The Mozilla Labs Concept Series seems to have really struck a chord with me. I like the idea of projects that help designers “get involved and share your ideas and expertise” to “collectively explore and design future directions for the web”. It is a different approach to the Imagine Cup which is a student technology competition. I appreciate the difference in focus of both projects, one is to “provoke thought, facilitate discussion and inspire future design directions”, the other “challenges students to explore their own creativity to solve what they consider to be challenging problems facing our global society”. Lofty goals for both projects, and I applaud both efforts.
The 2009 Imagine Cup is based using the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as inspiration for new technology design and creation. The eight goals are:
- End Poverty and Hunger
- Universal Education
- Gender Equality
- Child Health
- Maternal Health
- Combat HIV/AIDS
- Environmental Sustainability
- Global Partnership
The challenge for me is that I don’t immediately see technology solutions to many of these problems. Many of the problems are a result of the economic and geopolitical systems imposed by government agencies and corporations. Change seems routed in politics and not technology design.
Ushahidi.com is an interesting technology solution to the monitoring of acts of violence in Kenya. David Talbot describes Ushahidi is a “Web application that [can] receive citizen incidents reports via text message from any mobile phone in Kenya and display them as a Google Maps application”. The goal is to make it possible for anyone with a cell phone to become a node in the distributed network capable of gathering, distributing and visualizing citizen news feeds. Coupled with audio, video and text the application could quickly become a digital panopticon application enabling citizens and communities to police human rights and other violations.
At GSMA Mobile World Congress (aka 3GSM) in Barcelona in 2007, a group of leading mobile phone companies and the US government announced the Phones for Health partnership to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. The program will allow health care workers in Africa to use a standard Motorola handset to enter health data. The Phones-for-Health system will then use either GPRS or SMS to upload the data into a centralized database which can be analyzed and made available to health officials for distribution of medicine and education programs. The SMS system can also be used to alert health workers, order medicine, download treatment guides, etc.
The UN Millennium Development Goals used in the Imagine Cup are idealistic and can present challenges as abstract design goals. But it’s possible to build interesting prototypes to solve real world problems.