A Look Back At the Year's Biggest Tech Stories. Aired 8:00a-8:30p ET

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[08:01:48] KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. And welcome to a special edition of News Stream. We'll look back on the year's biggest tech stories, including the fight over online privacy.

We visit the world's biggest consumer drone maker, China's DJI, and we hear from the tiny team building a vast galaxy and go behind the scenes of the game No Man's Sky.

The fight over online security was one of the defining topics in technology this year. At issue, governments seeking access over data to fight crime and business and activists who believe people have a right to encrypt their personal information.

In the U.S. the FBI has been talking with tech companies to find some middle ground. It's concerned that encryption can harm efforts to track terrorists online, but Apple, Google and others disagree. They say strong encryption is key to protecting cyber security and human rights.

Now meanwhile, countries are spying on each other in cyber space. Some American officials believe China was behind one of this year's biggest cyber attacks on the U.S. government.

The profiles much more than 21 million government staff were stolen from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

But China is also causing controversy after being accused of using a new cyber weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE0

LU STOUT: You might have heard of China's Great Firewall. That's a system that stops Chinese web users from accessing sites like Facebook and YouTube. Our researchers say there's a new system that's not a censorship tool, but an attack tool. They call it the Great Cannon.

Now in March, the American coding website GitHub came under attack. And researchers say it was taken down by the Great Cannon.

Now to understand how it works, I need to let you in on a little secret about the web. You know the Facebook like button? It's not just a picture of a thumbs up, it's actually a tiny little program. Most websites have many of these little programs running all the time. The Great Cannon takes advantage of this. And researchers say when visitors went to Baidu in March, the Great Cannon added a tiny little program to their page.

It's not clear whether Baidu, China's most popular website knew about it, they've denied any involvement.

This program told a user's computer that it should send a message to GitHub, and it should continue to send it thousands of messages every minute for hours. Now virtually any user visiting Baidu could unknowingly be participating in the attack. And as more computers joined in, GitHub servers struggled to cope.

It was one of the biggest attacks of this type ever. And researchers say GitHub was targeted, because it hosted information about how to defeat the Great Firewall. But they worry that this weapon isn't just for big targets like GitHub, because they say China could use the power of the Great Cannon against individual users as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LU STOUT: It's not just governments who are watching us, data brokers and some tech companies collect personal information that we share online. And with the rise of fitness trackers and smartcars, our online footprints are only getting better.

Now, author Julia Anguin is sounding the alarm bell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:05:06] JULIA ANGWIN, AUTHOR: I had every search I had ever conducted on Google was stored dating back six years. I was able to see like minute by minute what I had been searching for. I was able to see every border crossing that I had ever done in international travel going back to when I was a teenager. And I saw every phone number, address that I'd ever lived at, even including ones where I was just for a few weeks were all stored in these data broker's databases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LU STOUT: Now to avoid being tracked, Angwin says that she uses an anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo.

Now, from hacking and cybertheft to another type of online that drew headlines this year, several female game developers and critics became the targets of violent threats made by the online hate movement Gamergate. Now the hate mob threatened to murder or rape women for simply being in the gaming industry. And the vicious threats extended beyond online forums and social media sites.

Now, targets at Gamergate say that they were forced to leave their homes after their personal information was illegally put online.

Now, game developer Zoe Quinn was patient zero of the Gamerate hate mob, but she took the horrifying experience and launched a network that fights abuse and harassment on the internet.

And I asked her how virtual threats made online transition into real life damage and how her network helps those dealing with abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZOE QUINN, GAME DEVELOPER: I mean, it's 2015, a lot of people like myself live and work online. Our social support systems are there. All of my games get sold through there. It's really like my workplace, not just, you know, some random option thing.

A lot of people really don't think about the internet as critically as they should. It's now a part of creating culture at large. And as more and more people move to it, we need to sort of let the internet have its Soylent Green moment, where everybody sort of realizes that it's just people.

LU STOUT: And one form of online abuse is something called doxing, the online posting of one's personal details on social media. Could you tell us just how harmful this could be and how you were doxed?

QUINN: The way I was doxed, actually, was accompanied with a hacking of my blog to sort of further disseminate it as well as letting somebody -- anybody with the email address post automatically to it.

Doxing usually goes hand in hand with a lot of other things like that. But they first start with disseminating your home address and personal information, partially to intimidate you and sometimes to sort of encourage other people, especially on anonymous message boards to do things like send pizzas to your house, or in the worst case SWATing, which is attempting to have a SWAT team sent to your house hoping that violence will ensue and something might happen to you in the process.

