Have you ever experienced a ‘dehumanizing’ technology? One that somehow makes it harder for you to interact with others and get things done? While that may be just a matter of perspective, the folks over at Big Think wanted to celebrate the organizations, technologies and startups that actually support the human experience. Together with Bing, they launched a blog series and virtual expo called ‘Humanizing Technology‘ that showcases the most inspirational and innovative achievements of those trying to explore what it means to be human.
The initiative culminated this past weekend with an expo in New York City called For Humankind, an exhibit of technologies that seamlessly integrate into our lives, enable self-betterment and creativity, and generally amplify the best of human nature. Below are the exhibits we gravitated towards:
Hux Design: The Together Project
Inspired by his experience of looking for real interpersonal connections in midst of a deeply alienating digital lifestyle, Hux Design CEO Marc Mertens launched The Together Project to bring together students across the globe with virtual one-on-one mentoring. Learning from the failure of the ‘One Laptop Per Child’ program, The Together Project doesn’t just dump technology on kids and expect improvements. During the prototype program it used the simple ISLATE tablet (seen above) to create a personal relationships between US high schoolers, volunteers from 826LA (a literacy organization in Los Angeles, part of 826 National) and students in rural India over two years. The project relies on people’s personal commitment to helping others for one hour a week, which Mertens said has been easy with the rewarding cultural exchange that occurs while mentoring someone just recently given internet access on the other side of the world. The Together Project is currently working on rolling out to an entire school district and later developing an online public interface for virtual mentoring.
Uncharted Play: Soccket
The Soccket is a soccer ball that generates electricity- 30 minutes of play can generate enough power for 3 hours of light. This simple, brilliant idea comes from the founders Uncharted Play, who have addressed the global energy crisis by inserting a functionally identical, but repurposed, product into an already existing and popular activity. No change in play behavior is required, people just go out and have fun playing soccer as usual, then take the Soccket home for hours of electric light where they normally would have none. It is not only an eco-friendly power source, but the light it produces could help millions without electricity work after dark. Uncharted Play is working on additional appliances for the Soccket beyond lighting, such as mobile phone chargers and water purifiers.
The Not Impossible Foundation: EyeWriter
Inspired by creatives like graffiti artist Tony “Tempt” Quan who have lost the ability to express themselves, the good folks at The Not Impossible Foundation (TNIF) created a low-cost set of eye-tracking glasses using open source software to help the paralyzed communicate and draw using their eyes. Current products that perform similar tasks are generally large, heavy and expensive, limiting their use to a fortunate few with amazing health insurance. TNIF’s eye-tracking glasses by contrast are lightweight, inexpensive, portable and designed specifically to make art and communication possible for all who need it. The EyeWriter prototype was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of 2010.
Other technologies on display included a sensor that overlies normal screens to make them multi-gesture and touch enabled, and a more efficient ‘photobioreactor‘ tank that creates algae biomass feed to create new fuels.
While not all the exhibitions were as oriented towards ‘human good’ as the ones covered here (two were consumer analysis and customization systems using the Kinect), Big Think and Bing put together a great show of truly remarkable technologies that inspire them day-to-day. Expect big things from these featured developers!