We rarely include editorials/opinions in our coverage each week, but thought to share this as we close the year.
The editorial board
The spirit of endeavour has not dimmed in 2019
Power of the human mind, body and creativity was on display this year
December 23 2019
These can seem unsettling times. Populism is on the rise; liberal democracy is under pressure. Protectionism is threatening to stifle free trade. China and the US are locked in what seems ever more like a new cold war. Leaders are struggling to agree on how to cut carbon emissions. Extreme weather events are increasing. Yet amid the uncertainty, stories of extraordinary people have been the bright spot.
Countless citizens across the world have shown the power of the human body, mind and spirit to achieve remarkable things in 2019. The Financial Times chose Satya Nadella as its person of the year for reviving Microsoft while instilling a new purpose and sense of humility. Many others deserve to be honoured.
In April, a team of scientists developed the first picture of a black hole, an astronomical phenomenon from which no light can escape. Katie Bouman, a young computer scientist, became the symbol of the achievement for using her knowhow to craft an algorithm that could stitch together the images from a network of telescopes. Outer space witnessed other new human firsts. Fifty years after the moon landing, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir took part in the first all-female spacewalk while China’s Chang’e 4 mission completed the first successful “soft” landing on the far side of the moon.
Many of the greatest individual achievements this year have been internal: victories over our own limits. Eliud Kipchoge was the first human to run a marathon in under two hours. He achieved the milestone in a time trial in Vienna in October, helped by a laser routemarker, a team of support staff and 41 pacemakers. Jasmin Paris became the first woman to win the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, breastfeeding her 14-month old daughter on the way. Nepalese mountain climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja, a former Gurkha, scaled the 14 highest peaks in the world in six months, beating the existing speed record by more than seven years.
Others have depended on teamwork: Siya Kolisi, captain of the world cup winning rugby team, became the first black South African to lift the trophy. Megan Rapinoe, captain of the US team that won the women’s football world cup, used her platform to call for equal pay. Ben Stokes, the English cricketer, secured the world cup for his nation in highly dramatic style.
This was the year when humans began to harness the power of quantum computers: a team at Alphabet, Google’s parent, declared they had achieved “quantum supremacy”, as their device beat a traditional computer. Others focused on making sure that technological advances did not mean abandoning morality: Meredith Whittaker, an artificial intelligence worker who had led protests about her employer Google’s policies in 2018, resigned from her job this year.
Others have demonstrated the human power for creativity. Bernadine Evaristo became the first black woman to win the Booker prize this year. She shared it with Margaret Atwood, who first won the prestigious prize close to two decades ago. Stormzy, a British rapper, not only crafted stunning imagery in his headline set at Glastonbury, but a scholarship he funds was credited with an increase in the number of black students applying to the elite University of Cambridge.
Those listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the most extraordinary people go unsung in unglamorous jobs, doing the work of caring for others day in, day out. They are a reminder that no matter how dark the news appears to be, the spirit of human endeavour remains undimmed. The FT salutes them.