LU STOUT: Is this something that anybody could potentially go through, especially women?

QUINN: Absolutely. Until we start taking online abuse seriously and companies actually start policing their services and cracking down on things like dox, on things like revenge porn, on things that are not even a freedom of speech issue, but are a terms of service violation, then we're going to continue see people like me. And that is a scary thought. That's one of the reasons that we founded Crash Override Network, so that we can help people who are targeted by this. I mean, I'm far from the first person, and I'm hoping to make it so that there are less after me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LU STOUT: Now unfortunately female gamers and critics of Gamergate are still targets of online harassment.

The Texas based South by Southwest media festival two canceled two anti-harassment panels after receiving threats of onsite violence. Now, the threatened panelists were Gamergate targets. And the cancellation prompted organizations to withdraw from the festival in protest.

Now, South by Southwest is now going to host a full day summit on the issue.

Up next, we will look at the revolution in wearable technology. The Apple Watch grabbed the spotlight this year and high end style and a high end price tag. But what do luxury watch collectors think of the sticker price? Find out after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:10:41] KRISTIE LU STOUT: Now, they were once the stuff of science fiction, but now drones are very much within reach for the tech savvy consumer. In fact, the market for the unmaned aircraft is expected to surpass $8.4 billion by 2018, that's according to the research group AVI.

Now, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and Alphabet all want to deploy their own fleet of drones to deliver merchandise to customers.

And there is no shortage of cash to help spur on new drone ventures in the years ago.

Now, companies specializing in the small craft have raised some $300 million in equity financing so far this year, marking a new all-time high, that's according to CB Insights, a venture capital database.

Now, remote-controlled quadcopters like this one, they represent the iconic image of a consumer drone. It seems these days anyone with a few hundred dollars to spare can be the proud owner of a small, recreational aircraft.

And more likely than not, it is one made by china's DJI. The company is the leader in consumer drones with well over 70 percent of the global market.

I had the chance to visit their operation at its headquarters in Shenzhen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: From being coveted by Cartman on "South Park" to crashing on the lawn of the White House, if you see a drone, it's probably made by DJI. The company behind the distinctive Phantom is the leader in consumer drones, with an estimated 70 percent of the market.

But what you might not realize is that this industry pioneer is based in China.

PAUL PAN, EXECUTIVE MANAGER, DJI: We base our technology and our manufacturing and our R&D here in China because everything is much more accessible. Yes, quicker developed product.

STOUT: Being based in China has its advantages. DJI can design a part in the morning, drive to it a nearby factory and have it manufactured that afternoon.

(voice-over): And looser regulations than the U.S. mean it is simpler for DJI to get their drones in the air in China.

PAN: It is easier to go out and just test and fly here, whereas if you're in the U.S., you do have to get -- you have to get licensing and all that to be able to do things commercially; that is one of our advantages.

STOUT (voice-over): The U.S. has begun allowing a limited number of companies to test commercial applications for drones. The U.S. is also DJI's biggest market.

But according to one analyst, being a Chinese company could prove to be a problem.

COLIN SNOW, DRONE ANALYST: It kind of blocks them out little bit from getting involved in any government projects because, for example, NASA is prohibited from doing any work directly with DJI. So in the commercial world, where we'll see more and more aircraft being developed, the disadvantage there is for DJI.

STOUT (voice-over): DJI has a commanding lead in the consumer drone market, making it one of a new wave of Chinese companies that are global giants. And DJI says it is down to the company's history of innovation.

PAN: We've innovated with our Phantoms, with our Grown line, with our professional seminal (ph) line of equipment. And that just -- it comes down to us being seen not as, you know, a Chinese company but as an international player.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: So what's driving the rapid pace of drone development? Well, the founder and CEO of 3D Robotics, DJI's American rival, told me his theory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS ANDERSON, CEO, 3D ROBOTIS; How did we get here? Smartphone. These technologies: the sensors, the cameras, the wireless, all the computers, all of those things were incredibly expensive and hard to get, even ten years ago.

But because smartphone technology is moving so fast, because the same sensors and chips and cameras in smartphones drive drones, the drone industry was able to draft behind the smartphone industry and benefit from the fastest progression of Moore's Law the world has ever seen.

So, if you ask, you know, how is it possible to someone like me, or Frank from DJI, can make more drones than all of the aerospace companies in the world, the answer is thank you Apple, thank you Google, thank you, Samsung.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LU STOUT: Now, Chris Anderson's company is the maker of the solo drone. The company touts are more open platform approach to drone technology. And he thinks we should look beyond the hardware and that the future of drones will be defined by its software.

