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What good are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates without Josh Silver?

The retired professor of physics has created self-adjustable glasses so that the world's poor can actually see clearly for the first time.

So this is Christmas. A time that we all take our gifts for granted. iPods, laptops, Wiis and other manifestations of our comfortably numb self-indulgence.

While Josh Silver, a retired physics professor from Oxford University, tries to find a way for the world's poor to see as clearly as the most screen-glued nerd.

Professor Silver's invention is so simple that you wonder why no one has thought of it before. He knows that poor people don't exactly have an optometrist on their doorstep or within their means. So he invented glasses with lenses that the wearer can adjust for his or herself. And he wants to find ways to give these glasses to the world's poor.

Professor Silver believes that half the world's humans needs their sight adjusted. So he created glasses that have plastic lenses, filled with clear liquid in sacs. Each of these sacs connects to a syringe housed in each arm of the glasses.

The syringe injects more fluid into the sacs--making them 'fatter' and therefore stronger--or sucks some out, until the wearer is happy with the visual effect. A subsequent couple of twists of a screw and the removal of the syringe delivers perfect sight without the need for health insurance or the slightly fishy breath of your local eye expert.

Some 30,000 of the Silver Glasses have been given out in 15 countries. But Silver is something of an ambitious man. He wants to find a way to get his remarkable invention onto 1 billion heads by 2020.

CC Kalandrakas

He's still working on the design, as currently the glasses resemble Woody Allen's rather sexless pair re-imagined by a Baroque artist.

However, their impact is already being felt by those to whom it matters most.

Major Kevin White, a former US humanitarian worker, discovered the Silver Glasses on Google and began to distribute them. He told The Guardian newspaper that the reaction was utterly moving: "People put them on and smile. They all say 'Look, I can read those tiny letters.'"

As you read these tiny letters, imagine Silver's insight that led to his ambition. While we Twitter away our lives, his imagination was captured by the thought of giving the simple gift of vision to so many who could only previously imagine what it might feel like.

One day, these people might be able to play with the software and hardware (donated by foundations, of course) that so many others will expect to find beneath their Christmas trees this year. One day, these people might be able to navigate their way around malware.

But without eyewear, their world is but a blur and many of their ambitions are merely blind.

Much good effort is put behind donating computers and other electronic wizardry to poorer countries. But without Silver's ingeniousness the inventions of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are just apples beyond reach and windows looking out to nowhere.

While we might sit around our plasmas this Christmas sniffling at It's a Wonderful Life, one tenacious physicist will be actually trying to give people a wonderful life.