Tag Archives: google

Quantifying Progress

This week’s discussion about the Millennium Development Goals brought about the issue of measuring a given development project’s success, or lack thereof. UN reports offer but a vague representation of the MDG’s progress, and it makes one wonder about the credibility of its data sources. This is an issue throughout the field of development and one with no easy, uniform solution.

But in a union of creativity and prowess, charity: water, a New York based NGO committed to providing clean and safe drinking water to the nearly 800,000 people without it, along with Google, developed a new technology that may very well change the way that organizations involved in the water crisis report their efforts. In 2013, charity: water began installing remote sensors that can measure the state and efficiency of their water wells at “any given time, anywhere in the world.” If a well breaks down–which they often do–charity: water will know immediately and can now contact their drilling partners on the ground and take the necessary steps to quickly repair it.

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The sensors also further increase charity: water’s transparency, for which they are already known for; the hope is that this real-time data will be able to be relayed to the donors of sensor-equipped wells, thereby giving supporters and development professionals a sense of how much progress is actually being made.

Though a longtime supporter of charity: water, my guess is that employees and donors alike are going to be rather disheartened when the numbers start pouring in. In other words, a lot of those wells won’t be working. A variety of watch/data collection groups, including the UN, have concluded that nearly 1/3 of all boreholes in Sub-Saharan Africa are not operational. Whether or not this shameful reality is bestowed upon charity: water is yet to be determined, but nevertheless, this new technology is an important step in the right direction in ensuring developmental progress, transparency, and sustainability.

 


ICT4D – Importance of Mapping

One of the major themes of this academic semester for me has consistently been technology, even outside of ICT4D. There are so many new applications and functionalities of technical devices that I hadn’t even considered before. More importantly, as someone who doesn’t necessarily consider herself a “techy” or particularly tech savvy, I’ve realized that there is still a good amount of work that I can do to promote the effective implementation and use of ICTs for development purposes. One specific example is mapping. Maps are such a basic concept that I was shocked to learn about their importance and the number of crowdsourced mapping tools and techniques that have been so vital in recent emergencies. For this reason, I’d like to focus this week’s blog post on my perspective of mapping.

 

In addition to ICT4D I’ve been involved with a new organization called Women in Technology (WIT) as well as learning technical skills for my own personal development. At the more local level of development, I am interested in furthering my knowledge of mapping by taking a GIS course next with Julie Hernandez. Mapping is not only important to development internationally but plays a large role locally as well. As Greg’s presentation showed us, food security in New Orleans is one such issue that has benefitted from mapping projects. ICT4D has additionally highlighted the importance of mapping before, during and after emergency situations. As social media is on the rise, tools such as Google’s ‘People Finder’ are becoming more widely accepted and made use of.

 

Overall, I can see mapping playing a large role in my future career whether I decide to go into international development, public health or some combination of the two. Not only is this important in organizing people or determining the need of development projects but mapping is also a useful way to research and organize data from a community. It presents a visual image that can sometimes be more helpful depending on the situation. I’m very glad that this was a part of the ICT4D curriculum as it is a very significant factor in technological as a development tool.


ICT4D Professional Profile: Jared Cohen

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Jared Cohen is a Renaissance man in the world of technology. He’s an author, a geopolitical advisor, the director of Google Ideas, and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in addition to having served on the staffs of both Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton. He’s also just 31 years old. Condi Rice said of Cohen, “He would use his position at Policy Planning to begin to integrate social media into our diplomatic tool kit. That would pay off handsomely some years later, when Twitter and Facebook became accelerants of democratic change in the Middle East.” In addition to playing an instrumental role as an advisor of US policy in Iran and throughout the Middle East, Cohen was on the ground in the 2011 Egyptian revolution during Mubarak’s overthrow, presumably as an on-the-ground orchestrator of revolutionary social media. He also played an important role in keeping Iran’s Twitter service open during the 2009 protests that took place in the country, of which he was an adamant supporter.