Now, smartwatches, health monitors, activity trackers they are all part of the emerging landscape of wearable technology that is changing the way we exercise and the way we communicate.

Now, 2015 was a big year with plenty of new smartwatches hitting market, but perhaps getting the most attention, Apple Watch.

The company's much hyped entry into the world of wearable technology. The Apple Watch starts at a few hundred dollars, but most expensive will set you back about $17,000. That puts it in the same price league as luxury watches, but does it really compare?

Now, I put that question to the founder and executive editor of the online specialty watch magazine Hodinkee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN CLYMER, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR WATCH HOKINKEE: I think they are absolutely a threat to watches in general. In mass, certainly, the Swatch watches, the Suntos (ph), the Casios of the world, the Nixons, these lower end kind of fashion watches that are priced around the same as the Apple Watch and just cannot compare in terms of functionality, design quality, the build quality even, to the Apple Watch.

Absolutely the Apple Watch is a threat to them.

And I think long-term, you know, as we see what this apple watch can do for people, including you know the health aspect, which I think is really X factor, we could see it really eat away at traditional watchmakers' proverbial pie.

I will say that, you know, I think the brands like a Rolex and a Tag Heuer and Omega, Patek Philippe, these brands that have been around for really ten generations plus. You know, survive through wars, survived through plagues, things like that. They will always survive. They might just become an even more niche product. And keep in mind they're already extremely niche.

So we might see them you know kind of dwindle down their production, but really focus on the purists.

LU STOUT: But that's -- you just mentioned that, you know, these products, the high end watches, they can last generations. What's your thinking about the Apple Watch. How long will it last?

CLYMER: Well, and that's kind of the question that we all want to know. And, you know, the traditional life cycle of an Apple product, the phone, computer, it could be anywhere between, you know, 18 months to five years. You know, my MacBook Air I've had for going up on six years, which is a long time for a digital product.

The Apple Watch is certainly a digital product. And, you know, some of which cost many thousands of dollars, the addition of course. I don't know that they will be able to even come close to the longevity of a mechanical watch, but I think that's OK. You know, I think that's not the point. I don't think Apple is trying to project any, you know, false pretenses about the longevity of the life cycle. It's just, you know, the Apple Watch Edition, the $17,000 watch as we've mentioned, is something for a very particular consumer. It is not for people that are looking for value. For $17,000 you can buy a mechanical watch that will certainly last you, you know, multiple generations, really in perpetuity with basic maintenance.

So, it's a very different product.

You know, I think that the Apple Watch Edition is a status symbol, it's for somebody that is looking for something that is just totally unique and totally different than everything else. But I don't expect it to be lasting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LU STOUT: Now, coming up on the News Stream special, imagine exploring a vast universe with not billions but quintillions of planets waiting for you to discover. We'll look at the stunning freedom that No Man's Sky offers next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:30:20] LU STOUT: Welcome back to a special edition of News Stream. Now, imagine exploring a whole galaxy, now that's the promise of the game No Man's Sky. Now players have the freedom to visit an enormous number of uncharted planets whether to explore, trade or even fight.

Now, earlier this year we visited the tiny team beyond this enormous galaxy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN MURRAY, HELLO GAMES: Hi. I'm Sean Murray from Hello Games. And this is No Man's Sky.

It's a game about survival, but also about kind of just exploration. You start off on the outside edge of the galaxy in a universe that we're using that computer to generate. That means that we can create like an entire universe, right. And just set players loose in it. And they can do whatever the want.

Generally, people will play it like traders or fighters, or explorers, but really normally like a mixture of all three of those things.

I always use the example of like Han Solo in Star Wars. He's whatever he needs to be to kind of survive. And that's what people are trying to do. We want people to have their own unique experience. Kids are growing up in a very different world in which I grew up in, you know, and there's very much this kind of YouTube generation where a player's story and how they express themselves in a game is kind of way more valuable than how a designer wants to express himself.

There's a lot of planets in No Man's Sky like a near infinite, like a really large number.

It's like 18 quintillion planets. Every star in the sky when it's nighttime or when you're out in space, every star that you see is like the lie of a distance sun. As a kid growing up, I -- that was my science fiction fantasy I guess that games would one day be able to do that. You know, a whole universe out there simulated.

