Read more BBC News than TechCrunch? Step into 2014 with 5 must knows
Don’t know your Kickstarters from your Khan Academies? Still paying in £/€/$ not bitcoins? Haven't moved from 3D to 4D printing? This guide gives you a quick explanation of five revolutions shaping our world today. Kickstarter
[Think crowd funding, entrepreneurialism, start up, creative projects]
If you’ve ever heard someone say “if all of my Facebook friends put in a quid, I could…” then you’ve heard of crowd funding. Kickstarter is a website that presents the online world with creative project ideas. If the world likes them, everyone chips in a bit (from £/€/$1 to £/€/$1000+ if you wish) to make those projects happen.
Your money is a gift, not a traditional investment; in fact, it is sits nicely between the two. You are choosing to give to a creative project not some other cause like your caffeine addiction, Pret or down the back of the sofa. In so doing, you help someone to make something new in the world and get to choose a personalised thank you from the project you helped to support. In some cases, you can get involved in design, testing and direction.
It helps start ups. And, just yesterday, Kickstarter won best overall start up at tech awards Crunchies.
[Think cryptocurrency, electronic payment system, decentralisation, emerging technology]
The word “bit” has been reclaimed and recycled as a measure of information. So a bitcoin? It’s a new currency based on information. Numbers. Industriously mined out of finite mathematical space by thousands if not millions of programmers online, on standard and specially created computers.
Satoshi Nakamoto created the currency in 2009. Since then over 10 million bitcoins have been made of the total 21 million. Its raison d’être is monetary independence from government authorities and control by banks: a move away from the promise to exchange value for your note/coin to using a coin which has its value wired in.
[Think mars colonies, Elon Musk, commercialisation of space, sustainable travel]
Buzz Aldrin and his generation dreamed of colonies on mars and all they got was Facebook. Elon Musk – co-founder of PayPal, CEO of Tesla electric motors and, now, SpaceX – dreamed of colonies on mars and he’s making it happen.
Set up in just 2002, SpaceX is an anomaly because space travel is usually the dominion of national government. Yet, here it is: the first private company to win a contract to refuel the International Space Station. Just imagine the steps you'd have to take to get from not winning a contract with NASA (easy – that’s every waking moment for most of us) to winning and delivering on that contract. This is just phase one, of many, to land and set up colonies on mars. By the year 3000? No, by the mid-2020s.
SpaceX pioneers multiple-use rockets. Why is this important? Imagine if bikes, cars, buses or planes were only used once before being discarded; the cost of commuting would be somewhat higher. By rethinking the rocket, Musk’s new design has already more than halved the cost of a rocket. His costs $54 million; NASA’s equivalent is $133 million. However, even two uses of such a rocket immediately halves it again. If Musk is successful, multi-planetary human existence could return as a dream and become reality.
[Think online education, student teacher ratios, child and adult learning]
Khan Academy provides free online learning. This is amazing and useful in itself. But there's a bigger idea at its core which can help educators and students alike.
During a school lesson, a teacher has to allow for 30 potential speeds of learning. There may be questions, those too lost/shy to ask and those, bored, who want to steam ahead. At home, each student completes (or doesn’t) the same homework exercises and the teacher marks them at later stage. That's a tricky 30:1 ratio to manage. How does Salman Khan help? He's simply switched the lesson and homework around.
The lesson is treated like a lecture. Pre-record it. Give it to students to watch as homework. Individually each student can stop and start, scrubbing back to cover areas not yet understood. Where accessible, students learn at home at their own pace. Collectively returning to the classroom, the students complete their “homework” with heads down. The teacher goes to each student as questions arise: now, 30:1 ratio becomes a 1:1 learning experience. All mark together.
Salman Khan, the Academy’s eponymous founder, amplifies the impact of classroom education with his revolutionary thinking.
[Think self-assembly, normal sized stuff mimicking nano technology, time]
You’ve heard of 3D printing: the additive (adding rather than cutting or drilling away) manufacturing process. It's been around since the 1980s but has come into its own this decade through viable machine costs and demand from the medical and military industries. Well, 4D goes one better.
When someone mentions a fourth dimension, and your mind boggles, check first whether that new dimension is in fact time. That’s what’s going on here.
A guy called Skylar Tibbits engineers 2D geometric objects to self-construct into 3D objects at the right moment in time (the fourth dimension). Self-assembly could be triggered by any energy: heat, gravity, shaking, electricity or, say, enzymes. The objects could self-assemble, grow or disassemble adjusting to their environment.
The use? Anything, anywhere. Think of the fixed infrastructure around us. Roads, wires, buildings. Pipes are made to a certain specification with no real ability to respond to demand. Currently, if requirement changes, the whole system is ripped out and we start from scratch. Pipes, infrastructure, toys, furniture even buildings could start self-assembling around us at the right time, without intervention.
We should all know about about these things because they are no longer obscure ideas; they are part of today’s fabric. Keep on top of revolutions in user thinking; we live in a world which might leap unrecognisably ahead of us if we don't keep up.
Which is your favourite of the above amazing ideas? Which other incredible movements are changing the world, yet remain little understood by most?