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Crowdsourcing social innovation at CodeCon

At last week's CodeCon, guests at the Technology for Social Good breakfast session brainstormed solutions to some of the world's biggest challenges.

How can the innovation that drives Silicon Valley help solve some of the world’s biggest social challenges? That was the organizing theme of a morning session at Recode’s CodeCon last week, sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and facilitated by IDEO CoLab. Guests tackled challenges in the fields of energy, financial services, healthcare, and urban planning. 

Each challenge was introduced using a "How might we…" question, such as: 

  • How might we close the funding gap for women entrepreneurs?
  • How might we leverage and harness the power of sensors to optimize and improve how networks are run and resources managed?
  • How might we use real-time data to create secure profiles to improve access and reach to places without established healthcare providers, networks, etc.?
  • How might we distribute and decentralize energy systems?

The partnership model

There were approximately 40 participants, representing government and humanitarian organizations, startups, and established tech companies. They started by discussing challenges in their own areas, and then brainstormed solutions involving new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.

The discussion was facilitated by HPE chief sustainability officer Lara Birkes, Hewlett Packard Labs’ chief architect Kirk Bresniker, and other experts. “The entire world is moving toward a partnership model,” Birkes said. As an example, she noted that in Seattle, “Amazon is more of a city infrastructure provider than the local government.”

Nontraditional partnerships will grow more important as new digital interactions proliferate between private, governmental, and nonprofit organizations, citizens, and officials. When it comes to the challenge of creating social good, you can feel disenfranchised, said Bresniker. The issues are too big and you can wind up feeling lost. Your business may not be contributing to the solution of a challenge that matters to you.

However, “in the era of putting together a group to tackle a problem, you don’t have to rely on the public sector,” said Bresniker. “You can do it yourself.”

Technology can help small groups effect big changes. “Individuals and communities have never been more affected by technology,” said Birkes. And she wasn't just talking about social networks and smartphones.

For example, industrial production has become democratized and global, thanks to maker tech like 3D printers and marketplaces like Ali Baba that make small-run manufacturing economically viable. 

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Smart dishwashers

The team charged with examining energy issues posed this question: “How do we move from the centralized generation and distributed consumption model with only simple metering to a distributed generation, transportation, and consumption model that understands our values and intentions and then seeks to fulfill them?” 

Let's say you want clean dishes tomorrow. You don't care how or when it happens as long as your dishes are clean the next time you need them. An intelligent dishwasher would automatically turn itself on when electricity prices are low. How might technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, and memory-driven computing help achieve this goal?

What occurred to the group was that most power is still pulled via an unbroken wire from generator to consumer. We already have the connectivity. Now we need to add sensors, analytics, and actuators to the wire. Sensors are the IoT element, AI governs planning, and memory-driven computing would handle core analytics.

What about privacy concerns?  Could this system compromise personal data? One participant suggested that blockchain technology could help secure privacy and provide trust. And just like that, the team had conceived a system that uses next-gen technology to do useful work while minimizing energy consumption and protecting privacy.

The takeaways

  • Design for humans.
  • Technologies are tools, not goals.
  • Act like a network! In creative teams, as in computing, more nodes enable better, faster solutions.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.