Archive for August, 2008

Why the liliputer might be important

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by

The rise of the liliputer is cronicled in The Guardian today.   Is this more hype from the computer industry or could it signal an important turning point for the personal computer?   What impact might this have on developing countries?

So what is a liliputer?   A small, ultra portable laptop that typically uses Linux (an open source operating system) and crucially has a long battery life – up to 19 hours.   In many developing countries access to electricity is a challenge, especially in rural areas.   For example, in Nepal 18 million people (66% of the population) do not have access to electricity.   To summarise, the main advantages are that the devices are (relatively) cheap, have no moving parts, are easy to use, and have a long battery life.

Yet, there remains some fundemental challenges.   These are the challenges that are shared with the one laptop per child initiative (OLPC) and about which Practical Action has previously commented.    The main thrust of the argument is that MIT potentially have an excellent idea here… but to make it really work in developing countries, it needs to be well thought through in partnership with content providers, perhaps in education, and also NGOs and civil societies that are in touch with grass-roots community-level organisations.   Local content development and the capacity of local people to use the technology are keys to the sucess of such initiatives.

So, whilst in theory the liliputer might offer potential to people in developing countries, in practice there are practical issues (e.g. content and capacity) that need equal attention if the “technology package” is to be embraced.

Re-framing innovation systems

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by

Many topical issues – for example sustainable development, climate change and democracy – are all influenced by the role of science and technology in society. A major challenge is to release public value from science and technology and to channel that public value into developing countries to help reduce poverty. The concept of public value used here refers to value generated by science and technology that is not solely reaped by the market. Releasing public value from science in a global context is one of the most significant and challenging issues facing societies worldwide. The challenge might be re-framed as ‘how do we enable new science-led technologies to deliver products which fulfil human needs rather than consumer wants?’

Changing the drivers of new technology…one blog at a time

Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by

Hey…what is a new technology programme doing blogging?   Surely this kind of technology is well past its sell by date you say.   Well, yes blogging is “old”, it dates back to the last century…1997 in fact.   It can be used both effectively and ineffectively…much like all technologies can.

In writing this blog I am inspired by Susan Scott (Fierce Conversations, 2002) who taught me that every conversation counts.   Let’s make every blog count.   Let’s start to change the world…one blog at a time.

I invite you to join me in this blog, to write, to comment, to build a community of those interested and able to change the world by changing the drivers of new technology.   Write to me, blog with me, connect with me and together we may be able to nudge things in the direction of delivering public value from new technologies…to realise my vision of “a world where science-led new technologies deliver products which fulfil human needs rather than consumer wants.”

Small is still beautiful?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 by

The founder of Practical Action, Fritz Schumacher, has often been quoted as advocating, “small is beautiful” (Schumacher 1973). He wrote before the microprocessor had achieved widespread use. There is little doubt in most people’s minds that information and communications technologies – based on the microprocessor and with a trend for devices to become ever smaller – have had a large impact on the lives of most people living in northern countries. But is the same true of those who live in poor countries? The advent of each wave of technology brought with it promises of a better life for everyone. The truth can often be rather different. Technology can re-enforce the existing divisions of wealth and access to resources in the world. It is now timely to question how the next technological wave, nanotechnology, will impact on the lives of the poor.

Nanotechnology is forecast either to lead to utopia or at the other extreme, to unease.  How can we avoid another technology gap?