How software has changed the world (part I)

What if more of us decided to stand up and make our lines of code count?

It is hard for people to comprehend when I first tell them that I believe the world can be changed with lines of code. They immediately associate the current world with the current popular tech companies and how they seem to be sucking people’s productivity – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – how world-changing can these be?

I have experienced firsthand how Facebook and Twitter have changed the world, at least in my world. I strongly believed that the political landscape in Singapore has drastically shifted only because of social media. We all know by now how instrumental Twitter was in the Arab Spring. If an entire revolution powered by social media is not evidence enough that software can change the world, I don’t know what is.

Education is one of my favorite areas of possible change. Access to knowledge was previously limited to only the elite and the academics. These days, there are tons of things you can learn as long as you have internet access, for free. Khan Academy has revolutionized online learning, you can even get college credit online with Coursera. In Singapore a bunch of students from as young as 14 have come together to build openlectures. This is only possible because of the passion burning inside people who believe that knowledge should be freely accessed.

Someone simply decided that he is going to make youtube videos on seemingly complex educational subjects for free, that is why today, we have Khan Academy.

It only goes to show that tremendous progress can be made by one single person, with the right amount of purpose, passion and belief. We can’t make the excuse that “I can’t do this amazing thing because I can’t do it alone” because there are tons of examples of history being remade because of the impact of one person.

Software has now made this even much easier.

Non-profit online initiatives is another area where massive progress has been made. Thousands of entrepreneurs in emerging economies now have a chance to make something out of their lives because of the work Kiva has done. Previously if you were a hardware enthusiast having a crazy idea, it would probably have remained a crazy idea. Now, you have a great chance of making this crazy idea work with Kickstarter. Bono is fighting poverty — rather successfully, according to his statistics — with a digital campaign,

‘Since 2000, eight million AIDS patients have been receiving retroviral drugs; malaria deaths have been cut by 75%; child mortality rate of kids under 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths a day. “Let’s think about that,” he says. “Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is as remotely as important as that number? It’s great news, and it drives me nuts most people don’t know this.”’ – Bono, TED 2013

If you are fighting for a social cause, it used to be painful trying to raise funds by word of mouth. Then email made it much easier, paypal speeded up the process by a huge amount, and now, you have platforms like indiegogo which has cut it down into a 3-step process.

It used to be that if you were a coder back in the early days, you had to beg publishers to distribute your code. Writers getting published was like a game of roulette. You had a better chance of showing your art posthumously than alive. These barriers are all lowered or gone now. Only because some geeks decided to come together and make a difference.

What are you doing right now, to take advantage of the lowered barriers to entry?

There is still so much more that can be done. Those of us who work in tech hold so much power and promise, but we spend these resources working on projects that don’t seem to matter. We build farming games and make people pay for virtual coins. We try to clone the success of photo-sharing applications. We lure people into addictive behavior with software instead of trying to make their lives better.

What if, more of us decided to stand up like Salman Khan and make our lines of code count?