From Gamergate to leaders dismissive of systemic sexism to the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, STEM was a hostile world for women in 2014.
In 2014, the internet turned 25. Facebook had been around for a full decade of that timeline and its growth was now unstoppable. It acquired messaging start-up WhatsApp for $16bn in February, adding another 450m users to its collection. It followed this with the purchase of Oculus Rift for $2bn in March.
Even then, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was excited about the potential of VR beyond gaming. “We’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences,” he said. “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”
But the big M&A story of the year in Ireland was Red Hat’s €63.5m acquisition of Waterford tech spin-out FeedHenry in September. Meanwhile, Irish-founded San Francisco start-up Intercom was well on its way with a $23m Series B round and plans to scale its workforce.
Intercom was a self-described ‘Silicon Valley outsider’. Perhaps because, at the time, the tech start-up hub in the heart of California was becoming the subject of ridicule. Silicon Valley the TV show arrived on HBO in April and received critical acclaim for its lampooning of US start-up culture.
Other things we were watching in 2014 included a wondergoal gone viral from Irish footballer Stephanie Roche, and a lesson in grace and composure from the IDA’s new CEO, Martin Shanahan. In an interview on CNBC, Shanahan had to patiently explain to a news anchor that Ireland is a country apart from the UK.
Another viral 2014 trend was far more horrifying to watch.
Gamergate initially began when indie game developer Zoe Quinn was accused of sleeping with men in the industry to advance her career. Quinn and others who defended her were harassed and accused of corruption by angry gamers.
It was a long, messy ordeal and ultimately very damaging to the women involved. It did the gaming industry no favours either. Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a public appearance due to death threats. Gamergate critic Brianna Wu was forced to leave her home.
Journalist Andy Baio created a data mining project that analysed the furious flurries of tweets generated under the Gamergate hashtags. He found that a quarter were from brand new accounts.
As Gamergate was unfolding, Apple’s iCloud became the subject of scrutiny when famous women’s nude images were hacked and released online. Apple doubled down on security and launched an investigation but ultimately denied that security loopholes and vulnerabilities had been exploited.
Women in STEM
All the while, Silicon Republic continued its campaign to make STEM a more welcoming space for women. We started the year with the launch of new research into attracting more young women into science and technology, identifying the importance of role models.
This was the reason for the summer’s Female Founders Forum and a special event to celebrate 100 Top Women in STEM. Because even though it seemed so obvious that women in STEM should be just as respected as their male counterparts, so far into the 21st century that was not the case.
It wasn’t just outright hostility being called out, but the insidious nature of pervasive gender discrimination too. This ranged from backlash against the Barbie book ‘I Can be a Computer Engineer’, which was chock-full of stereotypes and sexist assumptions; to calling out Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella for saying that women should “have faith in the system” rather than directly ask for raises.
It was all so very toxic and, for her efforts towards an antidote, Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea received an Outstanding Contribution award from the Irish Internet Association.
Another internet danger in 2014 was the Heartbleed bug revealed in April. Heartbleed was a serious flaw in OpenSSL, the encryption software that powers a lot of secure web communication, and it was believed as much of 17pc of secure web servers could be vulnerable.
Heartbleed enabled access to a user’s stored information and sources said the NSA was exploiting it. An arrest was made in Canada but there were still fears that hundreds of thousands of servers were at risk a month later.
After Heartbleed came Shellshock, a Bash bug feared to be even more widespread. Later still came Regin, sophisticated spyware suspected to be the product of government cyberespionage. The majority of Regin attacks centred on Russia (28pc) and Saudi Arabia (24pc), however, Ireland had the unwelcome distinction of attracting 9pc of them.
It was amid this cyberthreat landscape that Sony Pictures was hit by a massive cyberattack that shut down all of its computer systems. The hackers leaked a gigabyte of stolen material online including passwords, visas, identity documents for actors and unreleased films.
In a surprising twist, Guardians of Peace, a hacking group with ties to North Korea, demanded that Sony stop the release of its upcoming film The Interview, a comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un.
Sony counter-attacked with a spate of DDoS attacks against pirates and sites hosting the stolen data, and even threatened to sue Twitter over tweets linking to hacked emails. The Interview was released regardless, to mixed reviews.
Another release that got a less-than-warm reception in 2014 was the latest album from U2.
