Top 10 Things in 2014 that made me optimistic for the future

In 2014, we witnessed many tragic events, from Ebola deaths to the attacks on schools in Nigeria and Pakistan, but there were also glimmers of hope for the future. Some of the events that spelled the most promise for the future were the following:
  1. Medical 3D-printing – With the breakthroughs in the use of 3D-printing for medical purposes, the potential for breakthroughs in healthcare is huge, and could radically lower healthcare costs over time.
  2. Rosetta’s Philae comet landing – The landing of the small Philae probe on its moving target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was a nice step forward for space exploration, and gave us some much needed hope in terms of how we can start to explore space again.
  3. Big data silver lining in Ebola outbreak – With all the terrible news coming out of the Ebola-affected countries, it was nice to see at least a little bit of silver lining from this outbreak – a number of organizations were able to use big data from e.g. mobiles to help map the outbreak. This kind of use case will hopefully help stem future outbreaks.
  4. VR Tech – After decades of false promises, the advent this year of Oculus Rift and Magic Leap seems to suggest that we are finally seeing breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality. Having tested the first version of Oculus Rift, it’s easy to see why Mark Zuckerberg was so excited about non-gaming uses of Oculus for all kinds of purposes, from social interactions, to travel and medicine.
  5. Modi – The election of Narendra Modi this year has potentially the highest multiplier effect of any elected politician. Given the enormous population of India and the large percentage of them that live in extreme poverty, if Modi can change their lives just with a sliver, the resulting effect would be the largest upgrade of human quality of living since the early days of China’s rise under Deng Xiaoping.
  6. Climate deals – Recently emboldened President Obama’s climate deal with China, and the global deal that it facilitated are reasons to cheer. They are not enough, but it is still a huge step forward for the world to have a global deal in place. Although it is not enough to prevent temperature rises that will affect millions of people, the fact that there is a framework in place gives me hope that it can be built upon, and have measures added to it, both for climate change prevention, and climate change reversal.
  7. Google’s self-driving cars – With the success of Google’s experiments with autonomous vehicles, and those of other car manufacturers joining the fray, such as Sweden’s Volvo, a future where we can read books while being driven to our location of choice seems just a matter of time.
  8. Tesla – The huge success of Tesla this year gives me hope that electric cars can become mainstream, they just need the right branding and performance. Hopefully the new battery factory can help spread the revolution.
  9. Disruptive technology in the universe of atoms as well as bits – For most of the digital revolution, disruption has happened in the universe of bits only, i.e. it has been only digital functions that have seen change. Now, however, we are increasingly seeing the application of data in real life, changing the functions of analogue, tangible functions. For example, Waze is revolutionizing how we navigate traffic, based on vast amounts of data and payments are becoming digitized with Bitcoin and Apple Pay. This will change our lives to an even greater degree than the bits disruptions.
  10. Sleep Science – More and more studies from sleep scientists are coming out that show that the circadian rhythms of most people would be better suited for a workday that starts and ends later. I don’t expect to see a change soon, but these kinds of recommendations, long seen as mumbo jumbo, are finally getting  some traction. Perhaps we can all soon sleep in just a little bit longer, which would add tremendously to our cumulative world happiness.

Internet for the 9 billion

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The announcement yesterday that Facebook and a consortium of tech companies have set up internet.org to bring Internet to the whole world’s population is interesting. As I discussed in an earlier post, Facebook has for some time introduced various initiatives aimed at bringing Facebook to more people. This is obviously a necessary goal for them given that they already have almost half of the world’s Internet users (1.2bn out of 2.7bn), and they have to continue to show growth from somewhere. And, as mentioned, many users in developing countries who are new to the Internet consider Facebook to be Internet, which is not a bad position to be in (if the day would come, I don’t think Facebook would make the Kleenex/Xerox complaint of saying that their brand has become synonymous with the generic product!)

However, the internet.org initiative is definitely laudable, as it aims to make the access to Internet a human right, as it should be. In today’s world, not having access to the Internet is perhaps not yet as debilitating for a young person as not having access to education or shelter, but it’s definitely a direction we’re moving in. Providing Internet access as aid can be important for sustainable development, as mentioned in the UN.

English: Internet Penetration (% Population). ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

There are a number of initiatives aimed at increasing connectivity to the Internet for rural and remote areas. The BRCK is a very exciting and innovative product that aims to solve the problem of spotty connectivity in rural areas. Support it on Kickstarter here. This article by Ethan Zuckermann in Wired discusses the BRCK in more detail. As discussed in an earlier post, Google X’s Project Loon is of course also a great initiative in this vein.

The growth of Internet access in the world is currently just under 9%, which is impressive, even if it used to be higher, and hopefully will be with this latest batch of innovations. Since the growth rate of the world’s population is 1.1% and slowly declining, technically the day of Internet access for all could come in less than 15 years. Of course, this won’t happen due to all the factors complicating reaching the remaining 4 billion (not to mention the 2 billion that will be added between now and 2050), but here’s to hoping that it can be done.

Experiments in low-budget IQ and knowledge hacking

Somewhat inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual challenge (although I can never commit to just one), this year I’m doing a low-budget experiment in IQ hacking. Since Dave Asprey’s $20,000 EEG neurofeedback machine seems a bit expensive (although cool), I’m doing this the simpler way, with just doing Lumosity training every day for a year, to see if that has any effects. Will do regular standardized IQ measurements and see if it has any measurable effects.

Another wonderful learning/knowledge hacking tool, which is sure to also have a positive effect on the brain and mental state, is Memrise, where you can learn a number of topics using cognitively adapted and gamified methods. The app just came out, highly recommended.