Predicting the most successful technology of 2014 is more art than science, but, in examining the trends, some interesting observations present themselves. One is the effort to make security both convenient and effective. The second is the rise of firms with as much interest in their social agendas as in their bottom lines.
However, the trend with the most potential long-term impact is the increasing number of women that either head or hold high senior positions in technology companies. It is part of a trend in which female entrepreneurs are increasingly desirable targets for venture capitalists. They still get a relatively small slice of the venture capital pie, but the size of the 2013 slice was 20 percent bigger than that of 2012.
These nine people will help shape the world of technology in 2014.
Francisco Aguilar and David Young
Two M.I.T. business school alumni may make rescue operations dramatically safer for first responders everywhere. Aguilar and Young founded Bounce Imaging Inc. while working on their M.B.A.s.
Their signature product, the Bounce Imaging Explorer, is a throwable camera that is the size of a baseball. Lenses and sensors point in six directions, making precision placement unnecessary. However it lands, responders can get pictures and data on potential hazards such as carbon monoxide and radiation levels.
The Bounce Imaging Explorer makes gathering data on active crime scenes, combat zones, and disasters such as fires or explosions far less risky to first responders than earlier options. It’s the kind of product that invites new and different applications, but its primary benefit will always lie in the number of lives it saves.
Bojkov is an executive with LifeLogger, a company that specializes in “augmented memory.” LifeLogger users record their lives with the aid of a lightweight, wearable streaming video device. LifeLogger technology includes the ability to recognize words that appear on signs, aiding place memory. It is also able to tag place names to images and associate names with faces. Links to a cloud-sharing service let LifeLogger users access these recordings from almost anywhere.
LifeLogger technology has potential for educational and business applications as well. For example, teachers could log a museum visit for use by absent students; businesses could log their processes for training and audit purposes.
Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard
El Kaliouby and Picard are the founders of Affectiva, a company that literally brings a new face to the art of gauging consumer opinion.
Affectiva’s technology uses facial-recognition technology to assess non-verbal responses to a product. In particular, it measures the consumer’s emotional response. Participants in Affectiva surveys use a webcam to record their reactions to client products. Once the survey is over, participants can either share their responses or disconnect the webcam. Roughly half choose to share.
The company plans to introduce its Affdex survey software to the smartphone market with an app development kit for Apple’s iOS.
Leila Janah sees her Samasource startup as her way of using technology to fight poverty worldwide.
In its first six years, Samasource built a 4,000-person workforce and contracts worth $5 million. It has brought living wages to impoverished workers in places like sub-Sahara Africa, southern Asia, and the Caribbean by providing opportunities in data augmentation, digital transcription, and machine learning.
These opportunities build skill sets, provide part-time income and jobs to American community college students, and double the incomes of poverty-strapped employees abroad.
Kohli made his fortune in technology with Grafix Softech, a payment processing firm with its headquarters in Costa Rica.
Since 2005, Kohli has used his Tej Kohli Foundation to raise the living standards of poor women and children. Much of the foundation’s work takes place in India, where long-standing social taboos limit women’s access to education. Kohli aims to improve poor children’s standard of living by providing their mothers with educational opportunities they otherwise might not have, in addition to improving their quality of food, water, and housing.
Another major Foundation project is fighting blindness in India by providing corneal transplants and vision care.
Many technology professionals used books, websites, and friends to pick up skills on their own. Michelle Rowley was one of them, but she realized that making more structured training available more widely would bring the benefits of a technical career to those who had traditionally not sought one: women. As the executive director of Code Scouts, Rowley seeks to bring the diversity that has penetrated much of the working world to the male-dominated world of programming.
Code Scouts began in Portland, Oregon, but looks to expand. There has already been interest from groups in major cities such as Austin, London, New York, and San Francisco. In years to come, Code Scouts may well bring a woman’s touch to software development worldwide.
Airport security lines are the bane of many travelers’ existence. Caryn Seidman-Becker’s rescue of biometrics company Clear may make airport security less burdensome. Members use a card that incorporates a biometric chip to confirm their identities at company-supplied kiosks.
Clear had a promising start, with 200,000 members, about 12 airports under contract, and $75 million in venture capital, but the theft of a laptop holding customer data, $33 million of debt, and a declining economy led to bankruptcy in 2009.
Seidman-Becker, however, took control of Clear after the Algood Holdings investment firm bought the company in 2010. From there she has battled to re-establish the brand and rebuild confidence with customers, airports, and the Transportation Security Agency. It’s working, between 2010 and 2013 membership grew from 200,000 to 250,000. Airport participation stands at nine.
If swiping a biometric card to get through airport security becomes widespread, travelers will have Caryn Seidman-Becker to thank.
Many of these leaders will not grab headlines. With the possible exceptions of LifeLogger and Clear membership, they don’t represent products with mass market appeal. But these leaders’ impact will leave its mark on a broader scale. Their legacy, whether through risk-reducing devices or economic opportunities, is better quality of life.