The band thought it was going to be a beautiful day when they arranged to have Songs of Innocence added automatically to the libraries of every iTunes account holder – whether they wanted it or not. Unfortunately, the gesture fell on unappreciative ears.
Within a week, Apple had to provide a remove button for people to purge the offending album from their libraries. U2 were castigated on social media for their stunt and, unsurprisingly, Bono bore the brunt of it. (And it had all been going so well for the often unpopular frontman earlier in the year when U2’s charity single netted 3m downloads and $3m for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.)
But the twist was Bono was in everyone’s iTunes account all along, as a singing silhouette on the navigation menu.
And while U2 were plugging in their album wherever they liked, Taylor Swift removed all her tracks from Spotify in a bid to encourage people to pay for music. The Swedish streaming giant hit back by telling Swift it had made her $6m.
The ESA’s comet-chasing mission
Thankfully, 2014 wasn’t all bad news. The sci-tech community celebrated a world first when the European Space Agency successfully landed a spacecraft on a comet.
Philae, a small robotic lander, detached from the Rosetta spacecraft on 12 November to touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko near Jupiter, more than 10 years after departing from Earth.
Irish scientist Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor was part of the €1bn mission, overseeing the construction and testing of a mission-critical on-board processor that would play a key role in passing the streams of commands and data between Rosetta and the instruments on Philae.
It was a turbulent conclusion to a captivating mission that sent back some stunning images, including a selfie of Rosetta with the comet in the background.
In other news
16 January: NASA starts accepting applications from private companies looking to mine the moon.
24 January: Science Foundation Ireland launches IPIC, the €30m Irish Photonic Integration Centre, at Tyndall National Institute in University College Cork.
4 February: StatCounter flags that Windows XP remains the world’s second most popular operating system, despite the fact that Microsoft plans to end support for it in April.
25 February: 750,000 bitcoins (an estimated value of €273m) are lost when Mt Gox, one of the largest bitcoin exchanges, goes offline.
28 February: The Guardian reveals that GCHQ’s Optic Nerve program accessed 1.8m Yahoo users’ webcams without their knowledge.
3 April: Newly appointed Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich resigns following criticism of his donations in support of Prop 8, a bill that proposed a ban on same-sex marriage in California.
8 April: Irish physicist Dennis Jennings is inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame for his key contribution to creating the internet.
20 April: Scientists from AMBER publish research detailing how they produced the wonder material graphene using a kitchen blender and washing-up liquid.
9 June: A team from MIT and NASA presents a report detailing a record-shattering Earth-to-moon broadband connection which, with a download speed close to 20Mbps, meant the moon had better broadband than rural Ireland.
24 June: Curiosity’s mission is accomplished as it concludes its first Mars year, 687 days since its landing on the Red Planet.
8 July: The World Cup semi-final between Germany and Brazil generates a record 35.6m tweets, which are tracked by researchers at Adapt for a live translation service and sentiment analysis.
25 August: Europe’s first Digital Youth Council is launched in Ireland. The initiative was conceived by 15-year-old entrepreneur Harry McCann.
26 August: Seagate rolls out the world’s first 8TB hard drives.
1 September: LikeCharity reports that more than half a million donations towards motor neuron disease research in Ireland have been driven by the Ice Bucket Challenge.
10 September: Helen Dixon is appointed Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner.
22 October: An Apple-1 computer hand-built by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak is auctioned off for $905,000, making it the world’s most expensive piece of historical consumer tech.
28 October: After more than seven years in development, the W3C HTML Working Group issues a finalised standard for HTML5.
30 October: 10-year-old Irish coder Lauren Boyle is named European Digital Girl of the Year.
4 November: Northern Ireland celebrates John Bell Day 50 years after the Belfast-born physicist challenged Einstein and paved the way for quantum computing research with a theorem published in the journal Physics.
15 November: The Antikythera mechanism, considered the earliest example of a computer, is dated to 205 BCE.
23 November: World of Warcraft turns 10 and an hour-long documentary charting the rise and rise of the internet role-playing game is released to celebrate.
3 December: YouTube has to update its system for counting video views after Gangnam Style exceeds a 32-bit integer at more than 2,147,483,647 views.
5 December: NASA’s Artemis mission to return a crewed mission to the moon takes off with the testing of the first partially reusable Orion space capsule.
11 December: The head of Google News warns that the service will be cut off in Spain from 1 January because of new copyright legislation in the country.
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