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The ABCs of 2012, Part I

Here are terms you should know if you want to show you're already plugged into the new year

Will 2012 be the year the electric car takes off? Image courtesy of Flickr user Dominic's Pics

Part II of the ABCs of 2012.

It’s customary this time of year to write paeans to the past 12 months and get all mushy about things you’d pretty much forgotten. But we don’t need that, right? We’re all forward-thinkers here, aren’t we?

So I’ve created an alphabetical list of things you’ll likely hear about more often in the months ahead. At the very least, you’ll have some new words to drop into conversations at the New Year’s Eve party to show how much you’re already plugged into next year.

Here you go, the ABC’s of 2012 (Part I):

Augmented reality: Sure, it’s been around awhile, dating back to when yellow ”first-down” lines were first overlaid on football fields for games on TV. But using apps to layer virtual information over a real-world environment—think reviews that pop up on your screen when you focus your phone on the restaurant–is about to go mainstream. Coming soon: Google Goggles, glasses which will give the person wearing them all kinds of info about what they’re looking at.

Biometrics: There are so many things besides your sparkling wit that make you who you are–your DNA, iris scans, voice patterns or facial features—and the science of using them to identify you is getting more and more James Bondian. Now IBM is predicting that within a few years, we won’t need passwords, even at the ATM.

Car-sharing: It looks like sharing things—particularly cars—is going to become as big a part of urban living as food trucks using Foursquare. Car-sharing companies, such as RelayRides and Getaround, connect people who need a car for a few hours to people willing to rent theirs. They’re operating in only a handful of U.S. cities right now, but just this month Getaround landed a $1.7 million federal grant to roll out in Portland, Oregon.

Digital assistants: Used to be that “personal digital assistants” referred to little handheld devices with calendars and phone directories to help you get your life organized. But voice-activated Siri on the iPhone 4S has given us a taste of what digital assistants of the future will do—adjust our calendars, read our email, archive our photos and documents and, above all, give us weather reports. Now it really is personal.

Electric cars: The truth is, there’s been nowhere near an electric car boom. So far Nissan has sold only 20,000 of its all-electric Leafs worldwide and Chevy fell short of its goal of selling 10,000 of its hybrid plug-in Volts this year. But Ford, Honda and Toyota all plan to launch electric vehicles in 2012 and Nissan announced this fall that, along with scientists at Kansai University in Japan, it had developed the technology to fully charge an electric car in only 10 minutes.

Foodspotting: This smartphone app that provides you with reviews and photos of specific restaurant meals before you order them has been downloaded more than a million times. And it may have finally come up with ways to make it a profitable business.

Gamification: Well, it doesn’t sound like much fun, but the whole point of “gamification” is to make everyday transactions feel like a game. So, more and more businesses, particularly retailers and restaurants, are starting to use the same sort of enticements that bring players back to games over and over—awards, badges, even leaderboards.

Higgs boson: Earlier this month scientists at CERN, an atom smasher in Switzerland, announced that they may have “glimpsed” something known as Higgs boson. Big deal, right? Actually, it’s a very big deal because it would explain how matter has mass, which is why it’s become known as the “God particle.” This has prompted much speculation that Higgs boson may finally be discovered in 2012.

Ice Cream Sandwich: I love them, too, but what’s so innovative about an ice cream sandwich? But this one’s not edible. It’s the new operating system for Android smartphones and tablets and it’s likely to make Google an even stronger player in the mobile market. Why ice cream sandwich? Simple. It follows previous Google operating systems Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread and Honeycomb. What, no Apple Pie?

Jawbone’s Up: Created by the same company that gave us Bluetooth headsets, it’s a wristband that tracks your sleeping and exercise habits. Unfortunately, within a month of its launch in November, Jawbone was already responding to complaints about performance issues. If the company can get the Up back on track, it should tap into one of the country’s hottest trends: Wearable tech that monitors how we’re treating our bodies.

Klout: This is a San Francisco company that has plunged into the dicey territory of trying to measure the actual influence people have on others on social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Klout actually hands out scores ranging from 100 if you’re seen to move the masses, to 1, if no one cares what you say. For all the shots Klout takes from its critics, companies seem to be paying attention to it.

LEDs: Some people still get feisty about wanting to hold on to their incandescent light bulbs, but face it, they are one of the more inefficient inventions ever—90 percent of their energy goes to producing heat, not light. The true 21st century light bulbs are LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which consume one-tenth the energy of incandescents, but can last at least 50 times longer. And scientists are finding all kinds of cool uses for LEDs, from producing lights that look like glowing sheets of paper to using LED lighting in the latest commercial airliners to help passengers fight jet lag.

Museum of Me: Earlier this year Intel came out with an mobile app that’s clearly in tune with the times. The Museum of Me takes all of the stuff you’ve posted on Facebook and turns it into a short video set in a museum. It’s been ripped as disturbingly narcissistic, but if nothing else, can make you realize that you really need to get out more.

Video Bonus: As some commenter said, we’ll be laughing at this demo video for Siri in 10 years.

Video Bonus Bonus: A little Siri humor to round out the year.

Part II of the ABCs of 2012.

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