5 World Problems that Are Being Combatted With Code

Written by wyncode on 18th August 2014, 10:18 AM

1. Power Distribution

It’s no secret that the electrical power grids in much of the developed world are really starting to show their age. In many ways, our power distribution hasn’t changed all that much from the early twentieth century. The effective use of algorithm-controlled “smart grids” is starting to change that, however, promising much more efficient distribution and usage as well as in some cases the ability for nodes on the grid to “sell back” energy from local sources such as wind and solar energy.

2. Traffic

It’s no exaggeration to say that the era of the human-piloted automobile may draw to a close in the next few decades. Driverless cars are already a prototyped, on-the-road reality in parts of California, being used for some of Google’s infamous Street View road-mapping vehicles, and the United Kingdom has recently announced that it will allow driverless cars on public roads in January of 2015. AI-directed vehicles do not get tired, sleepy, angry, distracted by phone calls or texts, and can be carefully coordinated to massively reduce congestion and other delays.

3. Theft

Theft and fraud are a huge issue with increasing ubiquity of digital transactions, and many companies have begun sending their POS (Point-of-Sale) transactions to cloud services in real time, where they are analyzed by sophisticated algorithms that put up warning flags whenever suspicious patterns are detected.

4. Disease

Human biology is an incredibly complex affair, and one of its most daunting puzzles is that of protein folding, which can entail jaw-dropping numbers of possible configurations and is a key element in many diseases. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, Mad Cow, AIDS, ALS, and a wide variety of cancers all hinge largely on defects and glitches in the way proteins are folded and packaged. Researchers are using brute-force algorithms (and, often, volunteer distributed-computing programs like Folding@home) to come up with ways to correct them.

5. Privacy

The specter of identity theft, stolen credit card numbers, and other online security threats have become much stronger in the public consciousness in the last few years. Fortunately, strong efforts are being taken to fight bad code with good, with initiatives like Google’s Project Zero seeking to catch security holes before they become exploitable. Stronger and better encryption algorithms are also under constant development, making computer security a never-ending arms race.