Cloud Computing for Good

Update: Watch video of the Cloud Computing for Good session above! (11/29/2010)

Wednesday’s sessions kicked off PopTech 2010! Some of our bloggers dropped in on a couple of them. What follows is a sample of what took place today.

Tony Salvador, director of Social Insights Research at the Interaction and Research Lab at Intel, opened today’s session, Cloud Computing for Good, by stating that cloud computing provides both huge efficiencies and huge opportunities. The cloud, said Salvador, can also help display patterns, which can result in greater productivity and less capital expenditure as well as supporting the notion of local, sustainable production.

2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Nigel Waller spoke about his company, Movirtu. Movirtu’s goal is to provide rural communities with less expensive access to cell phones, because so many people depend on them as a primary source of communication. Movirtu’s technology uses a model similar to web-based email that allows people to purchase telephone numbers, giving them the ability to send and receive private calls and messages without the initial outlay of cash to purchase a handset. Waller invited session participants to think about cell phone technology in a different way: one that includes the global citizenry.      
Oscar Schofield of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) also advised on including the global citizenry but in a much different way. As a biological oceanographer, Schofield’s work seeks to understand how our water-based planet is changing. “Oceans,” says Schofield, “are the lungs of the planet.” Yet as important as oceans are to our planet’s overall health, we know very little about them. Storms and other physical limitations make it difficult and expensive to gather the complex, multifaceted data needed to understand what’s happening.

The OOI is a large consortium that is creating an “interactive ocean laboratory,” one that uses robots, observatory sensors and other platforms to collect data, and a leading-edge cyber-infrastructure to share this data. Giving remote teams access to data means that they don’t need to be physically together to do work. It also puts data in the hands of people who can use it in new ways. “We need to change the definition of ‘oceanographer,’” Schofield states. More inclusive, participatory science will help encourage the “circle of discovery,” which is what we need to better understand what’s changing.

The final speaker, Carol Bothwell of Catholic Relief Services, spoke about “wiring the global village.” It’s an exciting time to be working both in technology and in relief and development efforts, said Bothwell, as more things are possible and companies are very interested in looking at opportunities in emerging markets. She walked attendees through how, as part of a NatHope project, they used custom laptops from Intel to get information out to field workers and farmers to address problems they were having with cassava, a critical food crop. Using this technology, the field workers and farmers innovated in ways they didn’t expect; for instance using built-in cameras to record their training sessions to re-use in future training sessions. Another benefit was that data collected by field workers could be uploaded and delivered to stakeholders almost in real time, allowing them to make modifications if necessary. 

The theme of the session was one of connectedness. Mobile phones and wireless technologies are bringing an end to isolation of both people and data and, to paraphrase Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, could perhaps be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time.

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