How technology can improve the state of the world – Kofi Annan

In his speech at the MIT Media Lab 30th Anniversary, Anann addresses two key ingredients to improving the state of the world: Technology + Political will. These ingredients particularly hold true to the African continent which by the year 2050 will double its population to 2.4 billion. We shouldn’t be threatened by the growth and the pending challenges — technology (in particular infrastructure-free communication + big data) and adequate political (systems of accountability) are realistic means to improve the state of the world.

A more fair, equitable and sustainable world drives my research goals and projects. I see technology that scales cheaply, that depends less and less on infrastructure, big data and large scale cooperation (crowdsourcing) as realistic efficient tools to address many of the world’s problems, including in Africa.  Agriculture and Energy are big problems in Africa. Africa has 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land yet relies on food imports & countries like South AfricaZimbabwe on average have 2,500-3,000 hours of sunlight yet many countries, like Zimbabwe, experience power cuts of up-to 8 hours a day. The resources for success, sustainability, green living are all over Africa yet they’re heavily under utilized and the question is why? It’s lack of technology, lack of “know-how”, lack of information.

The particular problem I want to solve is how information is gathered and how information is spread. Lack of information underlies most of the problems within Africa. Farmers who can be profitable within Africa, as Annan hinted, lack the technology to observe market prices and become competitive. The implication is if the small farmers become successful they can expand (create more jobs) and produce more crops (reducing food shortage).  Mobile devices can be effective cheap tools to spread information — information about disease spread, conflict or just news.  I was embarrassed to find a Network Provider in Zimbabwe charging it’s clients a few dollars a week to receive News as Text Messages. Rather than fix its poor infrastructure which makes accessing news online difficult, some companies opportunistically charge customers.

One of my ongoing projects “Aba” seeks to address the infrastructure challenges so very common in developing nation and allow for the free flow of information, for now just news.

Most problems in the developing world fall under a few categories, notably Agriculture, Energy, Transportation, Communication. I believe the flow of information and big data is critical to solving these key problems.

Read the entire short but motivation speech here: