For Autism acceptance month, Apple has delivered a short, beautiful video concerning how its own technologies (nothing fancier than the iPad and some Apps) are helping people with learning disabilities to live a better life.

When we think of how technology and innovation are helping us to live longer and better lives, we naturally think about healthcare, from pharmaceuticals to earlier diagnoses. But that’s not all. A world without the technology to give Stephen Hawking a voice in spite of ALS (read this remarkable story) would have lost something, for sure.


Coming instead to people with learning disabilities, assistive technology does likewise have the potential to “liberate” human capital that, in earlier times, would have simply been lost: because of prejudice, sure, but also because there were precious few ways to put it literally in communication with others. This is impacting the quality of family relationships, making it easier for parents to accept and understand kids’ learning problems. Charity plays an important part in developing new appliances in this realm: but the bulk of equipment being used was developed in the pursuit of profit.

My impression is that we tend to overlook how contemporary technology is sparing us much suffering and incomprehension. Interestingly enough, this is not the reason why it was invented, produced, or marketed. Was Apple thinking of autistic kids when putting together what eventually became the iPad? I suspect it was not.

But once a certain device is there, in the marketplace, available for people to play and work with it, ideas build on ideas – and new features and uses get developed. We naturally tend to believe that when Motorola came out with the first mobile phone, the idea of WhatsApp was somehow already there. It was not, and this is not a trivial part of why the market process is such a precious thing: consumer feedback, and not just inventors’ inventiveness, continuously improve products and therefore “what things can do.” The price mechanism allows all this beautifully to coordinate. Often a product that was developed for quite well off people becomes a matter of daily use for an ever larger group of consumers and, eventually, is applied to solve problems which seem to be far away from its developers’ initial goals.

This unplanned process has many unplanned returns. One is that it is making the world not only a more comfortable, but also a more decent place.