Is tech changing the world for the better?

There are a number of starts ups across the world that are using technology for social good. The potential of the technological revolution to help us all lead better and more fulfilling lives is incredible. All too often we hear about technology being used in a bad way, for negative purposes. You’ve probably read articles about killer drones and weaponised technology, or heard stories about how people are becoming addicted to their phones. And while it may be true that there needs to be some regulation in place, there are other stories out there highlighting the potential positives of technological change. Here is a closer look at just a few of them.

ATLAN Space

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This Moroccan company is using drone technology and AI to identify and report environmental crimes in the seas off the coast. The system uses deep learning technology to verify if boats are allowed to be in certain parts of the ocean, identify their category and report on movements. With plastic in the oceans being a hot-button topic, this could be a game changer. With the knowledge that they are being watched from the skies, polluters are less likely to act with impunity and may take more responsibility for their actions on the water.

Oxford VR

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Virtual reality has many potential benefits beyond just gaming. Oxford VR, attached to the prestigious Oxford University, is trialling whether or not they can use VR to cure a fear of heights. People with fears are guided through a virtual 10-story building and set an increasingly difficult set of challenges to overcome. There was a reduced fear of heights in as many as 68% of cases. There is now hope that VR could be used to treat all sorts of other conditions and anxieties.

Spark Horizon

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This is a company building a network of charging points for electric cars around the continent. The car manufacturers are covering the costs of the project in exchange for advertising options at the charging stations. As we move towards a world that relies less on fossil fuels, this can only be a good thing.

Immersive Rehab

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People who have suffered injuries and accidents that affect their movement often face a real battle to get their lives back on track. It can take months and even years of rehab to get back to even partial fitness. The rehab process is gruelling.

That’s why Immersive Rehab have been working on a project to offer a more cohesive programme that allows people to work on their recovery as and when, without the need for specialists. Again, it uses virtual reality technology to make a difference.

This is just a small selection of businesses that have identified areas where it may be possible to use technology to improve the world around us. The potential is there, it just needs the right people to focus on these areas in order to create a better world. From drones keeping our seas clean to virtual reality physiotherapy, the possibilities of tech are endless.

How is fintech changing financial inclusion?

Financial technology, known as fintech for short, uses software and digital platforms to deliver financial services to customers. These new tools have been disrupting traditional banking models by creating more user-friendly and efficient services.

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What this has meant in practice is that fintech has opened up boundless financial potential for a huge range of people. Access to financial products and services is more attainable than ever before, with more affordable options making services more inclusive in every respect.

Lowering the cost of doing business has also resulted in much bigger savings for consumers. This, combined with a much more prevalent and affordable use of mobile technology, has opened doors to many people previously excluded from the world of finance. Here are just a few examples of how this has been possible.

 

Money transfers

Moving or sending money from one country to another used to involve a trip down to your bank, Western Union or an equivalent service provider. This would include paying a fairly hefty charge for their services. These days you can do exactly the same thing on your phone for a fraction of the cost. Moving money has never been more convenient or cost-effective.

With the introduction of blockchain in recent years, the international money transfer industry has been turned on its head. The old guard is facing fierce competition from new fintech organisations utilising blockchain to lower the cost of international money transfers. An excellent example is Cashaa, who are building a blockchain based bank in 200 countries providing micro-financing and helps to build your credit score for those in developing countries.  Even Santander are launching a blockchain based foreign exchange service.

 

Credit history

This can be a massive stumbling block for people trying to secure loans or mortgages. Lenders look at traditional data such as loan repayments to assess suitability. Now, technology has opened up a new world of data sources, such as mobile phone payment history, to provide a much clearer picture of credit history.

Kora Network is a blockchain solution that provides a system for individuals in developing nations to build their credit score through Kora’s immutable ledger technology (blockchain).  This, in turn, allows them to gain access to financial services such as loans and credit cards which they previously wouldn’t be able to access. A simple yet brilliant solution that economies and the existing financial solutions do not solve due to lack of profit margins.

 

Cashless payments

For merchants around the world, this has been a huge development. The simplicity and security of digital payments has expanded across the world, with payments now being possible on mobile phones as well as credit and debit cards.  Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are some of the most popular methods due to their amazing market share in the mobile industry.

 

Microfinance

Without the need for travel and mountains of paperwork, loan applications and banking services can now be carried out in seconds rather than hours. This makes it easier and more convenient for people in all corners of the globe, including remote locations, to become part of the online banking system. Businesses can access loans and digital banking solutions that make operations significantly easier.

