We interrupt your regular programming with a post that is more than half serious.
2014 has been a weird year. For me personally its been OK but for the world at large (to exercise a classic Aussie idiom) its been a Barry Crocker shocker.
There seems to be a pervasive sense of doom. On reflection a sense of trepidation has been part of the back drop of our lives. In the 70s and 80s we all fretted about the Cold War, nuclear annihilation, petrol prices and the generally screwed state of the economy. As the decades progressed we came to dread the terrorist threat, climate change, petrol prices and the generally screwed state of the economy.
This year’s unfortunate tsunami of bad shite seems to have heightened the public’s foreboding. Its not only my perception. Its a sentiment that has been echoed through the blogo/FB/Twitter-sphere and even the mainstream media. Case in point – this recent discussion on ABC 702
Over the past few months we’ve seen the humanitarian disasters in Gaza, Iraq and Syria, famine in South Sudan, the ebola outbreak (yikes) in West Africa and the MH17 incident. The tragic passing of Robin Williams was like the cherry on top of this shitey layer cake. Then when we all thought things really couldn’t get any worse, Michelle Bridge’s 12WBT started up again. Batten the hatches – It’s Fit-ageddon on Facebook people! (Woooooo, Woooooo, Woooooo – facetious remark alert)
All of this has led me (and the folk at 702) to wonder whether the world is getting worse. I think the truth of the matter is that the world has always been pretty crappy. I mean – put up your hand if you would like to journey back 100 years to 1914 when that orgy of death, destruction and general mayhem known as World War 1 was just kicking off. No takers?
Yet despite all the horror in our past and our present you don’t have to look to far to see what is good, uplifting and downright amazing in our species. I am an optimist when it comes to humanity. People’s ingenuity blows my mind on a daily basis.
Human beings have
- Mapped what the universe looked like just after the big bang (I’m talking about the beginning of space/time not the TV comedy)
- Broken the atom down into its smallest components ( the same people hired Prof Brian Cox – double thumbs up)
- Sent a space craft beyond the solar system
- Come close to ridding the world of scourges such as small pox and polio and are progressively kicking malaria in the butt.
- Invented the Tim Tam and all the variations thereof.
Over the past month alone a few good news items have crossed my radar and they make my spirits soar.
A team at the University of Brussels is currently testing an exoskeleton that allows completely paralyzed people to walk using the power of thought. It sounds like science fiction but the team have developed a way to read an individual’s brain activity using and EEG cap and translate these electronic signals into commands for the robotic suit. The device needs to be streamlined but is closer to being market ready than alternative therapies. It has the potential to give millions of people their lives back.
Smart Contact Lenses
Google and pharmaceutical giant Novartis have teamed up to create a futuristic contact lense which can help diabetics. The smart lense constantly monitors glucose levels in their tear fluid and transmits the information wirelessly back to a mobile device. When this goes mainstream diabetics wont have to endure several invasive and inconvenient blood prick tests each day. Its a fantastic start but the smart lense has the potential to do much more. It is hoped that down the track the lense will be able to detect other illnesses – such as glaucoma and even cancer. Alternatively it is mooted as a method of drug delivery.
Moving into Sci-fi territory other research groups are looking into using the smart contact lense as a way of enhancing our natural vision. For instance to allow people to scan in on very small objects like a built in micro scope and to give us night vision. The Avengers may be out of a job if this keeps up.
The excitement which has been steadily building within the nerd herd will reach a crescendo this November when human kind is scheduled to land a craft on a comet for the first time. Whilst Bruce Willis made landing on a rogue asteroid look easy this has been a mammoth operation. The Rosetta probe was launched in 2004. It has traveled 6.4 billion kilometres (including 5 laps of the sun) to catch up with the comet. Currently Rosetta is about 100 km from its prey and will sneak up gradually before hitting pay dirt in November. The achievement of the engineering involved can not be under estimated. It is not so much as looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack rather than “finding a speck of dust in a big city.”*
There’s a very valid argument that we shouldn’t be spending so much on space exploration when there’s so many serious issues to tackle here on earth. Nevertheless the mind boogles and the heart leaps at just what humans can achieve. Surely a species that can do all of this can’t be completely without hope?
Do you feel the world is getting worse? Where do you look for inspiration?
* Gerhard Schwehm, scientist in a European project that launched a space probe that swung alongside a comet last week after a decade-long, 4 billion-mile chase (The Associated Press, Wednesday)