Author: Josh Keegan, Owner and Director
NOTE: This article has since been updated to include developments from Facebook and OneWeb.
Internet access for everyone is something a number of large scale technology companies are actively looking to provide for the other 4.3 billion people on the planet who currently do not have it (Source: Wikipedia).
Facebook is making great strides in this direction using drones to provide access to the Internet and have successfully tested the first internet delivery drone (Source: Wired). Google is on the same path with it's Project Loon, providing access to the Internet using high altitude balloons (Source: Google). Not completely hedging all of their bets on just a singular technology, Google has also teamed with SpaceX to deliver Low Earth Orbit (LEO) micro-satellite network to connect the other portion of the world (Source: Wikipedia).
On the other side of the coin, the reverse appears to have happened where Virgin Galactic has teamed with One.Web to add 648 of micro-satellites to LEO again to connect the remaining portion of Internet-less planet (Source: One.Web). Recently, it received a $1.2 billion investment by Softbank putting the constellation one step closer to reality.
Whether or not the each company will restrict the Internet to their own unique version remains to be seen. By this I mean, will there be walled gardens, where the user is limited to the individual providers?
Whilst there is debate about the ethics of each company and their overall intentions, one particular aspect has been missed (but well advertised by at least one provider): what will happen when people currently without the Internet do once they have it?
Regardless of provider, going from no Internet to complete unadulterated Internet access will change the world and the way we look at the third world. Bill Gates has detailed this in a number of posts regarding how it will change local economies and the way in which business is done, particularly how Africa will be prosperous by 2030 (Source: Futurology).
What excites me the most is the potential of the new class of hidden genius, possibly unaware, the sum of all human knowledge will be available at their fingertips, readily accessible and full of potential. I personally believe it will be these people, driven by circumstance and the place in which they are born, where the daily struggle to survive, let alone live, will drive us in unexpected directions. Businesses will be created the likes of which should not succeed. Academics will come forward, thrust into our world because of the shear genius they possess.
To know what is coming, I have looked back on the past and noted what is happening right now.
The first example I would like to draw on is Srinivasa Ramanujan. Srinivasa Ramanujan was born into a humble life in India in 1887, surviving childhood disease to become one of the world's greatest mathematicians. It was at the age of 11, after exhausting the knowledge of two college students staying at his home, he was lent a book by S L Loney on advanced trigonometry. By the time he was 13, he had mastered this, whilst discovering sophisticated theorems of his own.
It was the book which changed Srinivasa Ramanujan's life, leading to a placement at Cambridge (Source: Wikipedia)
The second example I will use, is also the picture used at the beginning of this article - the story of William Kamkwamba. Born into relative poverty, a crippling famine caused William to drop out of school as his family could not afford to pay the tuition fee. In an attempt to retain his education, William frequently visited the school library, where he found his love of electronics setting up a small business repairing the village's radios. After reading the book "Using Energy" he made a functioning windmill, which gained him recognition after local farmers and journalists investigated the spinning device.
It was the library and ultimately one book which changed William Kamkwamba's life leading to international fame (Source: Wikipedia).
Lastly, I will use the example of Google, where the power of the world's most famous search engine was able to be used to assist a potato farmer by the name of Zack Matere. Little is known about Zack, apart from what is presented in the short YouTube video, but it was the power of using the internet, which in a small way changed his life from not understanding why his crop was failing to one of knowledge and the power, changing the health of his crop and ultimately the outcome (Source: YouTube).
From the examples given above, it is these people who will voice their opinion, who will invent, think their way out of their own condition and because of their hard life and upbringing, will not be lost in the crowd, who will dig their heals in and won't accept no for an answer, who will change the people around them and work determinedly in their own local space until we hear them.
It is up to us to listen, but also to prepare and put steps in place now on how best to assist them and help change our world.