How Tech Helped Us -- Or Didn’t -- In 2015

We're more connected than ever before, but that doesn't mean we've solved all our problems.

12/30/2015 01:18 pm ET

The more technology changes, the more we can see when our societies stay the same. 2015 was a year for progress on many issues, from civil rights to climate change. Here's a quick look at some important shifts in the intersection of technology and our lives, including the obstacles that remain.

More rockets, drones and robots burst onto the scene

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Technological change accelerated, with advances in self-driving cars, reusable rockets and genetic engineering. Drones became cheap and popular enough that the government started requiring us to register them.

The "gig economy" gained traction

We talked a lot about how on-demand startups are changing the so-called "gig economy" in 2015, including disrupting transportation for people with disabilities. By year's end, Uber added a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in D.C. Expect the on-demand economy -- or whatever we call it -- to be even more of a political issue in 2016.

Diversity challenges became more visible

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Tech companies committed to building diverse workforces that more closely reflect their users and customers. Some companies made progress. In 2016, we'll see if corporate claims and applause lead to change.

More cities dug into their data

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More cities adopted data-driven governance and evidence-based policies, focusing on addressing pressing social problems using civic technology, including climate change.

Uncle Sam created better digital government by design

Despite yesteryear's high-profile issues with Healthcare.gov, the federal government got better at designing and deploying (some) websites, from Vets.gov to immigration services

Digital donations went mainstream

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While crowdfunding aid for refugees may have a potential downside, people used sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Indiegogo to try to help others in need around the world in unprecedented numbers. In the year ahead, mobile devices, social media and digital donations will all play an even bigger role in charity.

Tech became positioned to fight climate change 

This year, the world made a historic agreement to fight climate change. In 2016, we'll see whether cities and countries implement their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using powerful new tools and technologies to move to a low-carbon economy.

More people became connected to the digital world

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More of humanity went online than ever before, using smartphones, tablets and old-school computers. Millions of people still aren't online in the United States, however, and billions of people have yet to join us here globally. 

We were introduced to an Internet of lying things

Volkswagen's scandal over software that cheats on emissions tests showed us why it's important to know how our connected cars and objects work. That's only going to become more important, in 2016, when millions of objects will join the growing "Internet of Things" every day.

The digital skills gap did not close

The increasing digitization of everything is revealing inequalities in digital skills that must be closed in the years ahead if everyone is going to make the most of that access.

California led the nation on privacy

California taught the country a lesson in digital privacy that Congress has yet to heed. At year's end, Uncle Sam still doesn't need a warrant for your Gmail or online data.

There was progress on tracking how police treat the public

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department committed to expand the system for tracking the use of force by police departments. Here's hoping that police data will inform the public and drive criminal justice reform in the years ahead.  

Surveillance reform made steps both forward and back

Congress enacted surveillance reforms and then stuck a surveillance bill into a must-pass end-of-year omnibus spending bill that coupled expanded information sharing from the private sector with liability protections. (Happy holidays, intelligence community and big banks.)

What Lies Ahead?

In the coming year, virtual assistants will improve our ability to find information and apply it through ambient interfaces. Advances in robotics and 3D printing will improve the lives of millions of disabled people, seniors and patients.

If we're lucky, maybe we'll use technology to become better humans. The future is in our hands, from saving lives to educating the next generation

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