For those unfamiliar with Google Ideas, the project is a think tank started by Google in 2010 with a focus on technology and global initiatives. Ideas also deals with governance problems within weak and failing governments. Interestingly enough, Google considers Ideas a part of its business operations rather than a philanthropic appendage, despite its focus on technology applications within the development sector. As a director, Cohen’s primary aim has been to apply technological strategies to healthcare and other sectors within the developing world. On a related note, Cohen led several delegations under Hillary Clinton in the hopes of setting up partnerships between technology executives and stakeholders in countries like Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What a guy.


ICT4D Professional Spotlight: Anca Mosoiu

Anca Mosoiu’s vision for a world of accessible technology tools compelled her to create the Tech Liminal principles and workshop. After graduating from MIT with a computer science degree, she returned to her hometown of Oakland at the right time to participate in the Silicon Valley high-tech boom”

 

Anna Mosoiu, Founder of Technology Hotspot & Salon  "Tech Liminal"

Tech Liminal’s Anna Mosoiu.
Photo Credit: Wanda Hassig

ICT4D is often something we consider only in the sense of   uplifting and empowering small villages in the most remote of locations however ICT4D is happening constantly at all levels and regions of society. In the past, tech developer, Anca Mosoiu has devoted a vast amount of effort to developing technology in the city of Oakland, California.

 

Tech Liminal is a company dedicated to improving tech assistance among other businesses by operating a technology hotspot & salon based in Oakland, the heart of the Silicon Valley. Her work is credited with assisting in the development of the Silicon Valley as the technology hub it is today.

Philosophy of Optimism

Anca’s work has always been driven by an inner sense of optimism.

“ ‘To me the information age is like being at the beginning of the industrial age’ so much opportunity. But opportunity is restricted to those who have knowledge and resources. By putting the pieces together explaining Twitter, for example ‘you start leveling the playing field.’ ”

In addition to “leveling the playing field,” Anca’s work helps small, local businesses gain the technology skills necessary to make their work more efficient and as a result save money and expand their capacities. Although this is not the type of development work that we typically consider, the major tech giants and leaders that emerge from such efforts have begun to make large strides in development abroad as well. Unfortunately, the progress of development is heavily reliant on funding available which often times comes from the non-profit sector. As the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) field grows, more opportunities to begin and manage development programs and opportunities will develop as well. Sometimes ICT4$ is a necessary step before ICT4D can take place.

Google+ Community Leaders Program

Another example of development working with a similar philosophy is Google plus’ Community Leaders Program. This program trains people to assist small businesses and local leaders with basic technical skills that can help them further their horizons. New Orleans has a program dedicated specifically to technology development within the city if anyone is interested in getting involved.


Social Media and Violence

It is almost universally agreed upon that individuals and groups have a right to their freedom of expression and freedom of the press. These freedoms are essential to a strong civil society and are critical in any democracy. Social media is very obviously intertwined with these freedoms, as it provides an outlet for individuals to connect, communicate, and express their voices and opinions.

There are many positive benefits to social media. Here at Tulane, we get emails of every crime reported in the nearby area. In the greater New Orleans area, we have gotten text messages with “water boil advisories” when the water is unsafe to drink. These benefits have been seen on a global scale as well. The Zapatista group in Mexico was able to spread their message through the use of the Internet, and gained a lot of international attention, thereby holding the Mexican government accountable to their demands. Social media was critical in the organization and mobilization of individuals in the Arab Spring, and helped shape democratic ideas globally.

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However, social media is not always used for the greater good, as exemplified recently in Myanmar. Until recently, Myanmar was under military rule, where there was tight censorship and limited access to telecommunication technologies. This ensured that the vast majority of citizens in Myanmar remained “in the dark” about what was truly happening in their country. The International cites a publication of the UN Human Development Index with figures regarding ICTs in Myanmar: in 2010, one of every 100 citizens owned a computer, less than 300 owned mobile phones, and only 13% had electricity. It currently ranks as the second to last country in the world for Internet connectivity.

