The idea of High School HeroesX (HSHX) can officially be traced to April 8th 2013, when Peter Diamandis graciously accepted a call from an over-eager 9th grader. I recently came across the notes I had prepared for the call; they were mostly highlights from Peter’s book Abundance, prose on the technology of tomorrow that had convinced me of the absurd notion that anything was possible. I am equally excited today as I was back then about the prospect of vertical farms alleviating global hunger, the Internet of Things making an increasingly urbanized world work better, and the potential to use a “lab on a chip” to bring medical breakthroughs to developing countries. I am quite proud of the role HSHX has had in encouraging students to use technology for social good. Our Philadelphia Education Challenge saw the introduction of robotics and coding opportunities to schools with hundreds of students, while our USA Driving Challenge saw the winning team develop a simulator to help autonomous car algorithms self-check to improve their safety. In a time when international barriers are being re-built, I am touched that HSHX was able to run a challenge in Beijing, and be invited to New Delhi, India to share our message.
And yet, while HSHX has championed technology as a cure to social ills, technology has moved dangerously close to the wrong side of history in past years. Foreign nations have leveraged social media to spread campaigns of misinformation to attack democratic processes. Tech giants like Faceboom and Google have used their monopoly on web-traffic flow– and the data that has come with it– to optimize advertising algorithms as opposed to helping the people whose data is the oil that powers their machines. The world has been right to usher in data regulation such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe and the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). While I am bullish that those protections will expedite a movement toward ubiquity of privacy-preserving machine learning or other “black box” type mechanisms to get results from data without threatening privacy, I still worry that they do not address the current applications of technology today in Silicon Valley.
For our final challenge, High School HeroesX will be offering up to $20,000 in challenges during the year 2020 to high school teams who create scalable projects which use technology to create social good. Whether you use NLP to help expedite public defenders maximize time spent on each by more quickly digesting briefs, or get students to work on the software that could enable a 200-qubit quantum computer to work toward protein discovery to fight disease, HSHX wants youth to show that technology, if harnessed properly, can absolutely move the world further. Winning ideas to the challenge will use technology in an ethical way with the goal of sustainably improving social welfare.
Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis starting January 01 2020, and will be evaluated by our to be announced advisory board. With some optimism, naivete, and passion, I still believe anything is possible, and hope our student competitors will embrace this mantra as they embark on this final journey.