Software is saving the planet
December 19, 2011 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm learning how to write scalable "enterprise-grade" software solutions, e.g. on the so-called "cloud." I've been programming for a couple decades, so this is not a stretch. Software is eating the world anyway, so I'm going to use software to save the world. Please help me cast a wide net.

I realize "save the world" is ethnocentric and imperialist. Work with me here.

It's never been possible before in history for one person (or a small group of people) to have such a large impact, on such a large group of people, so quickly and cheaply.

Who are writers who've spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the biggest problems facing humanity (think global) in the next few decades, from a USA-centric perspective (act local)?

I'm looking at lobbying, geopolitical influence, healthcare, guaranteed basic income, national politics, energy policy, welfare reform, education, global trade, foreign policy, and more.

I'm currently exploring,,,,, What am I missing?

I'm scared about humanity's future. I'm scared about a corrupt USA government, I'm scared about our relationship with the rest of the world, I'm frustrated about the suffering and dying happening in my city and all over the planet. I'm scared about increased population, diminishing resources, global warming, and geopolitical tension.

I'm annoyed by my own naivete: I don't know what I should actually be concerned about, in terms of quality of life for myself and the people I care about for the next several decades (bury gold in my backyard? ha.), and my responsibility to my country, and my responsibility to all of humanity, and my responsibility to this planet.

I'm interested in "empirical deep explanations" and surprising observations, like "countries that trade a lot don't go to war," "if you educate women then female circumcision stops," "democratic countries don't go to war with each other" (supposedly), and "poor people will be the first casualties of global warming." I understand that forcing democracy on other countries and foreign aid have a lot of problems. Tell me about that. I'm also interested in how software can be used to aid and coordinate tech innovation in natural energy, etc.

Careful research on a global scale is of interest to me, too. Where is that kind of research happening? What organizations collect data about the planet? The World Health Organization. Others?

So who is doing amazing things, and how can software and computers be used better to do amazing things? Please help me jumpstart my research on where to put a stake in the ground. Help me cut through the noise and bullshit and posturing. What really matters? Deep problems; not symptoms. People, organizations, books, websites, and links, please!

My ideal is post-scarcity.
posted by zeek321 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Long now?
posted by iamabot at 4:07 PM on December 19, 2011

This question is pretty much all over the map but when I am pondering "big picture things", these are some of the sites I look at for ideas:

The Economist's World In 2012.


HPlus Magazine.

The Long Now.

Foreign Policy.

There are many more such resources like this, but as I say, your question is all over the place. If you want to have an impact in the world, it is best to become an expert in one area and not a generalist in many.
posted by dfriedman at 4:21 PM on December 19, 2011

Start writing not for the 'cloud' but for the cloud of smart phones. Write something that will be useful for communities that can afford a room and a phone, no car, no office, maybe a bike. An app that is useful for the billions of folk in India and Africa that have a rather different sense of infrastructure.
posted by sammyo at 4:26 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Open Source Farm Equipment.
posted by dfriedman at 4:35 PM on December 19, 2011

I've given a lot of thought to these same things. Software also happens to be my skill set. And the unsatisfying conclusion is usually this: The most effective use of my time would be to get a well-paying moonlighting gig and donate the money to well-managed charities.

Most of these problems you mention need social solutions. Technology can help (non-profits always need web sites), but it's not the solution. Even for something like Kiva, the technology side of it is easy compared with the social obstacles.

Here's one idea I've been mulling over that would be an interesting challenge for someone interested in cloud computing: Software to help coordinate uprisings like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. This is a difficult design challenge: Needs to be decentralized, encrypted, and provide maximum anonymity. Right now, things like Twitter and Facebook are used, but it's very easy for a hostile government to pull the plug on them or snoop on their records to determine protester identity.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:11 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

the cloud of smart phones

Andreesen says the same thing in the FPP's 1st link, but I don't see how that can happen unless we get a cure for presbyopia. Or do you think that the under-40 crowd can save the world by itself?
posted by spasm at 6:12 PM on December 19, 2011

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