What the Tech? 12 Tech Terms to Know Now

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

Unlock the mysteries of the “cloud” and “IOT,” learn the difference between augmented and virtual realities and find out what “Merged Reality” means. These simple definitions will help boost your tech intelligence.

The pace of technology innovation is quickening at a rate that’s making it almost impossible for modern language dictionaries to keep up. New words and tech terms are born at the speed of silicon photonics (see below). Some wilt and become meaningless buzzwords, but many evolve into useful lingo for understanding the Digital Age.

“Every year, new technology terminology comes along and boggles the minds of everyday consumers,” said Ben Wood, Research VP at CCS Insight. “While most people can tune out the language overload, some terms go on to become a big part of our vernacular. It’s worthwhile learning those if you want to keep on top of the latest tech trends.”

Here is a list of tech vocab racing from obscurity into reality. In the same way all language evolves, these definitions will evolve as their collective use and new technologies progress.

Smart & Connected

Autonomous Car is interchangeable with “driverless car” and “self-driving car”. An autonomous car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. It can detect surroundings using a variety of technologies such as radar, LIDAR, GPS, odometry and computer vision. Autonomous cars require end-to-end capabilities from door lock to data center, including incredibly robust in-vehicle computing, 5G connectivity, human machine interface and a data center capable of supporting and analyzing unprecedented amounts of big data and memory-intensive machine learning models.


Big Data is the analysis of extremely large amounts of data to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.

A Cloud is network of servers that work together to process, store and retrieve information via the internet. It can run a variety of applications more efficiently and dependably than a single server can. Clouds can be public, allowing individuals or organizations to “rent” computing resources, or they can be private, owned by an individual organization for their exclusive use.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is where traditionally unconnected objects become “smart” via the ability to connect to the internet. Connected “things” include home thermostats, retail clothing trackers and internet-equipped cars. Once connected, these things have the potential to be remotely controlled and managed, and to generate data that can be analyzed and visualized to better understand their working condition and surrounding environment.


Silicon Photonics refers to optical devices made out of silicon that manipulate light (photons). They are capable of moving huge amounts of data at very high speeds, requiring extremely low power, over a thin optical fiber rather than more traditional copper cables. The technology moves data literally at the speed of light over long distances. Learn more here.

5G is the next evolution of wireless technology. It converges existing 2.5G, 3G, 4G, LTE and Wi-Fi, and is poised to transform the way people and digital things communicate and interact with the world.

Smart Machines

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is branch of computer science where machines can sense, learn, reason, act and adapt to the real world, amplifying human capabilities, automating tedious or dangerous tasks, and solving some of our most challenging societal problems.

Machine Learning (ML), a subset of AI, is when computers have the ability to accumulate and process huge amounts of data that enables them create mathematical algorithms, which allow computers to act or “think” without being explicitly directed to perform specific functions.

Deep Learning (DL), a subset of Machine Learning, uses neural network models to understand large amounts of data. Deep learning can accelerate processes like image recognition, natural language processing and other complex, data-driven tasks. For example, it’s the technology behind the facial recognition/tagging feature on social media and will be critical to enabling the autonomous driving experience.

Digital Variations of Reality


Augmented Reality (AR) is where a computer superimposes “enhancements” that overlay a user’s real-world environment – such as labeling the pipes in a power plant, showing a route for walking to get to the destination you want or capturing fictional characters in the real-world that aren’t actually there.


Virtual Reality (VR) is where a computer fully creates an environment that a person sees, usually through goggles or another Head-Mounted Display (HMD). Users can experience something like being on the moon, shooting asteroids in the middle of space or walking on the bottom of the ocean.

Mixed Reality is where digital and physical worlds collide, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.

Merged Reality describes the technology tools required to create new immersive experiences and digital representations of the physical world (see graphic).

At the Intel Developer Forum this week, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said, “Merged reality will profoundly impact the way we work, how we are entertained and how we communicate.” He announced Project Alloy, which will bring Merged Reality to a whole new level – with untethered headsets and capability to immerse into a virtual world.

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