2007 thru 2009

2007

Collapse of world financial systems; some of the largest banks and corporations are nationalised or bailed out; personal debt levels have soared

During this period, the world experiences the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, calls it a “once-in-a-century type of event”.

This global financial meltdown is caused by a number of factors.

Primarily, it is a result of the Wild West casino mentality which has characterised investment banking over the previous two decades, combined with a lack of regulation. Merchant bankers – keen to make a fast buck – had realised there were vast numbers of poor Americans who had been refused loans from others, because they wouldn’t be able to pay them back. Motivated by short term gains, they employed predatory mortgage lenders to offer these people the chance to own their first home, and eventually there were millions of poor Americans with homes they couldn’t afford. Bankers then bundled these mortgages together with other more secure loans, before selling them on to other banks, who sold them onto other financial institutions, and so on. The bankers then received enormous bonuses for the commission and fees they generated.

This “sub prime” market was a time bomb waiting to go off. As interest rates rose, millions of Americans began defaulting on repayments. The loans which had originated from them were suddenly shown to be worthless – but it was already too late, as trillions of dollars’ worth had spread throughout the entire system. With banks afraid to lend money to each other, and not knowing the extent of each others’ exposure, the inevitable result was a collapse on an unprecedented scale, and a liquidity crisis almost unparalleled in history. Some of the largest banks in the world, including Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns, went into administration. Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nationalised; even the likes of AIG and Citigroup had to be rescued.

The other major factor which led to all this, was simply the greed of ordinary consumers and their desire for instant gratification. In addition to buying homes they couldn’t afford, credit cards and loans were used to purchase endless luxury items, hi-tech goods and exotic products they didn’t particularly need.

Personal debt levels soared as a result, and this combined with overzealous bankers led to a massive rise in bankruptcies and foreclosures, triggering a worldwide recession. With massive exposure to the US markets, Britain and other European countries were hit particularly hard.

It would take many years for the crisis to resolve itself – and even then, capitalism was changed forever.


2008

Internet continues to boom

A decade after the “Dotcom boom”, the Internet continues to grow at a phenomenal pace. By 2008, the search engine Google had processed over 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) unique URLs, whilst the number of individual web pages was growing by several billion per day, and the number of individual users had reached nearly 1.5 billion worldwide.

The Internet can now be accessed virtually anywhere, by numerous means. Mobile phones, smartphones, datacards, laptops, handheld games consoles and cellular routers allow users to connect to the Internet from anywhere there is a cellular network supporting that device’s technology. Broadband is becoming ubiquitous.

Recent trends have included the rise of social networking websites (such as Facebook), social bookmarking (such as Digg), a huge increase in blogging, micro-blogging, wiki sites, music downloads, video sharing and podcasts.

Online gaming is becoming immensely popular. It is no longer a niche market for adolescents, but very much part of mainstream entertainment – with some games generating more revenue than blockbuster movies. Users can take part in highly realistic battle simulations (such as Call of Duty), or racing games, or MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft; or they can explore and interact with entire virtual worlds (such as Second Life) and engage in the trading of virtual goods and services.

Many traditional high street retailers – especially those dealing in purely digital products such as games, DVDs or music CDs – are finding themselves increasingly outmoded by online retailers who offer greater speed, convenience and cost savings.

Scientists extract images directly from the brain

In a major scientific breakthrough, a Japanese company has developed a way of analysing electrical signals sent from the visual cortex, and then converting them to digital images on a screen.

In one of the experiments, test subjects were shown the six letters in the word “neuron”. The computer successfully reconstructed the word on screen by measuring their brain activity.

Artificial DNA

Using artificial components, Japanese scientists at the University of Toyama have created unusually stable, double-stranded structures resembling natural DNA. This breakthrough could lead to improvements in gene therapy, nano-sized computers and other high-tech advances.

Breakthrough in wireless energy transfer

Intel Corporation demonstrates wireless electricity sent to a lightbulb at 75% efficiency. This technology still faces a number of problems, but will eventually see large-scale adoption. One of the main benefits will be greatly reduced clutter in homes and offices, by eliminating the need for power cords.

