Our Ultimate Technological Challenge

// beware: this article is really important for me, but might bore you to death. To make it worse, I will mention Justin Bieber down there.

Our world seems to be in a complete mess these days. A few dozen of grown-up people chasing a ball on a grass field get much more attention than news from war zones on East. Students know more about personal life of Rihanna than about genocide in Rwanda in 1994. And amount of money wasted by Facebook on Instagram is equivalent to total funding of SpaceX company since it's creation till May 2012 (world's first privately held company to send a cargo to the International Space Station).

Yes, (mass murder < pop singer) && (cute photos == space flight).

Given ever accelerating speed of changes, such disparities and problems are only to going to get stronger.

Personally I don't give a damn about musical taste of rich countries, but when kids are dying from starvation and malaria in Africa - this is just not right. This is not the world I was promised back in soviet school and definitely not the world I would want to pass to my own children. Version of Matt Harding is better.

When something does not go as it supposed, you give it your best shot to straighten things out. So, what can we change? Most importantly, how it can be changed?

Let's start with the simple assumption. In order to make things right, we need to change how entire nations think and act: both rich nations with abundance of resources and poor ones. That's the very thing that Gustave Le Bon called "soul of the nation". It was supposed to be extremely hard to alter, nearly impossible. Fortunately, things improved a little bit since then.

As it turns out, it can take as little as a clever excuse and a staged act to change one nation. For example, this was vividly demonstrated on Easter Sunday Parade of 1929 in New York. Edward Louis Bernays was doing a mission for tabacco companies which were upset by loosing huge potential profits to a superstition that women should not smoke cigarettes.

Edward (who later became known as "father of public relations") simply combined ideas of Wilfred Trotter and Gustave Le Bon (with a few other sources of inspiration, including his famous uncle) and simply hired a few girls to start smoking torches of freedom as a protest against sex taboos. Of course, he also tipped local reporters about upcoming feminist protest and hired photographers to make sure, that good and plausible pictures are available. Faster than you know it, the entire USA fell for this act and started discussing. Needless to say, that tobacco companies were happy with the sales in the next years.

"Tools" used in this change only improved since then: we've got internet, social networks and massive spread of smartphones and plain cellphones. These are the things that actually made it possible for the recent revolts in North Africa to take place (if you know Pieter Hintjens, the guy behind ZeroMQ project, check out his guide to Digital revolution), and they keep improving over the exponential curve. If you should know one thing about exponential curves - that's the kind of thing that helped Chernobyl Disaster to happen (in addition to flaw in the design of control rods).

So these days civilization has an enormous potential available at finger-tips of anybody who has access to the internet: starting from limitless power of cloud computing and up to world-wide penetration of mass media, cell phones (and their smarter brothers). Couple this with herd instincts baked into our DNA by thousands of years of evolution, and you have outstanding things taking place: the good, the bad and Justin Bieber.

Combining digital and social resources can have an outstanding effect even in constrained situation. A couple of years ago, I played a small role in helping a few kids to start a social project to support orphans. It wasn't that easy, but MyDreamCity went worldwide and is still running. At the heart of the process was simple enthusiasm supported by some basic IT infrastructure. Take this to a higher scale, and you can probably have a shot in improving a nation.

I'm thinking about two directions that can be exploited: education and efficient use of resources. The former - to make a positive change at the most vulnerable point of any society - kids; the latter - to actually provide some real foundation for these changes to stand upon (money is the blood of our society, as we've learned well by living through the crumbling Soviet Union).

Fortunately, I'm working at a place, where we study optimization of resource consumption at all levels - from high-level organizations and going down to the level of individual households. Plus, there is some limited experience at teaching at my own university, coupled with a little bit of community work in the development field. This is not enough to make a real change right now, but enough to give unsettling feeling that something can really be done to improve the situation.

So, imagine for a second that you have the ability to reach every human being in this world (including these kids in Somali and Zimbabwe), provide inspiration, support, answers to any common question and access to all knowledge of humanity. Don't worry about computing resources and don't worry that much about money. Technology can easily provide all that, especially today and tomorrow.

The question and ultimate technological challenge is: What could be done with all this in order to improve our world within the next 10-20 years?

- by .