I want to make the kind of game that I want to play, basically that's what I get out of bed in the morning for. And this is the surreal like of that love and passion for us, you know, to do this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Now everything you see in the game was generated by the computer: creatures, ships, even entire planets, it's a technique called procedural generation and it means that players aren't the only ones surprised by what they find in No Man's Sky.

Sean Murray and his team say that they are constantly coming across things in the game that they have never seen before.

Now, competitive gaming took a big step forward in 2015. The International boasted a prize pool of $18 million, the biggest in esports history and the American team Evil Geniuses, they were crowned the victors.

Now, The International pits the best teams in the world at the game DOTA 2. It's a multiplayer battle arena game that's a little like chess crossed with capture the flag.

Now, this is how popular esports can be, The International, it got over 50 million total views on Twitch, that's a videogame streaming site. It also aired on networks like ESPN.

Now, esports, it requires teamwork, strategic thinking and quick reaction just like football or basketball. Now for professional Gamers, games are more than just a hobby.

I spoke to Twitch's director of programming, Marcus Graham, for some insight into the life of competitive gaming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCUS GRAHAM, DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMING, TWITCH: A lot of people might think that a professional gamer also has a job that they might be going to or school, but a professional gamer is just that, they are professional in their craft in that they eat, sleep and drink video games, in this case competitive video games.

So, these individuals are very much like the sports athletes that you have today. You wake up. You have a regime of training. You are studying your opponents. You are watching tape of previous matches or the opponents that you might be facing. These folks take this job very seriously. And that's what it is. It is a job. And they're just very fortunate enough to be as good at these games as they are.

LU STOUT: There's growing money behind esports, growing professionalism. Let's talk about esports and television. We know recently ESPN has dabbled in broadcasting esports, much to the chagrin of many traditional sports fans and ESPN show hosts, they were against it.

But do you think it's just a matter of time before esports become televised on channels like ESPN?

GRAHAM: You know, as someone who has been involved with gaming on television before, and someone who has been involved with gaming and esports now, which takes place on the internet. You know, you're truly talking about a terrestrial audience versus a global audience. And I think when you think about it from that regard, we've got fans this weekend watching The International in China, in -- all over Southeast Asia, in Latin America, in Japan, all over Europe, in the United States. And this is something that can be experienced that way by all of these individuals because it's delivered via a global medium, it's delivered via online media.

And I think that because of the nature of competitive gaming and esports, they tend to be really long events. They tend to not necessarily take commercial breaks. There is a lot of non-traditional things that go into the production of one of these large events.

So, for me personally, I'm not sure that television is the way to go. Where I think that television is important for esports is that television offers the opportunity for it to become accepted in the mainstream.

LU STOUT: As you point out, esports is huge. I mean, hundreds of millions of people watch it, but to get fully mainstream, what else does it need?

GRAHAM: One of the reasons esports has grown so much over the last three years is because we have a delivery method for video content that has no boundaries. It doesn't matter where you live. It doesn't matter if you are a player in Pakistan who learns to play -- you can be discovered by a team, because now people from all around the world are watching individual players around the country.

I've been in esports for 15 years and we lived through an era of about six or seven years where only individual countries really competed against each other. So what the internet has done, and what online video has done, is it's allowed all of that to kind of come together.

Again, for me it comes down to esports is huge. Right now a lot of people are learning about it this weekend because there's an $18 million prize purse on the line. But more than anything, I think the people who loved esports already and continue to support it and see it grow, they just want other folks to accept that this is something that is real, it's here to stay and we hope that people take it seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:26:02] LU STOUT: Super Mario Brothers is one of the most iconic video games of all time. It's one of the first platform games to give players a world to explore from the open air, to the underground and even under water. It was released in Japan September of 1985 for Nintendo's Famicom, which would becomes NES in the United States.

Now, the gaming industry in the U.S. was recovering from a crash just two years earlier. And Super Mario Brothers and Nintendo sparked another video game boom and launched the industry's most successful franchise.

Now, Mario's adventures were not limited to running and jumping. Today, the Mario series includes cart racing, fighting games, even sports like tennis and golf, all-starring Nintendo's famous plumber.

Now, Mario was created by Shigeru Miyamoto. And its design owes everything to the technical limitations at the time.

He wears a hat because Miyamoto couldn't annimate hair. He has a mustache because there wasn't enough space to draw a mouth and he wears overalls so you can see his arms when he walked.

And 30 years on, this incredibly simple character has become a cultural phenomenon for the gaming industry.

And that's all for our special look back at the year in technology. I'm Kristie Lu Stout. In Hong Kong. And do stay with News Stream in 2016 as we keep our eye on the people and the companies building the future.

END

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