 

Deferred payment plans

Rather than having to access large sums of cash to make payments, it is now possible in some instances to pay in instalments over time electronically. This has allowed businesses to bring technology and development to remote locations without the need for lump sums. Case studies have seen deferred payment bring electricity to African villages which would otherwise not have been able to afford it.

As fintech continues to develop, it will doubtless open up even more options for including more people from around the planet. This levelling of the playing field could have huge potential benefits for all of us. As always, blockchain technology is behind many of the major advances, with its distributed ledger system allowing more and more boundaries to be broken down and greater inclusiveness in all areas of the financial system.

Technology isn’t bad, or good?

These days there is a lot of talk about how technology is posing a huge threat to our safety and security. From weaponised drones to large-scale hacking, the fabric of society is at risk of a technological meltdown. It can be very scary reading about it in the papers, but in reality, technology has been a force for immense good.

Think about all the lifesaving operations that have taken place thanks to pioneering surgical tools. Think about how reassuring it is to be in contact with our loved ones through mobile phones and online chat services. These are just a couple of examples of the millions of ways that technology has enhanced our lives – and that’s not even counting the little things like electric toothbrushes.

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But what about in the area of social projects? Is technology a cause of harm or promoter of good? Things like social media have undoubtedly caused a great deal of misery, through online bullying, body shaming and mental health issues. But they have also brought people closer together, allowed the fostering of shared ideas across national borders and held governments to account.

Cryptocurrencies have infringed on the power held by established elites, such as the international banking institutions, creating the potential for a more democratised social framework. It has allowed business to flourish in otherwise hostile environments and points towards a future where the people, rather than the big corporations, control the power.

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Through this kind of technology, enormous social good can come about. Imagine the projects that can get off the ground with funding from crowdsourcing that would otherwise have been turned down at bank or state level. Think of the humanitarian aid that can be raised in a matter of minutes when a disaster happens somewhere in the world. And imagine a world where all transactions are transparent, waving goodbye to a world of clandestine corruption and underhand politics. This is the potential power of cryptocurrency technology. But it needs to be harnessed and managed in the correct way.

 

Technology can also localise design to help meet specific needs. It is not always the right answer to a problem to throw money at it. It is often better to ensure that the right technology can be used in the correct destination. Social media and mobile technology make this a reality, allowing local people to get access to the solutions they need at the right time.

Technology in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It is what we do with it that counts. We are the driving force behind the technology, so we have the responsibility to make the right choices. Some people might be designing weaponised drones, but others are using technology to force governments to pay more attention to their citizens or take down large corporations that are polluting the environment. This is the social good power of technology that we can really use in the coming years. Be part of that change.

Social Good Through Technology

There is a prevailing view that technology can be a source of great social harm. From the days of Luddites smashing Spinning Jennys in the cotton mills of the 18th century to present-day fears about the perils of social media for our younger generation, there is an idea that technological development is somehow damaging. But in reality, technology is overwhelmingly a force for good.

Just think about the incredible resource that is the internet. With global access to this hub of information, people can learn new skills, acquire knowledge, study and get qualifications, all through online platforms. Through crowdfunding, people can find monetary backing for all sorts of projects that would previously have been unattainable. And even marginalised populations are being granted access to resources they never thought possible.

Lifesaving technology in the form of healthcare, information technology and finance now have enormous reach, with more than five billion mobile phones on the planet giving huge numbers of people increased access to information.

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Developers have created apps that can help you learn languages, grow food and learn new skills. New ideas such as Blockchain allow people to transfer and store money online safely. On the whole, the internet has brought us closer together, with our shared experience allowing us to break down barriers and learn more about the world.

Of course, it is not all good. We have online bullying, data breaches and even a US president who threatens military intervention via Twitter, but the social good far outweighs the negatives aspects of technology. And the future is overwhelmingly positive too. Think about the benefits of 3D printing. Need a new piece of specialist medical equipment in a remote location? Then simply download the schematics and print it out.

Even big data, much in the news recently for its potential misuse, has enormous potential for doing good in the future. It can be utilised in areas like health, to spot trends emerging in public wellbeing, offering solutions to epidemics and more. And having access to information that they would never otherwise be able to collect, means scientist can use it for our collective benefit. With the right permissions in place, of course.

Then there is the positive side of social media, allowing people to organise protests and meet like-minded people, even in repressive states. The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been much lauded, and having a safe space online to share opinions and find out the truth beyond propaganda has enormous potential.

Of course, all this needs to be managed and monitored to protect individual freedoms. Information should be private and new issues such as ‘fake news’ need to be countered correctly. But on the whole, just like the industrial technology of the 18th and 19th century powering a revolution that created the modern world, today’s technology is what our future will be built upon. And more egalitarian education and sharing of knowledge can only be a good thing.