Emoji, Uber and selfie: These 25 words describe the decade in tech
Swipe right on the influencer words that disrupted the last 10 years.
Kent GermanFormer senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Now I present 25 words, phrases and terms that tell the story of tech since 2010. Some explain deeply complex topics and others, well, are a bit frothier. So break out your dictionary and start marking in the margins, because these are the words added to our lexicon, or gaining new relevance. (And if you're a wordsmith, I have a list of the decade's top quotes as well.) Of course, there are many more buzzwords I didn't cover, so list your suggestions in the comments.
In computing terms, this means a set of rules or a step-by-step process for performing a task. As a word it's far older than the decade we're finishing, but it's gained notoriety over the past few years as the influence of social media has grown. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter use algorithms to determine which posts they present to you and in what order. Or in YouTube's case, an algorithm decides which videos are in the "Up Next" box. Most of the time these algorithms work well, but they're also being blamed for presenting hoax news stories, creatingfilter bubbles (where you only see information that reinforces your beliefs) and recommending videos with hateful content. In response to the criticism, some services have tweaked their algorithms to give their users more control over what content is shown.
Like CNET's Jon Skillings, I'm going to defer to John McCarthy, the man who coined the term, to define it. He described artificial intelligence as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs." By "intelligent machine," he meant machines that can mimic things the human mind can do, such as solving problems or learning new information and adapting to it. And I'm not just talking about robots. Examples include self-driving cars and voice assistants (see below), but the topic is also controversial (as in, AI could have the power to end humanity). Machine learning is the branch of AI that teaches computers to learn tasks or recognize patterns on their own, while deep learning is an area of machine learning that's about recognizing relationships in data.
Watch this: The promise of AI
Language naturally evolves and expands over time, adding new words, changing the meaning of others and sending others still to the vocabulary pasture. And during the 2010s, one of the most common words in the English language expanded to a new part of speech when "because" became both a conjunction and a preposition. Today there's no need to follow it with a pesky excess word like "of." Rather, just follow it with an appropriate noun, like "I was late because sleep." It's also a way to conveniently explain complex topics in an ambiguous way. "Dark matter exists because science!" And it's a way to be ambiguous about simple topics. For example, "I didn't finish doing that because reasons" is especially popular.
Especially popular with streaming content, which is programming that's delivered over the internet rather than a traditional cable channel, this is the viewing of several episodes of a television program (or parts of a film franchise) in rapid succession. Binge watching is also possible with DVDs or content saved on a DVR. Though Netflix content is binge-watchable, Netflix and chill has a, well, different meaning. It's actually a euphemism for hooking up (though I suppose you could watch an episode or two before the sex). It was true even in the pre-Netflix era: As Dorothy Zbornak wisely said in a 1986 episode of The Golden Girls, "Honey, beware of anybody who says 'no calories,' 'absolutely no charge' and 'let's just lie on the bed and watch television.'"
Security cameras with facial recognition tech inside
Gosh, this is a hard one. That's why I'll rely on my more knowledgeable colleague Stephen Shankland to explain. As he puts it, a blockchain is an ever-growing set of data blocks with each block recording a collection of transactions (such as the date, time and amount of a purchase). But instead of all of those blockchains being stored on a single computer (like a company server), they're distributed across a group of computers. It could be thousands of them, and each computer has its own copy of the transaction. Most important, blockchain makes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin possible. Because cryptocurrencies are digital, decentralized currencies without a government, bank or other authority to control them, blockchain is used to verify transactions. And because blockchain is an encryption technology, transactions using cryptocurrency are anonymous. That's why it's popular on the dark web, which refers to any part of the internet that isn't discoverable by a search engine.
Again, I'll let Mr. Shankland take the wheel. As he writes, computational photography is "digital processing to get more out of your camera hardware -- for example, by improving color and lighting while pulling details out of the dark." But it's not only present in pricey DSLR cameras -- you need to look no further than many camera phones to see how computational photography works. Examples include an HDR mode, where a camera takes two or more photos at different brightness levels and then merges the shots into a single photo, and the night modes on both the Pixel 3 and iPhone 11.
Everyone hates their cable company, right? Well, cord cutters channel that loathing into action by ending their cable TV service (note that actual cutting of cord isn't necessary). Instead of paying Time Warner for TV content, cord cutters get their television through streaming video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. The upside includes lower subscription costs and being able to tell Comcast to suck it. The downside includes still needing to pay for internet (maybe through that same cable company), subscription fatigue (since you have to pay for each service individually) and the danger that you may miss some live TV events. So think before you cut.
Watch this: How to cut the cord like a pro
You hear this a lot at startups, especially when they're pitching to a venture capital firm to get funding. But it applies to established companies as well (remember Facebook's motto of "Move fast and break things"?). Disruption occurs when a company introduces a product or service with the aim of radically changing or even replacing an existing industry. Airbnb and Uber are classic examples because they've created new competition for hotels and taxis. Though disruption is seen as a point of pride, such companies are also criticized for not owning the damage done by their treasured disruption. Airbnb, for example, is now blamed for driving up housing costs and displacing long-term residents in popular tourist cities.
Watch this: We're not ready for the deepfake revolution
A troubling development over the last few years, deepfakes are the video version of a photoshopped picture. They're video forgeries that make people seem to say or do things they didn't. Essentially, it's grafting the face of one person onto the body of another person, but in a way that's so real looking, it's hard to tell that it's not. Not only is a person's face duplicated (made possible through facial recognition technology), but their voice can be as well (thanks to machine learning). Though deepfakes can be harmless and even fun if they're identified as such, they also could be incredibly destructive. Politicians could be depicted as saying something racist, obscene or weird -- earlier this year a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went viral -- or a person might find themselves unexpectedly depicted in porn.