Major advances in CGI

New modelling technology, pioneered by California-based company Image Metrics, now enables the most minute details of a facial expression to be captured and recreated. This means a long-standing barrier known as the ‘uncanny valley’ – the perception that animation looks less realistic as it approaches human likeness – may soon be crossed. An example of this new technology can be seen in the video below, which shows an entirely computer-generated woman called “Emily”. Researches believe the line between what appears real and what is merely rendered may be blurred completely by 2020.

Video adverts on London’s tube

Video screen adverts – including web content displayed in real time – are appearing on the London Underground. They are limited to the busiest stations initially, but will soon spread to the entire network, and other cities too.


2009

Mouse genome is fully sequenced

After a 10-year effort, scientists have finished mapping the entire mouse genome. Given the prevalence of mice in laboratory experiments – and the similarities with our own genetic code – this breakthrough will aid greatly in the understanding and treatment of diseases.

A shift towards portable (and ultra-portable) PCs

The market is moving toward portable PCs even faster than expected. By 2009, the laptop share of PCs bought worldwide has overtaken desktop PCs for the first time. A new generation of “ultra portables” is also emerging – these are significantly cheaper and more compact than traditional laptops, but offer many of the same features including wireless Internet access.

Computers as a whole are seeing phenomenal sales growth, with almost 300 million units shipped this year alone. The emergence of India as a major IT centre is having a big influence here.

Memory cards with capacities exceeding 2TB will soon be available for digital devices – enough to store more than 4,000 RAW images, 100 HD movies, or 60 hours of HD recording.

Mind control headsets for video gaming

Emotiv, a San Francisco-based company, have released a headset which allows gamers to control video games from their brain waves alone. This is done in a completely non-intrusive manner: no crude implants or direct physical contact are required. Sensors on the headset can detect the appropriate neurochemical patterns in the wearer’s head, and these are converted into actions on screen. The implications of this technology are staggering – future mainstream versions could radically alter how we interact with computers, the Internet, and each other.

The tallest man-made structure in history is completed

With 160 floors, rising to a height of 818m (2,684ft), the Burj Dubai is by far the tallest structure ever built by man, shattering all previous records and setting a new benchmark for skyscrapers.

The decision to build the tower was reportedly based on the UAE government’s aim to diversify from a trade-based economy to one that is service- and tourism-orientated. According to officials, it is necessary for projects like this to be built in the city to garner more international recognition, and hence more investment.

Construction of this tower and other such projects is seen as controversial by some – with most of the site workers being low-paid immigrants, in some cases earning less than US$5 per day. A host of other residential complexes, hotels, office towers and luxury resorts are being built all over Dubai, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the world. In addition to the Burj Dubai, there are various other “mega projects” including the Palm Islands, a series of massive artificial islands on which major commercial and residential infrastructure is being built.

Kepler mission

The Kepler space probe is launched by NASA. It will be the first instrument capable of finding Earth-sized and smaller extrasolar planets using Ball Aerospace’s Kepler Space Observatory satellite. It will observe the brightness of about 100,000 stars over four years to detect periodical transits of a star by its planets.

3D scanning becomes affordable

This form of technology has been available for a while now – mainly for use in design visualization, CAD/prototyping, architecture, engineering, film production, healthcare, etc.

Other applications have included reconstructing fossils in paleontology, replicating ancient and priceless artifacts in archaeology, reconstructing bones and body parts in forensic pathology, and reconstructing heavily damaged evidence acquired from crime scene investigations.

Until now though, a significant barrier to 3D scanning has been the expense, bulkiness, and inconvenience of traditional equipment. This has made it difficult – if not impossible – for small businesses and hobbyists to have access to such technology.

From 2009 onwards, a number of companies are beginning to produce smaller, cheaper, more portable devices.

One such company is David Vision Systems, which has brought out a pocket-sized 3D laser scanner. This can be used in combination with a simple webcam and background setup, to capture an endless variety of 3D objects, including the user’s own face, for use in home videos, animations, computer games and other virtual environments.

2010

2007 thru 2009

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