One of the most beautiful things of the Internet is that it can bring people together to do something good for their fellow human beings or to collaborate and share their knowledge. The Open Source movement is about voluntarily working together and (mainly) creating software of which the source code can be accessed and changed by anyone. The Mozilla Firefox browser is a prominent example of this, or the Linux operating system.
And since there are millions of programmers out there, some of them use it to build amazing things. Mick Ebeling, who founded the 'Not Impossible Foundation', was sad to see that the San Francisco graffiti artist TEMPT got a nerve disease that made him completely paralyzed, unable to do anything than blink with the eyes.
It took hours for him to communicate, only by someone going through the alphabet and TEMPT blinking the eyes letter by letter, to build a sentence. The machine which Stephen Hawking uses to communicate is very expensive, and only few people can afford it. Encouraged to help TEMPT, Ebeling invited hackers from all around the world into his home, where they created the Eyewriter, a pair of sunglasses that tracks eye movement and enabled TEMPT to do art again, and to actually communicate with people. The best: the eyewriter is open source, relatively cheap and can be built by anyone with some skills in electrical engineering.
Watch this heart-warming TED talk here:
A young computer geek named Johnny Lee used a simple Nintendo Wii Remote, which costs around $20, to build a head tracking device and transform an ordinary computer or TV screen into a 3D display, long before 3D TVs hit the market. With the same hardware he also built a low-cost interactive whiteboard setup, which can be done with any ordinary screen or projector. Both open source, of course. The software for the whiteboard has been downloaded millions of times shortly after release, and apparently has been used by schoolteachers in developing countries, to be able to use an interactive whiteboard without having to spend thousands of dollars on one.
One device that has facilitated great global change was the Arduino microprocessor board. It is basically a tiny, and cheap computer which is easy to program and very versatile. People are building all kinds of things with it: a prosthetic device which enabled a disabled kid to play with a Playstation, another group built hundreds of DIY Geiger counters to measure the radiation in Japan after Fukushima, other people are building drones. Kids are programming robots that play soccer, the first 3D printers were built with an arduino board, and others made a glove that has a motion sensor and reads sign language, to instantly translate it into written language and shows it on a little display. The possibilities are endless, and in many cases, groups of people around the world are working together, improving each other's work and collaborating to build something great.
Watch the TED talk here:
In 2013, a young dutch man invented a device to clean up the oceans from the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a sort of floating 'island' of plastic trash in the middle of the ocean, about the size of the state Texas. For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch). He works together with a team of volunteers from around the world, and will hopefully succeed in a task which seems almost impossible to tackle.
Never before in the history of mankind was it possible to share knowledge and ideas with such an amount of people, and experts in their field. I believe that humans have an inbuilt wish to contribute, help, and facilitate positive change. These two factors are a good combination to find solutions for our most urging problems.