5 ways technology made the world a better place in 2013

techs gifts world since last christmas eve robohand makerbot 3d printed prosthetics

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

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. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Gaming

The history of Battle Royale: From mod to worldwide phenomenon

Battle royale games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds’ and Fortnite have become the biggest trend in video games. The genre is also pushing the envelope in streaming and eSports in a way that might hint at the future of the industry.
Smart Home

These activists are hacking housing problems in NYC using apps and data

There are 1.2 million people living in "deficient" housing in New York City and now these coders are making easy-to-use, intuitive apps designed to give tenants a fighting chance against unscrupulous landlords.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

What is Terrarium TV? Here’s everything you need to know

Terrarium TV offered a way to watch movies & TV for free, but now after a troubled existence, the app's developer has shut it down, and offered an ominous message to users on his way out.
Mobile

Smartphone makers are vomiting a torrent of new phones, and we’re sick of it

Smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, LG, Sony, and Motorola are releasing far too many similar phones. The update cycle has accelerated, but more choice is not always a good thing.
Opinion

Do we even need 5G at all?

Faster phones, easier access to on-demand video, simpler networking -- on the surface, 5G sounds like a dream. So why is it more of a nightmare?
Home Theater

The Apple AirPods 2 needed to come out today. Here are four reasons why

Apple announced numerous new products at its October 30 event, a lineup that included a new iPad Pro, a MacBook Air, as well as a new Mac Mini. Here are four reasons we wish a new set of AirPods were on that list.
Computing

Razer’s most basic Blade 15 is the one most gamers should buy

Razer's Blade 15 is an awesome laptop for both gamers, streamers, professionals, and anyone else needing serious go in a slim profile, but its price is out of reach for many games. The new Blade 15 Base solves that problem with few…
Gaming

Going to hell, again. The Switch makes 'Diablo 3' feel brand-new

I've played every version of Diablo 3 released since 2012, racking up hundreds of hours in the process. Six years later, I'm playing it yet again on Nintendo Switch. Somehow, it still feels fresh.
Gaming

‘Fallout 76’ may have online multiplayer but it’s still a desolate wasteland

"Is Fallout 76 an MMO?" That depends on who you ask. Critics and players often cite its online multiplayer capabilities as a reason it qualifies. Yet calling the game an MMO only confuses matters, and takes away from what could make…
Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.
Opinion

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?
Gaming

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.
Gaming

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.