African sci-fi features all manner of weird and outlandish things, from crime-fighting robots to technological dystopias. But could they be closer to predicting the future than they realise?
As part of our special focus on innovation in Africa, we have developed a list of 40 remarkable African innovators. Actually, it’s more like 47 but we counted teams as one. Our decision to celebrate these idea creators and solution providers stems from our belief that the true wealth of Africa is not buried under its soil, but in the brains of its best minds. This list is a testament to that belief.
The Forces Of The Next 30 Years - SF author and Mefi's Own Charles Stross talks to students at Olin College about sci-fi, fiction, speculation, the limits of computation, thermodynamics, Moore's Law, the history of travel, employment, automation, free trade, demographics, the developing world, privacy, and climate change in trying to answer the question What Does The World Of 2043 Look Like? (Youtube 56:43)
When it comes to railways, the British are famous for their colonial legacy of one of the world's most extensive railway networks built across then British India but their lesser known and far grander vision was the Cape to Cairo railway network intended to stretch across the sea of colonial pink on the African continent. Left incomplete due to politics and geography, most of it is still almost as it was built in its day. [more inside]
In 2010, Obama will have a miserable year, NATO may lose in Afghanistan, the UK gets a regime change, China needs to chill, India's factories will overtake its farms, Europe risks becoming an irrelevant museum, the stimulus will need an exit strategy, the G20 will see a challenge from the "G2", African football will unite Korea, conflict over natural resources will grow, Sarkozy will be unloved and unrivalled, the kids will come together to solve the world's problems (because their elders are unable), technology will grow ever more ubiquitous, we'll all charge our phones via USB, MBAs will be uncool, the Space Shuttle will be put to rest, and Somalia will be the worst country in the world. And so the Tens begin.
The Economist: The World in 2010. [more inside]
The Economist: The World in 2010. [more inside]
Inveneo is a non-profit bringing technology to the developing world. They've got several projects going in Africa to connect, train, and equip villages but their latest push is an interesting one: The Thumb Drive Drive. In the era of $50 2Gb USB drives, many of us probably have discarded 16-128Mb drives sitting around. Send them to Inveneo and they'll get used in places where broadband isn't an option and quick storage is necessary.
The failure of biotech. "In June 1996, the University of California, Davis, began an unprecedented effort to help the West African nation of Mali, using the promising and controversial new tool of agricultural biotechnology... Eight years later, no help whatsoever has arrived... In the hopes that inspired the effort - and the missteps that stifled it - lies a drama larger than the sum of its parts, one that shows both the promise and pitfalls of the largest technological leap in American agriculture since the tractor: biotechnology." The start of a five-part series in the Sacramento Bee: long, but well worth it. (Via MonkeyFilter.)
Necessity Is the Mother of Invention. (NY Times, reg. req.) Amy Smith teaches MIT students about the politics of delivering technology to poor nations and the nitty-gritty of mechanical engineering and helped start the IDEAS competition; she herself designed (among other things) a screenless hammer mill suited to third-world conditions and using "materials available to a blacksmith in Senegal."
Smith's entire life is like one of her inventions, portable and off the grid. At 41, she has no kids, no car, no retirement plan and no desire for a Ph.D. Her official title: instructor. ''I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. Why would I spend six years to get a Ph.D. to be in the position I'm in now, but with a title after my name? M.I.T. loves that I'm doing this work. The support is there. So I don't worry.''...A rare optimistic story for these downbeat times.
Likewise, the inventors who most inspire her will never strike it rich. ''There are geniuses in Africa, but they're not getting the press,'' she says. She gushes about Mohammed Bah Abba, a Nigerian teacher who came up with the pot-within-a-pot system. With nothing more than a big terra-cotta bowl, a little pot, some sand and water, Abba created a refrigerator -- the rig uses evaporation rather than electricity to keep vegetables cool. Innovations that target the poorest of the poor don't have to be complicated to make a big difference. The best solution is sometimes the most obvious.
Before you get that cell phone check to see where the tantalum inside it comes from. You could be funding a civil war in the Congo.