I do not use the word "hero" lightly, nor do I indulge in utilising it often. What we achieve as a species is the sum of all the individuals who shape society and our culture. There are, however, some who have taken a step further than the rest of us. These are the people who dedicated their lives to higher purposes, those who selflessly helped make this world a better place.
This is my very personal, highly subjective, and non-comprehensive list of such inspiring people.
Carl Edward Sagan is the closest we can get to the most complete human being that has ever walked planet Earth. He was an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and just about the best science populariser and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He was a prolific scientist, publishing more than 600 scientific papers and articles, and author, having written of co-written more than 20 books. He was a master of scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, yet he kept his mind open to new ideas like no other. In short, he was a true scientist. He was also a pretty badass scientist, having pioneered exobiology and being practically the mastermind behind the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program (SETI). But most of all, he was a philosopher of humanity. He understood the place we had in the universe, giving us hints of greatness with his humility, creeping into the essence of being human.
Should we have made contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence, I have no doubt in my mind who I would have chosen to represent our species. Now that he's gone, I'm really not sure anybody would be up to the task.
I miss you, Carl.
When you have four degrees from the top universities in the world, you are under 30 and financial institutions flood you with job offers you can't refuse, it's pretty simple to imagine what path you will take. But Sal Khan is different: he gave everything away for something more meaningful that making a few rich people ever richer. He decided to teach all that he knows, for free, to anybody, forever. And that's not the best part. He's smart, funny, humble, receptive, quick, he understands people, how they think, and can empathise with them by teaching in a way that anyone can understand. He didn't just gave all this knowledge away for free, he open sources it, all of it. The videos, the lectures, the notes, the exercises, the source code of the software, everything.
Sal Khan made what billions of dollars and millions of people working for decades could not achieve: provide an accessible, high quality, free education to the entire world. Sometimes it takes only one person to change the face of the planet, and he's a proof of that.
- Wikipedia page
- Let's use video to reinvent education
- My post on the Khan academy from 2010: "Khan Academy - an online, open school that really works"
There are plenty of people who talk about building a better world. Many have great ideas, too, futurist visions of how the world could be, if we just wanted to. One of them is actually building it. His goal: no less than creating a post-scarcity society, where people have to work only 1-2 hours per day to live, so that they can use the remaining time for higher purposes. He's putting the basis for the next paradigm is social evolution, and he's open-sourcing all of it. A visionary, but with solid grounds. We need more like him.