2017 probably won’t be your year either

2016 has not been a good year to be an entertainer, a black person or a citizen of the US or the UK who believes in progressive politics. We take a look back at 2016 and asks whether we can ever look forward to a new year ever again

You know how every year you say, tweet and think: ‘next year’s going to be my year’ and ‘new year, new me’, well in 2017 don’t bother. Because if you thought 2016 was bad, then just take a moment to consider 2017. All we’ve had so far is the aperitif; 2017 is the year that Donald Trump steps off the campaign trail and becomes the most powerful man in the world; 2017 is the year that the UK stops posturing and has deal with the consequences of a hard Brexit, soft Brexit or perfectly boiled Brexit. 2017 is going to be a hell of a year.

But for the moment 2017 remains just a massive rain cloud in the distance. A massive raincloud that looks set to waterboard us all in 2017 (did we mention Trump wants to bring waterboarding back), but a raincloud that hasn’t hit us yet.

So for now let’s consider 2016, and let me start by saying 2016 was not a year to be an entertainer. This year we lost: David Bowie, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood and countless other cherished entertainers. The rate at which entertainers were dying became so bad that when Bob Dylan neglected to acknowledge his Nobel Prize in Literature, most people assumed he had also been struck down by 2016, and even now paramedics are staking out Elton John and Stevie Wonder’s houses because we just can’t afford to lose anymore.

If you were an actor that made it through 2016 then you probably had a pretty good year. That statement is definitely true if you had the sense to be a white actor in 2016

If you were an actor that made it through 2016 then you probably had a pretty good year. That statement is definitely true if you had the sense to be a white actor in 2016. For white actors opportunities were bountiful, and you got to attend the 88th Academy Awards with a chance of winning an award rather than just being there to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s disappointed face (not this year though, congratulations Leo).

While black communities around the world definitely have bigger problems to contend with, the battle for representation and equality in an industry dominated by white people is an interesting barometer to measure how far minorities still have to go. Since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has taken steps to create more diversity amongst its members, but Scarlett Johansson was still cast as a native Japanese woman in Ghost in the Shell and producers of a film about 13th Century Muslim poet Rumi said they’d love Leonardo DiCaprio to take the role, so perhaps we’re not there yet.

In science and technology 2016 was actually a pretty good year. Solar Impulse 2 became the first solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the Earth, hyperloop technology continued to develop apace, with high-speed routes being explored in the United Arab Emirates, and Elon Musk’s Tesla revealed its Model 3, the company’s affordable electric vehicle. All of which means that in the future you’ll be able to travel from war zone to war zone faster and more efficiently than ever before.

The past year, though, will be remembered by many as the year that Britain said it wants to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. To paraphrase the Guardian journalist George Monbiot, when the American people were given the choice of electing the same old shit (Hilary Clinton) or an entire vat of shit (Donald Trump) they went for the entire vat of shit, and Britain pretty much did the same.

We don’t really know how deep or how potent 2017’s shit will be yet, but we know that it’s coming, so for now let’s concentrate on some more positive election results. Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants to the UK, became London’s first Muslim mayor in May. His victory was a win for progressive politics and sent a message that immigrants are welcome in the UK regardless of what some pro-Brexit campaigners would tell you.

Having conquered chess in the mid 90s and destroyed humans at Jeopardy in the early 2010s, AI took on an ancient Chinese strategy game that almost no one had ever heard of before called Go. AlphaGo, developed by Google Deepmind, beat one of the world’s top Go players Lee Sedol by four games to one.

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The machine’s achievement was undoubtedly impressive, but if you asked AlphaGo to do anything else, including caring about its victory, then it wouldn’t be able to, and that’s not intelligence by any definition. Having said that, if an AI system can ever write a funny episode of Two and Half Men, even if it can do nothing else, then I’ll know we’ve cracked it.

In between revolutionising travel on Earth and getting people excited about solar roofs, Elon Musk found time to devise a way to colonise Mars. In Musk’s mind, Mars could have a million-strong population within a century, served by a massive colonial fleet of interplanetary spaceships, “kind of like Battlestar Galactica”.

From anyone else that kind of talk would be derided, but with Musk at the helm perhaps we can make it to space by the end of the century. If 2017 continues in the same vain as 2016 then we might need to figure out a way to get to space much faster. As you can probably tell I’m feeling pretty pessimistic about 2017, but in 2018 I promise: new year, new me.

 

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC