Programming a Better Reality

And harnessing the power of good

With Oculus as a sponsor at my last Hackathon, many teams were busy creating mystical virtual reality worlds with the goal of impressing the public and more importantly, Oculus .

However, the virtual reality that captivated both the sponsors and the public was not the one filled with fire breathing dragons or poker playing camels, but the plain reality occupied with only simple moving boxes. Motivated by their own personal afflictions, the team had created a program to detect early signs of ADHD in kids by tracking the eye movements of the user based on the boxes.

In the room full of magical realms, the one that shined the brightest only wanted to make our own reality better.

As programmers, we all half heartedly joke about creating the next Flappy Bird and cashing out. However, the old frantic tapping games seem to have been replaced by something no one could have predicted — walking outside.

Even if you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably still heard about Niantic’s Pokemon Go. Actually, you’ve probably had a Pikachu or two already spawn in your cave as well. Pokemon Go’s design paradigm of exercise as a reward has been immensely successful in helping swarms of people incorporate a healthier life style.

It has created a cultural phenomenon encouraging young people to explore and engage with their communities. We’re seeing animal shelters teaming up with users to walk dogs and creating a huge increase in volunteers. The national parks have also experienced a massive uptake in visitors after the launch of the game — something the park system has been struggling to work on for years. Local businesses have seen increased profits and community engagement by being a part of the game.

While some attribute the game as a fad, no one can deny its immense social impact through the simple design of getting users to go outside. Imagine incorporating the same principal to combat the obesity epidemic, encouraging volunteering, onsite education, and more.

Google’s motto, “Do the right thing” should be something all programmers should consider. After all, while programs continue to get flashier and technology continues to get more cutting edge, the ones that design for good always seem to float to the top and create lasting legacies.