However, with the new leadership of President Thein Sein, this is all beginning to change. The President hopes to implement reforms to allow for more freedom of expression. The government plans to provide mobile access to the majority of the population by 2015. Moreover, last month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited Myanmar to launch the new page www.google.com.mm. However, since that original visit, Schmidt has had pessimistic predictions for the future of the Internet in Myanmar.

He recently posted on his Google+ page the following quote.

As the police state has withdrawn, always present religious tensions have erupted with burning of homes and some murders. With popular support, the government then responded with the Army to restore order. In the same way, we are entering a dangerous period for the Internet in Myanmar. What happens when a religious group falsely claims damages from others.. will the Army be sent in too? The country cannot even agree on a press freedoms law for the newspapers, and freedom of political speech is a one year old concept.

The group that has largely been oppressed and had severe violence inflicted on them recently are the Rohingya people, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group. Many in the country have used social media to organize against this group. The International, writes that “the newfound access to social media has been blamed for the swift increase in violence”. The Myanmar case demonstrates an example of where social media has caused extraordinary violence and oppression.

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Of course, there is a flip side to this — the group Anonymous has used Twitter to expose what they call a genocide of the Rohingya people. The hashtag #RohingyaNOW was hit a peak of 24,000 tweets per hour. The Daily Beast posted an article on this, for further reading.


Energy and Cost Effectiveness in the Cloud

Energy and Cost Effectiveness in the Cloud

When discussing the benefits of cloud computing, we talked about it being cheaper than other options, such as buying external hardwear, etc. However, what we did not delve deeply into was the macro cost effectiveness of cloud computing, often with the added bonus of it being better for the environment. For example, as Google expands its service, it created “Google Apps for Government,” which focuses on providing a secure and efficient cloud server for government agencies to utilize.

Benefits that it advertises include the decreased amounts of infrastructure that needs to be built to house a data center. It also allows less maintence of said centers, which lead to monthly costs such as electricity, air conditioning to maintiain the equiptment, and water for cooling the systems. The elimination of all these costs leads to huge amounts of savings, which makes the cost of “Google Apps for Government” itself negligible in comparison.

Another way that these Google apps minimize environmental and cost impacts is through a decrease in the need for travel. This service offers efficient video and digital interfacing, so that it can decrease the need for travel. This is a huge cast saver, as well as helping the environment as it decreases the harmful greenhouse gasses that are released when flying or driving.

Overall, Google Apps for Government seems to be a useful way in utilizing the cloud to save money, help the environment, and allow the government to address its consituents concerns to release less carbon. Google seems to be leading the field in this focus on adapting the cloud for specific fields, and it is an innovative way to make money and improve efficency at the same time.


Google Crisis Response and Hurricane Sandy

As we all know, social media played a huge role in preparing/educating the public for Hurricane Sandy. After doing a little more research, I found out about a feature on Google called Google Crisis Response. Google Crisis Response makes information regarding natural disasters and humanitarian crises more accessible. For example, the Crisis Response features satellite imagery of the disaster area, outreach, Google Person Finder, and other programs created with the intent of organizing disaster response resources and information. Not only is this feature (Crisis Response) available in the US, but it is also available worldwide in many different languages. I was particularly intrigued and impressed with the Person Finder- a web application used to ‘connect friends and loved ones following a disaster.’  The Crisis Map is used to display the storm paths, shelter locations, and power outages (just to include a few). All of the Crisis Response applications/features seem very beneficial for aiding those affected by a natural disaster. For Hurricane Sandy, I found their Crisis Map for “Superstorm Sandy.” The Crisis Map included a special NYC map and a more main map encompassing a broader area. Gas Stations were an especially important feature on the maps- as the map indicated via legends whether or not gas was available/ inventory was low/ or completely out. It also had legends for shelter and recovery centers (Red Cross, FEMA, etc). The map included many other things as well, please click on this link to check it out yourself!

Crisis Map_Sandy