How can technology better help humanity? Here are some ideas

How can technology better help humanity? Here are some ideas

When I wrote yesterday about the technology’s galling failure to address the biggest problems facing humanity – poverty, hunger, economic inequality, modern slavery – my colleague Ben Woods raised a valid question: “What is your solution then?”

So here are some:

Firstly, I contacted Save The Children after speaking to The Next Web’s co-founder Patrick about how we might be able to use the Canvas platform to deliver the charity’s vital message. It turned out that some of my colleagues here had independently had the same idea. Stay tuned for what we’re doing on that issue.

More broadly, I want to see more from the giants of technology – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Apple. Of course, all of those companies contribute to and promote charities, but that’s not enough.

Again, as I wrote yesterday, charity is a Victorian-era solution to poverty. Anne Isabella Ritchie, William Makepeace Thackeray’s daughter, penned a story called ‘Mrs Dymond’, which offers this wise advice:

 …if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.

But I am not suggesting that those of us who live in the relative warmth and safety of Western democracies condescend to people simply trying to survive in the fractured states we have failed to save. It’s just that sending them the odd ‘fish’ – temporary aid and support – is not enough.

We need to change the conversation and the way we act as a human family.

That’s where these giant tech companies come in. They are home to some of the brightest and best. They are capable of bringing together huge resources, both financial and intellectual, in the pursuit of ever more incredible hardware and software.

Google’s ’20 percent time’ principle – giving its employees time to work on personal projects – is a good one, though the company has undermined it somewhat over time. In an ideal world, all of the tech titans would take that idea and apply it to developing ideas and potential solutions for the massive problems that the world is grappling with.

Reducing poverty doesn’t, on the surface, seem like something that would help the bottom line, but look at Facebook’s efforts.

While it obviously helps to connect more people to the resources of the online world, it has a happy side effect for Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitions too – more eyeballs for ads, whole new markets to sell to.

In the comments on my previous post, there are numerous suggestions of projects within in the tech world working hard to do good. Check them out and help them where you can.

For my part, I am working on a plan for a series of hack days across Europe, with the intention of bringing together non-profits, developers, journalists and other interested parties to work on ideas that can marry technology with the humanitarian instinct.

It’s a small thing but hopefully it can nudge the needle even a little in the right direction.

If you like the idea and can help in some way, email me – [email protected] And in the meantime, donate to Save The Children.

Feature image credit: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children

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