Technology for Good (Instead of Evil)

by Dave Michels

Technology, what is it good for?

Telecommunications and unified communications are fascinating topics. But in the end, does it matter?

It is very easy to caught-up in the day to day, the speeds and feeds. But it is also important to consider technology improvements in the context of the greater good.  Is technology improving our lives or the living conditions for the human race? It is a legitimate concern for there are numerous examples where technology is clearly degrading the quality of life on this planet; largely in the forms of e-waste and pollution.

There is an upcoming event called Tech4Good. It’s a barcamp – sometimes referred to as an un-conference. Except that its being put on during at at Defrag (a conference within a conference) – so it will have a conference room which is a great reuse of space and facility. It takes place just outside of Boulder (Broomfield) on November 17.

Tech4Good is about using technology to bring about change for good. You can register here (it’s free).

There is opportunity, particularly with communications technologies. Emergency communications is one of the first priorities for a disaster stricken region. Remote tele-medicine, remote instruction, cloud computing, and even video conferencing are all tools that can be used to raise the bar of our living standards.

Conference organizer Ben Kepes sited the i2O technology (similar to smart grid technology but for municipal water) as an example of applying technology to reduce the waste and inefficiencies associated with water distribution – clean water is a scarce, precious and over utilized resource.

Capitalism seems to be one of the best models, but its downside limits innovation to areas with market potential. This goes back to what Bill Gates was talking about with there is more R&D; to cure male pattern baldness than malaria. Technology could do more, but there isn’t always a business case. I’ve applied lots of technology in my home to increase its efficiency – efficiency in terms of electricity, gas, water, and carbon – not money.

One wasteful area that I feel technology neglects is traffic lights. I’ve been noticing how incredibly inefficient they are. I’m not referring to electricity consumption (more and more are going LED), I see the big opportunity around motion preservation. Most stoplights consider wait demand, but that’s flawed (too late). Traffic lights should be designed to also consider motion stops and starts which could significantly reduce energy consumption and pollution. To do so requires improved “vision” and new algorithms.

Barcamps tend to go their own way by allowing the participants to set the direction. But the Boulder community plus the Defrag attendees and Ben as the leader, it will likely be a fairly progressive, entrepreneurial, and technical crowd. A few keynotes have already been identified. Sophia B Liu a PhD Candidate at University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) will talk about the different crisis communities that are evolving and different technologies for crisis relief. Jay Simons from Atlassian will talk about raising $600,000 for the non-profit group Room to Read.

It should be fun and and maybe even inspirational. If you are from out of town, consider the Defrag event as well. I will be at both – and loving it.