouldn’t rely on big tech to save us from populism, and its accompanying tide of racism. These are conversations we should be having – and battles we should be fighting – as a society.

James Ball is an award-winning freelance journalist who has previously worked at the Guardian and Buzzfeed. He tweets @jamesrbuk