The 2021 Very good Tech Awards

In the tech industry, 2021 was a 12 months of revenue and pivots.

Thanks in aspect to the pandemic and the digitization of our life, all of the massive tech organizations got greater. Fb improved its title to Meta, Jeff Bezos went to area, Jack Dorsey left Twitter and Silicon Valley fell harder for crypto.

Each individual December, partly to cheer myself up following a 12 months of covering tech’s scandals and shortfalls, I use this column to carry up a handful of tech jobs that improved the entire world during the yr. My criteria are somewhat free and arbitrary, but I glimpse for the sorts of worthy, altruistic tasks that utilize technology to significant, societal problems, and that don’t get a lot consideration from the tech push, like commence-ups that are making use of artificial intelligence to combat wildfires, or meals-shipping courses for the needy.

Especially at a time when quite a few of tech’s leaders look far more fascinated in creating new, digital worlds than enhancing the planet we dwell in, it’s well worth praising the technologists who are stepping up to solve some of our biggest problems.

So here, with no further more ado, are this year’s Good Tech Awards.

1 of the year’s most remarkable A.I. breakthroughs arrived in July when DeepMind — a Google-owned synthetic intelligence enterprise — posted knowledge and open-source code from its groundbreaking AlphaFold task.

The job, which utilized A.I. to predict the buildings of proteins, solved a problem that experienced vexed researchers for decades, and was hailed by authorities as a single of the finest scientific discoveries of all time. And by publishing its facts freely, AlphaFold established off a frenzy among scientists, some of whom are by now making use of it to establish new medicines and better have an understanding of the proteins concerned in viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

Google’s in general A.I. initiatives have been fraught with controversy and missteps, but AlphaFold looks like an unequivocally great use of the company’s wide skills and assets.

Persons really like consuming meat. But the industrial-farm process that provides the vast bulk of the world’s meat supply is an moral and environmental disaster, and plant-based substitutes haven’t caught on commonly with carnivores. That’s why the relevance of cultured meat — which is grown from cells in a lab, alternatively than taken from slaughtered animals, and which could possibly be tech’s answer to our international meat dependancy.

Despite extra than a ten years of investigate and enhancement, cultured meat is even now far as well expensive and tough to make. But that could be transforming soon, many thanks to the endeavours of dozens of begin-ups such as Upside Foodstuff, Mosa Meat and Wildtype.

Upside Food items, previously acknowledged as Memphis Meats, opened a 53,000-sq.-foot plant in California this calendar year, and declared it experienced figured out a way to increase cells into meat without having employing animal elements.

Mosa Meat, a Dutch cultivated-meat get started-up, declared significant breakthroughs in its technological know-how, too, including a process of increasing animal body fat that is 98 p.c cheaper than the previous process.

And Wildtype, a San Francisco begin-up that is developing lab-grown seafood, unveiled a new, cell-dependent salmon item this 12 months that is receiving great testimonials in early tests, even nevertheless the Food items and Drug Administration has not still authorised it.

Prisons aren’t recognized as hotbeds of innovation. But two tech jobs this yr tried using to make our criminal justice program extra humane.

Recidiviz is a nonprofit tech get started-up that builds open-resource details tools for criminal justice reform. It was commenced by Clementine Jacoby, a previous Google worker who saw an possibility to corral info about the prison program and make it readily available to prison officials, lawmakers, activists and researchers to inform their choices. Its applications are in use in seven states, such as North Dakota, in which the details applications assisted prison officers assess the possibility of Covid-19 outbreaks and establish incarcerated individuals who were being qualified for early release.

Ameelio, a nonprofit start off-up established by two Yale students and backed by tech honchos like Jack Dorsey and Eric Schmidt, is hoping to disrupt jail communications, a notoriously exploitative market that fees inmates and their cherished types exorbitant costs for phone and video calls. This year, it introduced a no cost video clip calling provider, which is becoming analyzed in prisons in Iowa and Colorado, with strategies to insert extra states following yr.

When I 1st read about experimental attempts to 3-D print homes a few years back, I dismissed them as a novelty. But 3-D printing engineering has enhanced steadily because then, and is now staying utilised to make precise houses in the United States and abroad.

3-D printing homes has several rewards: It is significantly cheaper and more rapidly than classic design (homes can be 3-D printed in as very little as 24 several hours), and they can be created applying neighborhood supplies in pieces of the world where concrete is really hard to come by.

ICON, a design technology firm dependent in Texas, has 3-D printed extra than two dozen constructions so considerably. Its technological know-how was applied to print residences in a village in Mexico this year, and the company ideas to split ground future year on a improvement in Austin, Texas, that will consist solely of 3-D printed properties.

Mighty Structures, based mostly in Oakland, Calif., is using a somewhat various strategy. It sells prefab property kits consisting of 3-D printed panels that are built in a manufacturing facility and assembled on web-site. Its households are driven by photo voltaic panels and loaded with electricity-effective options, and it not too long ago struck a deal to 3-D print 15 properties in a subdivision in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Our countrywide housing disaster, it should be mentioned, is not generally a tech difficulty. Bad zoning and tax legislation, NIMBY protectionism and other things have performed a component in building housing unaffordable for lots of. But it’s comforting to know that if and when regional and state governments get their functions together and begin developing far more housing, 3-D printing could assistance velocity up the approach.

Several tech tales created as huge an affect this calendar year as the revelations from Frances Haugen, the Fb products manager turned whistle-blower who was the main resource for The Wall Avenue Journal’s blockbuster “Facebook Data files” collection. By earning community thousands of documents detailing inner Fb research and discussions about the platform’s harms, Ms. Haugen advanced our collective understanding about Facebook’s interior workings, and her congressional testimony was a landmark second for tech accountability.

Shortly right after Ms. Haugen went general public, two former users of Facebook’s integrity group, Jeff Allen and Sahar Massachi, began the Integrity Institute, a nonprofit that is meant to aid social media firms navigate thorny concerns close to believe in, basic safety and platform governance. Their announcement acquired considerably less interest than Ms. Haugen’s document dump, but it’s all portion of the similar worthy effort and hard work to educate lawmakers, technologists and the public about creating our social media ecosystem more healthy.

Ms. Scott, who acquired divorced from Jeff Bezos in 2019, did not introduce new know-how or a commence-up in 2021. But she is offering absent her Amazon fortune — estimated to be worthy of more than $50 billion — at a tempo that helps make other tech philanthropists appear like penny pinchers.

She donated much more than $6 billion in 2021 on your own to a host of charities, universities and social applications, an astonishing feat for an person working with a compact staff of advisers. (For scale, the whole Gates Foundation gave out $5.8 billion in direct grants in 2020.)

And in contrast to other donors, who splash their names on properties and museum wings, Ms. Scott declared her items quietly in a collection of understated website posts. Let’s hope that in 2022, more tech moguls follow her direct.