When the world ends, zip ties and duct tape will save you [#IntelISEF]


Technology is advancing at an unstoppable pace, but what if we started thinking more about how tech and innovation can further humanity and build people up rather than just commerce?

This is the idea Mick Ebeling and his company Not Impossible are pursuing. Speaking to the audience at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), Ebeling discussed the idea of technology being used to enhance the world.

Technology for the sake of humanity

“I want to talk to you about two things,” he said to the audience of some 1 300 students from over 70 countries competing in the renowned science fair. “Firstly, the concept of technology for the sake of humanity. Everything we do is for the sake of humanity and pushing humanity forward. The second concept is help one, help everyone. Then when we are done, we publish it open source and give it away.”

Ebeling stumbled on to this notion through a graffiti artist named Tempt, who lost all his motor skills due to the neurological degenerative disease ALS. Ebeling and his team decided to build Tempt a way to communicate via the Eyewriter. That was in 2010…

Ebeling sees Tempt’s story and his ability to now communicate with his family and the world as a success in the face of what was once thought of as impossible.

“Basically if the world comes to an end you want zip ties and duct tape, that’s how we built the first version of the Eyewriter.”

The simplicity of how it was all achieved is what floors Ebeling. Using very simple tools, he and his team could conceptualise the Eyewriter quickly and began coding to bring it to life.

“What is impossible?” he asks. “If you look back through time, there isn’t one thing that wasn’t impossible at one point. Look at the obvious thing such as wool and the mass production of clothing.”

He argues that the very nature of innovation is taking what seems impossible and turning it into possibility, making it “not impossible.”

Project Daniel

Fast forward 2014: South Sudan, a young boy named Daniel from a farming village loses his arms in a bombing and says he would rather be dead than be burden to his family. For Ebeling this was another opportunity to find a way to build a technology that could help humanity. So he embarked on a mission to build Daniel new arms with the help of Intel.

Ebeling and his team created the world’s first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, where not just Daniel but other war affected individuals got new limbs.

“Our goal was not to go there and just give Daniel an arm,” he says. “Our goal was to go there and actually make it so that this could continue after we are gone. Proving that the experiment could work wasn’t the point, but making it possible for it to continue after us.”

For Ebeling, this feeds into the “help one, help many” concept. He argues that building interesting and life-changing technology can focus on changing the life of one individual but then can be used to help many.

Ebeling says that technology for the sake of humanity is about brilliant minds coming together to do good. He argues that the world is full of talented people who can change the world if they begin to examine what they can do with technology and how “not impossible” everything is.

“Take what you learn and help one person, just one person and then give it away. Take the one thing and make it so that one person can help many other people.”

Ebeling’s inspiring keynote at ISEF’s opening ceremony ended with a challenge:

“Who is the one person in your life that you can help? Who is your Daniel?”



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