5 most important tech advancements of 2015

My top picks for the tech that impressed me the most this year.

Microsoft targets Apple with Surface Book launch [2015]
Credit: Microsoft / Apple / Thinkstock

Technology has a way to creeping up on us and making a bold leap forward. In 2015, we witnessed the first legitimate effort to make cars drive autonomously, a few groundbreaking apps, and at least one hugely important milestone in virtual assistance. Here are my top picks of the year, in no particular order.

1. Tesla Autopilot

Say what you want about this software upgrade, which turns the Model S in an autonomous car (no, really -- it does), the automated pilot mode is groundbreaking for one reason: It is actually available right now. Sure, it costs $2,500 and takes all night to download. YouTubers have shown in can be dangerous. And, more than a few readers have complained to me directly that Autopilot is not nearly as autonomous as the Google car. OK, but can you buy the Google car? No.

2. Dropbox Paper

I’m including Paper not because it is so groundbreaking--it works about the same as Google Docs, although you can also collaborate on code snippets. To me, Paper is such a clean, user-friendly interface that I’m actually using it in my own writing. It’s also a sign of things to come from Dropbox, a company that wants to be more than just a place to store your files. The real reason I’m including it here? I’m always partial to a company that tries to reinvent itself.

3. Facebook M

Full disclosure here, I do not live in Silicon Valley so I haven’t been able to get my hands on Facebook M yet, the virtual assistant that uses a combination of AI and real people. However, I’ve seen several live demos and interviewed experts who do have access to M. It’s a major step forward for a few reasons. One is that there’s a robot behind the chat system that quickly hands off the conversation to real people, who can then order flowers for your spouse or find a parking spot at a convention. I’m hoping these assistants will eventually start answering my email.

4. Amazon Prime Now

Recently launched in the Minneapolis area, this advancement doesn’t fall into a neat category like a mobile app or a self-driving car. There’s a massive warehouse south of the Twin Cities, and you can order everything from a new Bluetooth keyboard to cheese and crackers for a football game and have it delivered in an hour. Amazon might not share too much about how they pulled it off, but it is groundbreaking -- and something I plan to use on a regular basis.

5. Microsoft Surface Book

I had to go to a Microsoft store to test this one out a few times around the launch, but anyone who tries out this laptop-tablet hybrid is always impressed. It’s a bit of a trifecta for Microsoft: It runs their popular operating system, works as either a tablet or a laptop, and has the unique distinction of being the best laptop I’ve used since the Google Chromebook Pixel 2015. The easily adjustable hinge and magnetically attached stylus are the big design wins.

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