The year has got off to a good start. In the same week that Toyota unveiled plans for an IT infrastructure to support a global fleet of connected cars, ISIS showcased its latest driverless car bomb and North Korea set off an earthquake inducing Hydrogen bomb. Three events guaranteed to give the population the willies.
Toyota is looking for partners to help create services for all these connected cards. One of the apps already developed will automatically summon the emergency services as soon as your air bag is triggered. It could be triggered by a crash with an ISIS automated car, which appears to be programmed with duct tape wrapped around the steering wheel and a brick on the accelerator pedal. Airbags might also be set off by Kim Jong Un’s H bomb which, it turns out, won’t be strong enough to shift tectonic plates, but it might set off some car alarms, says Nick Booth.
Those last two developments might seem disturbing, but as it’s the new year lets concentrate on the positives. At least the people involved are trying to push the boundaries of possibility. Success can only boost their self esteem. I like to think that if they get any good at automation, they might have the confidence to try something constructive if they catch up.
That seems to be the way the technology industry is evolving. First big data was used to invade our space and bombard us with adverts. Now it’s being used to interpret human dynamics and see how people can be helped, according Alex Pentland, a data scientist at MIT. Of all the positive contributions that technology makes now, many are a product of how the telecoms industry uses data.
If you are ever doing a presentation on the Internet of Things (IoT), I recommend you head for the HumanProgress web site, because it’s full of inspiring facts and figures that tell the tale of how mobile technology is saving the planet and its residents.
The World Bank says that 75% of people on the planet have access to a mobile phone of one kind or another, with more than 6 billion mobile subscriptions active today (an increase from a billion in 2000). But 5 billion of those subscriptions are in developing countries and mobile banking system like M-Pesa were instrumental in bringing millions of individuals into active involvement developing markets. Those millions of micro-economies have contributed to a massive macro-economic effect.
In 1990, 43% of people in developing countries lived on $1 a day or less at 1990 prices. Today, the proportion in the third world has fallen to 21%. The number of people living in extreme poverty – now defined as being on $1.90 a day – is now less than 10% of the entire world, according to The World Bank. What achieved this miracle? The mobile telephone.
By reducing communication costs, farmers and those in rural areas can respond more quickly to natural disasters, conflicts and disease outbreaks. Farmers can readily get information about when to plant and harvest their crops, so yields are up, they’re richer and more people get fed.
The number of malnutrition cases has fallen from 19% to 11% since 1990. Overall, more food is produced from a smaller acreage than ever before.
Technology and prosperity no longer have to equate to living in big bad dirty cities. The air and water are cleaner in London and Lusaka. Satellite images show that green spaces on the world’s surface have grown by 14% over the past 30 years.
Big data analyses of mobile records have helped to identify patterns of disease outbreaks and automated a response. So fatalities have fallen. Polio has been eradicated from Africa, and it’s a matter of time before it is removed from its last refuge, the wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Measles too, is going the way of small pox.
There were fewer terrorist deaths in 2015 than in 2010, and the decline in violent deaths is even more marked. Globally, the number of people dying violently has fallen by six percent since the beginning of the century, says the UN.
We journalists tend to elevate bad news because that’s what sells in mainstream media. But, whisper it, there is a strong undercurrent of good news and machines are harmonising that positive spirit.
The author of this blog is freelance IT and communications writer Nick Booth
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