Bill Gates 2013 Annual Letter

Bill Gates is certainly one of the persons I admire the most. After all, he’s some sort of superhero with a lot of brain and money. In this interview with Stephen Colbert, he discusses his annual letter in regards to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The conversations touches down on topics like polio eradication, information technology and the decline in childhood deaths worldwide.

Also, for the fanboys, he talks a little bit about Steve Jobs.

Anyway. You know? Something that has always bothered me is the fact that everyone remembers Steve Jobs for his innovative product ideas and how he turned Apple into something cool. And then, here’s Uncle Bill doing all sorts of amazing stuff, and apparently he has nowhere near that coolness factor. Well, all that this tells me is that, sadly, saving the world is not that cool.

Oh, but does it matter? Honestly, Uncle Bill doesn’t seem to care. So, you know what I think would certainly be really-really cool? If we all aspired to be a little bit more him.

(Oh, also, go read Bill’s Annual Letter if you haven’t yet: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/)

OK. If you watched the video above, now you know that Keepon’s got the moves and hopefully I have your interest and attention. I want to tell you about how this little robot is working hard to make the world a more beautiful place and how we should all do just as well, so please stay with me through the next paragraphs. 

Small, spongy and yellow, Keepon was partially developed in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Being unable to speak but perfectly capable of tilting, swinging and bouncing like no one else, it was designed with the purpose of broadening the investigation of body language and how it can impact the field of HCI.

Interestingly enough, Keepon’s abilities proved to be much more transcendental than that. Soon, it was discovered that the small robot was able to “transform lives”, because it was astoundingly capable of interacting with children with neural development disorders, such as autism. For those who don’t know much about it, autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication; there is no actual cure for it, but it can be treated with therapy (although results vary considerably between patients).

And suddenly, there’s Keeponso adorable and with its moves so suave. It quickly proved to be the perfect middleman between the child and the therapist. If you are having a hard time visualizing it, take a look at this video:
 

Now, look at the little, autistic girl and how she’s smiling and how happy she looks. Isn’t this beautiful? And excuse me, but if this doesn’t warm your heart, you have the sensibility of an ice chunk.

Nowadays, a trending topic in the media is the idea that technology is alienating people. Computers, smartphones, social networks—the hypothesis says that all those things are absorbing us and pushing us away from the people around us. Is that true? Well, I can’t really tell. However, I believe that our job is to do exactly the opposite. I’m now talking to my fellow engineer readers: our job, as innovators and world-changers, is to transform lives through technology for the better. I mean, just look at Keepon! Picture this: if Keepon can help that little girl overcome her autism and start making new friends, wouldn’t that be simply amazing? Wouldn’t you go to bed that night and sleep peacefully and satisfied? Wouldn’t you wake up next morning wondering how you can contribute to this kind of initiatives?

I can keep on going (see what I did there?) and write about this for hours, but I’ll save that for future conversations. I had the chance to meet one of Keepon’s developers, Marek Michalowski, while I was studying at CMU. He was enthusiastic about his work and had a very passionate perspective about how engineering can affect the world in many positive ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

If you’re interested to learn more about Keepon and how it makes the world a better place, check out the following links:

Tweenbots are 10-inch tall robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians. Rolling at a constant speed and in a straight line, Tweenbots have their destination written down on a flag that they carry around with them. Struggling to survive in the precarious city and relying solely on human kindness, they must put their faith on the random passersby they meet to read this flag and aim the little robots in the right direction so that they can reach their final goal.

Kacie Kinzer, the mind behind the project, describes one of the first experiments involving her Tweenbots:

I walked out to Washington Square Park on a sunny summer day, placed my first Tweenbot on the sidewalk, and walked away. … Every time a Tweenbot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”

The Tweenbot’s unexpected presence in the city created an unfolding narrative that speaks to the power of a simple technological object to create a complex network powered by human intelligence and asynchronous interactions. The journey the Tweenbots take each time they are released in the city becomes a story of people’s willingness to engage with a creature that mirrors human characteristics of vulnerability, of being lost, and of having intention without the means of achieving its goal alone. As each encounter with an empathetic pedestrian takes a Tweenbot one step closer to reaching its destination, the significance of our random discoveries and individual actions accumulates into a story about a vast space made small by an even smaller robot.

The Tweenbots are now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This is certainly a beautiful lesson about empathy and the things that define human-likeness, such as being in danger, lost and looking for help and company.