Recently Google flew me to Canberra for the launch of Google’s book, Australia’s Innovation Generation: Start with Code. I am honoured to share the pages of the book with some amazing people, like Marita Cheng of 2Mar Robotics. Marita started the not-for-profit organisation Robogals in 2008 to get girls interested in Technology and Engineering. When she graduated from Uni, Marita started a tech company making robotic arms for people with disabilities. I met her at the launch, where she demoed the latest prototype of Jeva, her robot arm. Jeva is controlled with an iPhone app that uses a series of different kinds of gestures to move the arm.
Marita says she saw “engineering as a way to help people that was more efficient.” Later on in the same evening, Associate Professor James Curran of Sydney University started a revolution in my head when he said “If you want to help one person at a time, sure, go be a doctor. But if you want to help millions of people, go be a computer scientist!”
That’s it. Right there. That’s the crux of CS. We have this popular culture image, still, of Computer Scientists doing nothing but gaming all day. At best, we see them creating facebook in a basement and making billions of dollars, but not necessarily as people we’d like to be – except, perhaps, for the billions of dollars part.
And yet Computer Science as a discipline is crucial to finding solutions to the world’s big problems. To finding the Higgs Boson. To predicting Climate Change, and simulating ways of tackling it. To developing the Bionic Eye. To finding clean energy solutions. To developing vaccines and curing cancers. To analyzing the data from the Square Kilometre Array and the Large Hadron Collider. And to smaller, more personal problems like connecting astronauts on the International Space Station with their families and, indeed, the whole world. To sending photos of your children to relatives and friends overseas. To reading your email on the bus, or checking the radar for storms before you ride home.
Technology is changing our world. 30 years ago we were waiting for the day when we would all have video phones, and we imagined them as big boxes in our lounge rooms. Now we have video phones in our pockets, in computers far more powerful than the ones that filled huge rooms in Bletchley Park during World War II, cracking codes and helping to win the war.
Technology is saving our lives, with MRI scans to detect the early signs of nervous system disorders, and vaccines developed for new pandemics within days of them being identified. With early warning systems for the spread of Bush fires and the mega-storms associated with Climate Change. With self-driving cars that will slash the road toll. With emergency beacons that will never again allow another plane to disappear without trace. With apps like the one written by 14 year old Viney Kumar, also profiled in the book, that alert drivers to emergency vehicles in the vicinity, allowing them to clear the road and let ambulances, fire engines, and police through faster.
If you want to save lives, to improve the lives of disabled people, to alleviate poverty, or to change the world, Technology needs you, and you need Technology.