An evolution of the emoticon (remember the smiley?) that originated in Japan, emoji are images commonly used in texting, chat programs and social media to convey a specific word or meaning. Examples of emoji (the word is both singular and plural), which run into the hundreds, include a thumbs up (or down), faces with various expressions and the popular eggplant. The style of emoji can differ between platforms, but there's a consortium that approves and standardizes them. Acceptable in both personal and business communication, they can save typing time when you're in a hurry. And who knows... one day they may be the only way we communicate. The release of new emoji is eagerly anticipated. I mean, how long did we wait to get a taco?
Yes, this has become a real job at which people can make millions. Sigh ... but enough Gen X griping. Though "influencer" primarily refers to something that influences something else, its contemporary definition is a person with the power to change opinions or drive behaviors of a large audience online, primarily through social media (Instagram in particular). They can encourage their fans to buy products through endorsements, rally for a political candidate or generate hype for a failed music concert in the Bahamas. Influencers can include established celebrities such as actors, musicians and athletes, but they also can be people with shorter CVs who are famous simply for being famous. Subsets of influencers are YouTubers (a person on YouTube), streamers (someone who livestreams their content rather than precording it), VSCO girls (young woman who edit their Instagram photos in an app called VSCO) and Instagays (attractive and musclebound gay men who live a fabulous life online, when the reality may be anything but).
As a hashtag it flourished in 2017 following the exposure of widespread sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. At the height of the media coverage, actor Alyssa Milano encouraged victims of sexual assault to tell their stories on Twitter. Many people did, both celebrities and not, in the United States and around the world. But as an expression, "Me Too" started 11 years before the hashtag went viral. Civil rights activist Tarana Burke, who was sexually assaulted as a child and a teenager, started the Me Too Movement in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence.
You've heard this one a lot lately, I'm sure. Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet, whether it's from
, Amazon, the Los Angeles Times or a local startup, should be treated equally by wireless and broadband service providers. In other words, the company that delivers your Internet connection can't can't block, slow down or charge extra for some content while favoring others. In 2018, despite widespread opposition, a Republican-led FCC repealed Obama-era rules mandating federal net neutrality rules set in 2015. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the repeal in October while striking down a key provision that blocked states (like California) from passing their own net neutrality protections.
Watch this: Beer helps explain battle brewing over net neutrality
Buckle in, this one is a bit complicated. I was about to define it incorrectly, before CNET Senior Reporter Dara Kerr steered me straight. Ride hailing refers to companies like Uber and Lyft, which provide point-to-point transportation services via car. While Uber and Lyft perform a similar service to traditional taxis, you hail them only through an app and you pay your fare directly to the company, rather than to the driver. (As CNET classifies them, taxis are not a ride-hailing service even though you can hail them on the street.) Though both Uber and Lyft refer to themselves as ride-sharing services, that's just marketing-speak. Because unless you're in an Uber Pool, you're not really sharing the ride with anyone (the driver and other people in your party don't count). But either way, Uber as a company has become so widespread that its name is now used as a verb: "I'll Uber it over to your house."
This is an economic concept in which assets are shared by a group of people. The assets, such as a flat rented on Airbnb, typically are privately owned but are made available through others to use through peer-to-peer transactions via online platform. A related concept is the gig economy, in which people offer a service to a company on a part-time basis. Ride-hailing and some delivery drivers (for companies like Postmates) are considered gig economy workers, but so are freelance writers and photographers. As the gig economy has grown, the treatment of gig workers has fallen under scrutiny. Because they're not considered full-time employees, pay can be low and they're not entitled to benefits like health insurance, despite long working hours.
On the dating apps Tinder and Bumble, a user swipes right on a potential date's photo to show they're interested and swipes left to show they're not. But the term has graduated beyond the apps to describe your acceptance of pretty much anything, from a person to a hamburger to a car. "I'd swipe right on those shoes."
A pejorative variation on the word "bro," or a stereotypical alpha male guy, tech bro describes a subset of men who work in the technology industry. Characteristics include newfound wealth through an IPO, a brash confidence and sense of entitlement, talking loudly about subjects they may know little about and a propensity toward sexism by promoting a "boys' club" working culture. Outside the office they can be found gentrifying a neighborhood while inflating real estate prices and obsessing about craft beer in dull, lookalike bars. Brogrammers are tech bros who code, and pharma bros, including convicted fraudster Martin Shkreli, work in the pharmaceutical industry.
Watch this: What is AR and how does it differ from virtual reality?
It predated the decade, but the 2010s brought the term mainstream with actual products. As you might guess, virtual reality replaces the real world with a completely virtual one, whether it be the bottom of the ocean or a planet in the Star Wars universe. To make that happen, VR requires a person to wear a headset like the Oculus Go that completely blocks their view. Augmented reality is when you're looking at the real world, but it's enhanced or, ahem, augmented with other data. That can be accomplished through a pair of smart glasses like
HoloLens or even through a game on your phone like Pokemon Go. As its name implies, mixed reality is a mix between the two. It projects virtual images onto the real world through the camera on a phone, tablet, glasses or headset, but also anchors them to a point in real space.
Let the hype machine commence. 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networking technology that wireless carriers around the world are beginning to build. Think of it as the child of 4G, the wireless technology you're using on your phone now, and the grandchild of 3G, a technology from a decade ago. Each generation of the wireless family is faster than the one before it and as a result can make new technologies possible. With a wireless experience that's 10 to 100 times faster than today's 4G networks -- as fast as 1 gigabit per second, or speedier than a fiber cable -- 5G promises everything from letting you download a full film in seconds over the air to making self-driving cars a reality.