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Idealog’s top 10 best least-read stories of 2017

As is the way with publishing, Idealog unleashed some top-notch stories on the world this year, as well as, admittedly, some not-so-great ones. But in between those two extremes sits the great-yet-not-well-read stories that didn’t reach as many eyeballs as they deserved to. So, in our reflection of the year that was, here’s 10 weird and wonderful stories that didn’t top the charts, but we think deserve a second look. 

Apocalyptic ponderings

Inspired by billionaires like Peter Thiel buying up boltholes in the South Island to protect themselves in the event of an apocalypse, Idealog decided to investigate whether New Zealand’s small island nation could actually keep Kiwis and the world’s elite safe if disaster were to strike.

Dr. Eric Crampton from the New Zealand Initiative set the record straight, asserting that the most isolated place in the world wouldn’t actually be the best place to be located in the face of an apocalypse.

He also estimated the chances of different types of disasters happening, including the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse. Thankfully, he said chances of the Walking Dead becoming real life were slim.

“I think New Zealand is in really good shape, except where the scenario involves space-rays bringing the dead everywhere back to life,” he said. “Otherwise, zombies can’t really get here except with really really long incubation periods where an airplane passenger could make it through, or where a ship with an infected person turns into a zombie ship that just runs aground here by accident.”

Spooky stories

While we’ve acknowledged all the good technology has done throughout the year, it’s also important (and fun) to explore the scary – or even deadly – implications of wielding it, which is why we enlisted the help of some friends of the Idealog family to pen some sci-fi stories for our tech issue. If you’re in the mood for some spooky holiday reading, look no further than the four stories in our Future is Clear series, which are about a chatbot gone rogue, a computer running for government, a mysterious space accident and a not-so-helpful AI device. If you’d rather not stare at a screen on your summer break, there’s also audiobook versions available.

A fashionable face mask saving lives

The Meo face mask was one of the New Zealand-born innovations this year that flew under the radar, but was a pretty awesome medical-meets-fashion design feat. Designer Karen Walker, whose sunglasses adorn the faces of celebrities the world over, lent her talents to a worthy cause by creating the designs featured on a stylish face mask called Meo, which is being exported overseas and worn in cities with poor air quality. The collaboration was done in partnership with Auckland-based Healthy Breath Ltd.

Ice cream meets AI

Giapo Grazioli often makes the news for his extravagant ice cream creations, but a discussion about technology revealed that he is an undercover futurist who believes an AI robot will one day take his job.

He said creativity, which he has in bucket-loads (as evidenced by his People’s Choice Award for Most Creative in hospitality), would be no advantage over bots.

“The problem is not creativity, the problem is execution with context. Look at how IBM Watson has made a cheesecake,” he says. “50 years from now, every single business will be impacted by AI. 100 percent. Even ours. Can you imagine the computational power of a computer with mind? It’s much bigger and faster, and it will be much better than what I can do with my brain.”

He also said he’d be open to having a robot work alongside his human staff, but pondered whether having an ice cream served to you by a robot would be creepy or cool.

Whatever the case, it shows that even the unexpected industries are ripe for disruption by tech, and prominent figures in the industry are starting to take notice.

The Ikea of boats

Owning a boat is an integral part of the Kiwi dream – after all, most of us live only a short drive away from a body of water that you can take one out on. However, they’re also a pretty expensive purchase.

The industry was ready for some fresh blood, so along came Tauranga-based boat design company Hallmarine Design.

Its Purekraft boats are flatpacked kitsets, a bit like IKEA furniture, which makes them far cheaper to ship around and easier to construct. The result was a 2017 Best Awards finalist and an innovative addition to an industry that was crying out for an exciting, new development.

Hologram helmets

Another Kiwi innovation that didn’t garner as much attention as it should’ve was Reyedr.

Have you seen an action movie where someone’s riding a motorbike while also looking at a HUD-display in their helmet? Well, New Zealand start-up called Reyedr made it a reality.

The Reyedr HUD retrofits into the motorcyclist’s helmet and display the user’s information like how fast the motorcycle is going, navigation, and more. It runs on a smartphone app to provide a rider with key information about the bike, route and ride group, also offers provides the ability to alert emergency services in the event of an accident, using tech to make a notoriously dangerous pastime that much safer.

Malcolm Gladwell weighs in on Nu Zulund

Earlier this year, Idealog was lucky enough to have a chat with the man behind many a New York Times bestseller and the Revisionist History podcast, Malcom Gladwell, about what’s disruptive and innovative and what’s not. Touch screens? Not so much. VR and AR? Not particularly exciting. But he also had good news for our small island nation that loves being acknowledged by foreigners: Being small and nimble, we can be successful if we set our minds to it and have the infrastructure to do so.

Feminism and gaming collide

Gaming, like the wider tech industry, isn’t exactly a sector that’s known for its diversity, which is why it’s great to know there’s companies in New Zealand like Dunedin-based Runaway, a women-led games studio. It’s abiding by ethos around inclusiveness, diversity and making the sector more welcoming to both genders. Idealog had a chat to managing director Zoe Hobson and creative director Emma Johansson about their vision for the company, their experimenting with AR and VR and how to encourage women to get involved in this area of tech. (Also – the chat is available in podcast format for your lazy summer leisure).

The art of projection

Forget flat canvases – clever artists and photographers are experimenting with projection technology and using large-scale walls, buildings or even natural phenomenon as their backdrops, and the results are beautiful.

Earlier this year, we had a chat to three different New Zealand artists in our Art of Project series to find out how they make the intersection of technology work seamlessly, despite all the awkward angles and corners they have to work around.

Our guide to innovative assassinations

We wouldn’t be fulfilling our editorial duties if we didn’t cover innovation happening across various sectors, the assassination sector included (though it's admittedly a niche audience).

Amid news that North Korea's Kim Jong Un had his half-brother killed at an airport earlier this year, we took a look at some of the most innovative assassination techniques ever devised and the results were both hilarious and alarming (think exploding chocolate, poisoned tea and self-sinking boats). Going into 2018, this list provides perfect inspiration fodder for plotting how to take out your business nemesis.

Also worthy of a mention: Our guide to living forever, us doing our PR bit for the pipes in the world that have been unfairly maligned by naming the world’s best pipes, and our guide to weird Valentine’s Day innovations to get you prepped in time for February.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).