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The Top Tech Stories of 2021

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Key Takeaways

Artificial intelligence is powering many medical innovations targeting COVID-19, including vaccines, tests, and treatments.Zoom and other video services are booming as the world goes remote under pandemic lockdown.Gamers who have more spare time with other entertainment options shut down can turn to powerful new consoles and exciting titles launched this year. La Bicicleta Vermella / Getty Images

There's no part of the world that hasn't been changed by the coronavirus pandemic, and the tech world is no different. No surprise, then, that most of our top 10 stories for this year have to do with the virus.

AI Powers Coronavirus Research

Artificial intelligence has long been touted as the answer to all of life's problems, but this year, the technology hit its stride as the engine behind many medical innovations targeting COVID-19. Scientists are using AI to process vast quantities of information to find coronavirus vaccines or treatments and improve diagnoses. Apps powered by AI could detect coronavirus infections utilizing the sound of speaking or coughing.

We All Live on Zoom Now

Before the terrible year that was 2020, videoconferencing was a geeky business tool. Now, of course, everything from school to work meetings to birthdays take place on Zoom and its competitors. Criminals are being prosecuted on video. There's even Zoom fatigue.

Streaming Gets Even Bigger

Netflix, AppleTV+, Disney+, the list goes on and on. With millions stuck at home, streaming entertainment is skyrocketing, yet employment in the movie industry is still down. Next year, some movies will even come out on streaming services at the same time they're released in theaters.

Alistair Berg / Getty Images 

Gamers Hunker Down During Pandemic

There's never been a better time to be a gamer or a game developer than during the pandemic. Sales are up and new consoles from Sony and Microsoft are hitting shelves, even if some of them are being stolen before they get to people. A vast array of exciting new games was released this year ranging from The Last of Us: Part II to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. 

VR Goes Mainstream

Virtual reality was a distant promise for decades, but when goggles arrived for mainstream use in recent years the reality was kind of "meh." Video wasn't that sharp and its uses were limited. Enter 2020, when great new headsets arrived and everyone needed an escape. Theater companies are also hopping onto the virtual bandwagon now that live performances are shut down. Businesses are even experimenting with holding meetings in virtual spaces. 

Everyone's Reading Ebooks

What's better than curling up with a good book? How about snuggling up with a book that isn't covered in lethal COVID-19? It's true that you're unlikely to get the virus from touching a surface, but there's absolutely no risk involved when you download an ebook and don't even have to leave your home. Sales of digital books are through the roof, too. 

Uber Goes off the Road

If 2019 was the year that the term "Uber" was firmly established as a verb, then 2020 was when the company hit the brakes. Maybe it's because people are staying home a lot more, but the company is reporting steep declines in revenue. Also, don't expect to hail a flying taxi anytime soon.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Airbnb Beats the Odds

When the pandemic hit, everyone counted the home-for-rent site Airbnb out of the game. After all, with travel curtailed, there would be no reason for travelers to stay in their properties, right? Oh, so wrong. It turns out that a lot of people needed staycations during and between lockdowns. Airbnb hit $100 billion this week in its first day of trading. 

Government Attacks Big Tech 

Zuck is on the defensive. Governments seem to think that his globe-spanning multibillion-dollar company is a monopoly. It's not good when your company is facing an international tsunami of lawsuits. Also, Apple, Google, and Amazon may be too big for some legislators' tastes.

Apple Defies Global Recession 

The pandemic may have created economic disaster around the world, but you wouldn't know that from looking at Apple's new $549 Airpods Max. The wireless cans were just unveiled, but they're already back-ordered until March. Also making news was the well-reviewed $1,099 iPhone 12 Pro Max, and for the less wealthy, the $399 iPhone SE is renewing people's love of all things small. 

It's been a wild year both for technology and the rest of the world. Here's hoping that 2021 will bring tech great stories that don't have anything to do with epidemiology.