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Computer Technology Trends for 2017

1. Virtual Reality (VR) 

VR equipment is an affordable holiday gift heading into 2017, available at “big box” stores for under $100 for use with smartphones and gaming systems. Smartphones are making VR accessible and mobile, enabling the VR and AR (augmented reality, like heads-up displays or “Pokemon Go”) markets to take off in the next few years. VR is an “immersive” technology, providing an experience which is not only entertaining but informative, useful in training and simulation where users can actually wire their brains and learn in a manner similar to live experience – and often much safer. VR production with special 360-degree cameras is ramping up in Hollywood, and “you are there” recorded content is available from YouTube and other sources. Entertainment destinations such as SeaWorld are also providing new VR experiences. 

2. Nonvolatile Memory 

Small amounts of nonvolatile memory have long been used in devices to store essential information when the device is switched off, but they were expensive and hard to program compared to regular memory. Regular memory requires power and refresh resources to keep information in place, much like reciting a telephone number to oneself to ensure that it isn’t forgotten. Nonvolatile memory is like human “photographic memory,” persistently holding what is stored. It is now available in large enough quantities to be used for bulk data storage similar to disk drives, but faster, and not subject to the eventual degradation that occurs with flash memory found in “thumb drives” and photographic memory cards. 

3. Big Data 

Maybe you’ve heard of the ongoing project SETI that sifts through huge volumes of data looking for extraterrestrial life. Big data brings the concept down to earth, using high-volume analysis to find insights and trends only visible when looking at huge datasets. Special software and extremely large storage capabilities combine with powerful computing resources to perform this specialized processing. Some of the insights are mundane but extremely valuable, such as information about customer habits and patterns, weather trends, and new ways to look at overall economic behaviors and trends. Big data provides a way for curious researchers to use their insights and creative thinking to discover information buried in a waterfall of data. 

4. Capability-based Security 

Capability is a transition from permission levels and other general access methods to the use of specific keys. They are handled by software applications to gain required access and share that access on an as-needed basis with other applications. Since many hacking exploits simply gain a privilege level and then use that general status to do as they please, this highly specific method can make a big difference in system security while still allowing applications to function normally. In this model, there is no “master key” of privilege, but a specific keyring that the application can obtain through secure methods which contains only what it needs. 

5. Internet of Things (IoT) 

Tiny, inexpensive computers have revolutionized functions as simple as those in light bulbs and thermostats. They do so by including networking, programmability, monitoring functions and much more. Refrigerators, security systems, motorized window shades and home entertainment systems benefit from custom implementations of these tiny computers. Some have used simple operating systems familiar to hackers. This allowed exploitation on a large scale for destructive purposes such as disruption of services – companies like Netflix have been affected by “botnets” created in this way. IoT security is quickly evolving to protect against this. The IoT concept is in many ways similar to industrial control (SCADA) systems. It will likely benefit from protections used in these systems, especially network access security.