Skip to main content

5 ways technology made the world a better place in 2013

techs gifts world since last christmas eve robohand makerbot 3d printed prosthetics
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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,, 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

Leo the Homeless CoderThe 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

Drones in support of humanityDrone. 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. 

3D-printed prosthetics

3D-printed prostheticsIn 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!

Community broadband

Community broadbandGoogle 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

Hyperloop and thinking bigSay 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. 

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Couts
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Features Editor for Digital Trends, Andrew Couts covers a wide swath of consumer technology topics, with particular focus on…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more