The biggest takeaway from our ICT4D class this semester is that contemplating the various outcomes of an initial development idea is crucial. I hate to quote one laptop per child because this is an overused case, but my understanding of how one should approach ICT4D really came out of our class regarding this policy. It is easy to come up with a seemingly positive project that involves ICT but when it is put into practice many complications arise that should have been considered in the early development phase. First of all, you need to examine who is implementing the plan. Just because ICT projects truly do need computer science professionals in the development phase does not mean that we should discount the necessity of development professionals in similar if not more represented numbers. We also must continuously consider all the possible problems that could arise by giving populations access to technology. This is most specifically linked to hardware. We really touched on many of these problems such as waste, charging availability, and repairs. By giving developing countries this hardware, myriad potential problems come along. I am not arguing that we should therefore abandon any projecting involving ICT (that would be impossible in our current climate) but that we put a lot more focus into developing these projects that address these sometimes forgotten aspects. Once we come up with reasonable solutions to these problems then bigger projects can have more success. You can’t jump all in without paying attention to these small but necessary factors.
Another important lesson I learned relates to data. This has been something interesting to me for years considering my Political Science background. Data is taken for word way too often. In order to understand whether the information we are relying on is actually useful or correct we need to examine the sources, dates, motivations, etc. (the list goes on). Data drives the need for development projects, so shouldn’t we know exactly what we are relying on? This is something we covered right off the bat in our ICT4D course. We looked through various reports and broke them down to see what might be missing or how it might just not hit the mark. i think this is critical before exalting some opinion or diving into a project without fully understanding the foundation.
On Tuesday, our class had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on cybersecurity. We talked about what exactly cybersecurity is and what kinds of things threaten our cyber safety. It became immediately apparent that there is a “dark side” to the technology that we have come to thrive off of and depend on. We discussed the concept of hacking and the many different ways that our data can be compromised without our knowledge. One thing that really resonated with me was our discussion of APTs, or Advanced Persistent Threats.
An APT is a set of stealthy and continuous hacking processes orchestrated by a group of people targeting a specific entity. APTs usually target organizations and or nations for business or political motives. There are entire military units devoted to this kind of Internet-enabled espionage. For example, APT1 is a term commonly used to refer to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army of China. They exist solely for this purpose. One of the first things that comes to mind is, “What are the ramifications?”, especially for a nation like the U.S. that relies so heavily on its data. Is our data safe? Are our networks secure?
In a recent article by Matt Sheehan of the Huffington Post, we can see that this is a growing concern. China has been making massive investments in United States technology, and the investments are only growing. For many, it may seem as though China is a little too close for comfort. We know they have the kind of technology to invade our networks, just as we have the technology to invade theirs. Is this becoming a modern day Cold War? Cybersecurity concerns could easily turn into Cyber Warfare. Traditionally, the United States’ economy welcomes this kind of foreign investment, but in the near future it will become increasingly important to exercise discretion, and to understand the potential consequences of giving our competitors a hand in our technological developments.
I recently learned about a subset of the Federal Communications Commission called WISENET: Women in ICTs Shared Intelligence Network. The network exists entirely online and aims to aggregate knowledge, experiences and data related to women in ICTs. In their own words,
WISENET (Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network) is a convening platform that aims to leverage the experience, resources and connections of the international ICT community to better the situation of women, their communities and their countries. The platform will include the redesigned blog, news, events, and research.
WISENET is a key part of the International Bureau’s Women’s Initiative: Going Mobile and Connecting Women. Through the Initiative, we hope to collaborate on how to best use ICTs for development and motivate women to pursue careers in technology.
One exceptionally useful feature of the website is a oft-updated congregation of news links regarding women in ICTs—a topic which receives far too little media coverage. I’ve had a difficult time in the past finding news articles or current events relevant to our class discussions, and the first few links I tried here were great. The WISENET site also features a blog with posts from high-ranking administrators at various NGOs and government offices. Finally, there’s an impressive compilation of research on gender and ICT-related issues. More than anything else it looks like a way for English-speaking development workers to share ideas rather than a hands-on consumption-side ICT tool, but it’s still an incredibly useful resource. I have no way to tell how much traffic the site gets, but I hope someone out there is making use of it.
This week we discussed with our guest speaker, Adam Papendieck, some of the new frontiers in ICT and important innovations to improve technology. One topic that I had not heard about before was Data Mining. Data Mining is the process of using technology such as computers to sift through the trillions of data sets to pick out actual important and useful information.
In today’s age there is so much raw data being stored in databases every day that clogs up usable space and makes gathering information a challenge. For businesses, research organizations, and customers it is an extremely useful task to organize and limit what is stored. One frightening example of the amount of online data piling up is “databases are now measured in gigabytes and terabytes. (One terabyte = one trillion bytes. A terabyte is equivalent to about 2 million books!)”(Data Mining, Alexander).
Data mining is useful for industries from retail to healthcare, but can also help for ICT4D. It looks for patterns and trends in more data than is humanly possible to study. This can locate root problems, potential areas of famine, disaster relief needs and assistance. Papendieck showed how Ushahidi has used data mining and crowd sourcing to pinpoint disaster results. The long term possibilities for data mining are incredible, and as our world becomes increasingly reliant on digital information and data it will lead to an even greater need for data mining. Obviously privacy concerns will need to be taken into account, but this truly is a great use of technology.
Information from Data Mining by Doug Alexander
and Class presentation by Adam Papendieck