This has been a rough year in the world of tech. BlackBerry all but jumped off a bridge. Microsoft now owns Nokia, which is only a good thing if you’re a masochist. Reddit wrongly blamed a missing kid for blowing up Boston. The US government’s largest tech project ever, Healthcare.gov, made millions of Americans want to toss their laptops out a 10th story window. A slew of studies showing that tech is turning us into lonely, narcissistic zombies. And, to top it all off, the NSA is using our Internet and phones to spy on the entire world. Ugh.
So the end of 2013 couldn’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned. But this is Christmas Eve, a day to forget the world’s pangs of sadness and focus on the brighter side of life – and tech. Fortunately, if you dig just beneath the surface layer of grime, a magical rainbow world of awesomeness glows forth. Here are some of the ways technology made the world a bit brighter in 2013.
Leo the Homeless Coder
The store of Leo the Homeless Coder (aka, Journeyman) is, straight up, the most feel-good tech story of 2013. Late this summer, software developer Patrick McConlogue decide to introduce himself to a young homeless man he passed by on his way to work each day. He then offered the man a proposal: $100 on the spot, or coding lessons.
The man, now known around the world by his name, Leo Grand, took the latter option. And earlier this month, he released his first app for iOS and Android. Called Trees for Cars, the app helps drivers and riders organize carpools. Helping someone who’s down on their luck gain a valuable skill and create something that’s good for the environment? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Drones in support of humanity
Drone. It’s a bad word that sends shivers down the spine of, well, pretty much everyone. But a rising tide of forward-thinkers have begun to explore the ways in which these flying robots (of doom) can be a force of good for humanity. We caught a glimpse of this earlier this year, when one enterprising company used small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to map the emergency flood zones in Colorado. Others believe drones will be used to monitor human rights abuses in embattled regions like Syria. Scientists see drones as the perfect tool for collecting crucial data about our planet. And still others see drones as a way to deliver aid to impoverished, nearly inaccessible communities.
So, while we fret about getting our Amazon packages delivered by robots, the wisest among us are looking at this technology as an amazing way to improve life for countless people and animals the world over. That’s what technology is all about.
In 2012, 3D printing was thought of as a novel idea with a lot of potential but few practical uses in the short-term. This year, that all changed thanks to the growing of art of 3D-printed prosthetics. The technology has allowed for the creation of custom-crafted pieces, from legs to faces to working eyeballs. But the most poignant example of how 3D printing has changed the prosthetics market arrived in November, when Paul McCarthy printed out a prosthetic hand for his 5-year-old son, Leon, based on instructions he found on the Internet. Take that, olden times!
Google Fiber has wowed tech-savvy Americans for two reasons: First, it’s super fast – 1 gigabyte-per-second download speeds, which is about 100 times faster than the average home connection in the US. Second, it’s fairly priced at just $70 for high-speed Internet. One of the offered plans is free. And all of this has forced local and regional cable monopolies to start competing again.
Only problem is, Google Fiber is still available in just two cities so far (with another, Austin, TX, on the way). Which is why an increasing number of communities around the country are taking matters into their own hands by launching so-called “municipal broadband” networks. By treating Internet connections like electricity or water, this system allows everyone in the community access to high-speed Internet relatively cheaply, even if the cable companies don’t want to invest in their area.
Municipal broadband still has a long way to go – especially with cable companies spending truckloads of money to pass laws that stop them in their tracks. But it’s our best bet for escaping the wrath and headaches of corporate-owned Internet service.
Hyperloop and thinking big
Say what you will about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea – for me, it’s the thought that counts. Even if the Hyperloop never becomes a reality, I am pleased to see that we as a society are thinking big again. And the Hyperloop, unveiled in August, is one of the best examples of how we’re doing that. Of course, we could also add SpaceX and even Tesla, two of Musk’s other projects, to the list, as well as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism venture. But that might be getting carried away on a hoverboard to the future.
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