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IEEE Spectrum’s Most Popular Stories of 2017

Here are the technology stories that captured your attention this year

2 min read
A graphic shows the phrase “Best of 2017” in red letters on a blue background.
Illustration: IEEE Spectrum; Font: Shutterstock

In 2017, IEEE Spectrum published more than 1,000 feature and news stories about technology. Here, we resurface our most popular posts of the year. If you missed them the first time around, we hope you’ll enjoy this chance to look back and discover new stories or revisit a favorite.

1. In “How I Built an AI to Sort 2 Tons of Lego Pieces,” coder and technology consultant Jacques Mattheij described how he trained a neural net to recognize more than 1,000 different types of Legos. His ulterior motive was to buy unsorted pieces at a discount, sort them with this system, and resell the most valuable ones at a markup.

2. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Washington used a neural net to produce a fake video of former U.S. president Barack Obama, described in “AI Creates Fake Obama.” Their research raised questions about what it will mean for anyone to be able to falsify a video or audio clip of anyone else, and how scientists might develop systems that could identify a fake.

3. Bitcoin was one of the popular Google search terms of 2017, but many people are still puzzled by the blockchain it’s built on. For Spectrum’s “Blockchain World” special report, contributing editor Morgen E. Peck explained what’s so transformative about blockchains and what you need to know about them in “Blockchains: How They Work and Why They’ll Change the World.”

4. When John Goodenough, the 95-year-old co-inventor of the lithium ion battery, said he’d found a new type of battery that could transform the electric car industry, Spectrum readers were eager to hear more. Read about his new favorite technology in “Will a New Glass Battery Accelerate the End of Oil?

5. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to. This year, Spectrum readers were particularly excited to hear that the GPS in their smartphones would soon be getting an upgrade. Find out more in “Superaccurate GPS Chips Coming to Smartphones in 2018.”

6. Well-funded attempts to develop laser weapons have so far failed to produce a practical version. But international tensions seem to have renewed the U.S. military’s interest in trying. “Laser Weapon to Go in Fighter Jet in 2021” describes the U.S. Air Force’s latest plans to build one.

7. Whether you’re a history buff or a PowerPoint hater, you’ll probably enjoy “The Improbable Origins of PowerPoint.” David C. Brock of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., tells the compelling story of how this software program achieved world domination, for better or worse.

8. Spectrum’s Cars That Think blog profiled a startup founder and Stanford University dropout who believes he’s invented the lidar that every future self-driving car needs. Learn about it in “22-Year-Old Lidar Whiz Claims Breakthrough.”

9. Not every new technology is a slam dunk. Walden C. Rhines, chairman and CEO of Mentor Graphics, describes one “dog of a chip” he helped develop for Texas Instruments, listing the many reasons it failed and the lessons learned, in “The Inside Story of Texas Instruments’ Biggest Blunder: The TMS9900 Microprocessor.”

10. In 2018, Spectrum readers will hear a lot more about 5G, as telecommunications companies scramble to prepare for the next generation of wireless technology. Brush up now on the basics with this popular explainer video: “Everything You Need to Know About 5G.”

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
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Shira Inbar
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You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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