It took me 20 hours to travel to Texas for SXSW, including having to check-in twice even though I hadn't left the airport. When I arrived, Sony teleported me to Machu Picchu in seconds. I stood in a box, jumped and landed in Peru. And not one aggressive customs officer in sight.
The experience is actually a high-definition projector that sits so close to the wall it can map a 360° image without shadows. There may have been no condors flying overhead, but it certainly gave me an appreciation for the beauty of the Andes. 360° video, virtual reality, mixed reality; these technologies are taking us all over the world, and into new ones.
NASA is using data from their rovers to make 3D reconstructions of Mars that allow scientists to do field work in virtual reality. The same technology is also being used to send elderly people in care homes into space. Now even the solar system is within the reach of everyone.
Technology is bringing people closer together, but how connected are we really? By the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution and conflict. During 2010-11, Asia and the Pacific saw more than 42 million people lose their homes due to extreme weather events. By 2050, another 15 million people in Bangladesh alone could be on the move because of climate change. We can teach a car to drive itself, but what are we doing to help solve a global humanitarian crisis?
There are many people dedicated to helping, but finding a way to co-ordinate charities, government bodies, and the refugees themselves, through united global systems, is a huge challenge. Many refugees are highly skilled and utilising this talent will not only be of great value to the humanitarian effort, but it will also help to give the displaced back their identities.
Techfugees is one social enterprise mobilising the international tech community. From individual specialists to large government bodies, to the refugees themselves, they are facilitating collaboration through conferences, workshops and hackathons around the world. By forming new partnerships that breach industries and sectors, skilled and talented individuals are coming together to explore how technology can help solve real global issues.
The Cancer Moonshot is an initiative set up by Joe Biden, 47th Vice President of the United States. The Moonshot Task Force brings together, amongst others, The Department of Energy, NASA and Amazon to accelerate cancer research. Together they have built a database that empowers patients and medical professionals with an easy way to share their research, exchange advice and offer hope.
"We have reached a new inflection point, scientists across all disciplines are working together...by aggregating and sharing data we find new patterns...Together we can end cancer," said Biden as this year's SXSW festival.
Virtual reality is opening up new ways for us to collaborate. It's already possible for avatars to interact in virtual space. Niantic Labs, the company behind Pokémon Go, is using Augmented Reality to reclaim real-world public spaces. Much like PokéStops have been bringing new audiences to art installations, museums and monuments, the aim is to use this technology to bring people together, and put public life back at the heart of policy making.
"The answer to all questions is in our collective experience," said Cory Richards, National Geographic's Explorer of the Year. He used Snapchat to give the world a real-time insight into his ascent of Everest, capturing a less polished but perhaps more truthful portrait of what climbing to the top of the world actually looks like. This type of technological window into someone else's life will not only help us to share knowledge, but importantly to develop our power of empathy.
As politicians fight to keep us apart, there are whole communities working to bring us closer together. We're developing technology that encourages collaboration as well as connection. The world is getting smaller and we should all look inside ourselves and ask how we can apply our own passion and talent for united social change?
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