I don't know anyone who is not eager to leave 2021 behind.
As "unprecedented" as 2020 was, it still opened with a few weeks of glorious uncertainty. Every minute of this past year passed under the dark cloud of COVID-19, and that shadow added a tint of gloom to nearly everything. Now as another year rolls around, we're all a little gunshy about expressing optimism and hope... even if we're lucky enough to still harbor some.
As I write this, it's already 2022 in most of the world. For both heartbreaking and heartwarming reasons, my household is now half the size it once was. But as I sit alone, listening to the rain outside completely fail to dampen my neighbors' pyromania, I choose to spend these closing moments of the year thinking about the good things that happened in the last twelve months.
I also can't resist the opportunity to suggest what's worth watching in 2022.
As enthusiastically as I follow the sci-tech and startup scene in Hawaii, I know there are dozens of industries and specialties that fly way above my head. I would never go as far as to say that these are the biggest or most important headlines of 2021. Just the ones that made me smile, or hope, or imagine a better future.
Quite frankly, I could have dedicated Hawaii Bulletin solely to Hawaii-based astronomy, and I would stillhave had enough stories to fill my editorial calendar. I did write about how Hawaii observatories defend the Earth against killer asteroids, and how the nation's top scientists agree that building the Thirty-Meter Telescope should be a priority. But so much more happened this year!
University of Hawaii astronomers discovered the nearest exoplanet yet, only 35 light years away (or 6,000 times farther than the Earth orbits the Sun). Hawaii also helped nail down the orbit of the most distant planetoid in our solar system, officially named 2018 AG37 but nicknamed "Farfarout," because it's further out than the last discovered planetoid, "Farout."
Five asteroids were named after UH astronomers this year, bringing the total number of UH-linked named space objects to more than 40.
The Keck Observatory on Maunakea helped discover the smallest known white dwarf in our galaxy. Also installed on Maunakea this year, a SETI instrument to expand the search for alien life. The James Webb Telescope that just launched? UH will be part of the first team to work on its first observations.
Considering Hawaii's relatively small population and economy, I think we're doing pretty good in the number and breadth of programs designed to foster entrepreneurship, launch startups, and promote innovation.
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Hawaii is one of the best places on Earth to develop and test new and better ways to generate energy. Clean, renewable energy. Isolated as we are, we don't just want to be more energy independent. We have to be.
While solar and wind power are well established, Hawaii's making important strides along less common avenues like ocean wave energy. (I guess we're still skittish about geothermal.) And in December alone, we've seen a $38 million renewable energy upgrade approved on Maui, and a utility-scale, 300-acre, 30-megawatt solar farm coming to Hawaii Island.
People laughed in 2015 when Hawaii said it wanted to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. But fewer people are counting us out today.
A few of other stories come to mind as high points of 2021:
Hawaii's COVID exposure notification app gains traction, as it turns out the pandemic wasn't over
A local company launched its own rideshare service, taking on giants Uber and Lyft.
Hawaii hosted a global esports tournament, even as most gamers count us out due to distance.
Hawaiians in Technology directory launches, documenting growing representation in the tech industry
Hawaii's cryptocurrency pilot program expands, although a 2022 deadline looms
Movers and Shakas hosted its first cohort, but delayed its second until next year, a controversial program that tries to tap the talents of remote workers to benefit local organizations
The last two years have proven that making predictions is a fool's errand. But there are topics that I'll be keeping a close eye on in 2022.
Cryptocurrency in Hawaii: The two-year DCIL pilot ends on June 30, 2022. There can be no extensions. Either Hawaii's legislature will act this upcoming session to loosen or at least streamline its financial regulatory regime, or Bitcoin and other digital currencies will effectively remain illegal in the state. (Which just puts these opportunities out of reach of people without the technical know-how to circumvent the law.)
Pandemic Pivot: We were told from the beginning that the pandemic could last years, but now we believe it. The only two ways out are (1.) universal adoption of reasonable requirements and restrictions and (2.) advances in technology that allow us to ignore it. Let's just say I don't expect human behavior to get any better next year. Maybe someone will invent an invisible, comfortable facemask? Until then, will Hawaii again lock down?
Critical cybersecurity: Humans aren't the only things under attack. Malicious hackers have now managed to disrupt the daily lives of average citizens. And given our isolation and shaky infrastructure, Hawaii seems especially vulnerable. Big investment, policy changes, and new ideas are needed.
Esports advancement: Maybe it's because I just participated in my first Twitch livestream today, but I'm more bullish on esports in Hawaii. It certainly looks like COVID is again going to require tournaments all around the world to remain remote. Why not Hawaii, again?
And, to be sure, we can expect a lot of good news in the energy space, from the astronomy community, and the broader innovation economy. I'm looking forward to what's next, and I'm hoping you'll join me as we explore these stories.
Header photo courtesy Anthony Nguyen/EyeEm via Getty Images.