What Was the Biggest Surprise of 2014?

As we close out the year, we at Xconomy have been asking our network of sources and informal advisors (the Xconomists) a series of questions. An obvious but telling one was to inquire about the biggest surprise of 2014, from their point of view.

We’ve been posting their answers on a variety of topics as we go.

A common theme, from a select group of writers on the “surprise” question, was to take a global view of things (they are all based in the U.S.). Here’s a sampling of their responses.

Mary Walshok, UC San Diego’s associate vice chancellor of public programs: Our surprise as Americans about Europeans’ privacy concerns vis-à-vis Google, the recent Sony debacle, the wide sympathy for Snowden… the continued ahistorical, ethnocentric, and at times arrogant world view we American innovators bring to technology and global markets even though the U.S. commands less market share. Technology and its uses are filtered through culture and human experience, which varies from place to place. We need more “global cultural literacy” in all technology development sectors including medicine.

Kate Mitchell, Managing Director, Scale Venture Partners:
Not just how big Alibaba is—we knew that—but how good!

Jan Davis, retired software CEO and active board member:
The biggest surprise this year was the re-emergence of Russia as a global “bad guy.” After two decades of increasing integration with the West, Vladimir Putin decided to blow up the bridges for the sake of Russian glory. The annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine led to sanctions from the West. As the sanctions bite, the ruble has tumbled, inflation has increased, and investors pull out. Now, with oil prices down by 40 percent, Russia has an even bigger problem. What all of this may mean for the tech community is opportunity in cyber security. I fully expect to see Russian state-sponsored hacking to join Chinese state-sponsored hacking as another way to attack our businesses and governments.

[Editor’s note: To tap the wisdom of our distinguished group of Xconomists, we asked a few of them to answer this question heading into 2015: “What was the biggest surprise of 2014?” You can see other questions and answers here.]

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