Posts

It's Good to be Alive Today!

I am still on the Skoll high Just back from my week in Oxford with my head buzzing and Michael Franti's social change anthem "Good to be Alive Today" ringing in my ears. It's hard to explain why this is the one conference a year I always make the time for. It's a powerful mix of inspiration, singing, ideas and most importantly, peer brainstorming.  I have more than a year's worth of ideas for social good. Let me share just a few!
Systems Entrepreneurship is on the Rise Jeff Walker has been making the case for what he calls "systems entrepreneurship" at Harvard's Kennedy School, Skoll and in a new SSIR article. He uses examples such as the campaign to eliminate malaria to demonstrate we need a new class of backbone organizations (borrowing from the collective impact concept identified by FSG) who are around organizing larger scale systems change with an ecosystem of players, as opposed to setting out as one organization to make the change single…

Fake Facebook Friends and the CIA

Last night I received a Facebook friend request from an old friend and accepted it.  Within a minute or two, a FB Messenger chat started up about the UN and the Sustainable Development Goals.  So, I of course kept the conversation going.  Until it quickly became a classic advance fee scam conversation (originally made famous by folks in Nigeria with faxes). 

I quickly checked, and found that (of course) I already was Facebook friends with my old friend.  Someone had borrowed her picture and name and was starting to ply the scam trade.  Facebook has a handy way of reporting this exact problem and the fake account was suspended within minutes.  But, it was a reminder of how somebody who has been working with people at the forefront of the security field can be taken in, if only for five minutes. 

So, my advice: if an old friend reaches out to you on Facebook, someone who really should already be a Facebook friend, it's probably not your friend.  With the exception of a few folks wh…

Seeing Through Walls for Greater Independence!

Kent Presents 2016I just attended the second annual Kent Presents conference in Kent, Connecticut. It’s the brainchild of Donna and Ben Rosen, a New York power couple with connections to science, technology, politics, the arts and more. There were too many awesome talks to do them justice, but you are welcome to sample the session titles here.

The talk that especially blew my mind was by MIT professor Dina Katabi. She and one of her graduate students demonstrated their Emerald technology, and it was the first time I’d seen this capability. I’m sure you remember the “Help I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up” TV commercial of late night fame. Dina’s question was: why doesn’t this work most of the time? The answer is that it’s hard to get people to wear something.

The Emerald approach is to do away with the thing you wear. They place a low-power (far less than a wifi router) wireless beacon in your apartment, and it can track the exact location (including altitude) of up to five people. Even th…

Geek Heresy

I just finished reading Kentaro Toyama’s new book, Geek Heresy, tackling the cult of technology as a cure-all for society’s ills. He’s a geek (former Microsoft Research guy) who is making the case that technology doesn’t make the kind of social impact it claims to deliver.

There’s often more value to me in reading iconoclastic books than feel-good affirmations of popular icons! For example, I extracted many insights about the international development field reading books like Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts or Maren’s Road to Hell. Toyama offers up strong criticisms as well as constructive advice about how to best apply technology to social problems. At the same time, there are some flaws in his arguments that are worth pointing out.

Smashing Icons Toyama’s central thesis is that we tend to overstate the benefits of technology as a magic bullet. He’s countering the world view that the technology just needs to get in the hands of the poor and miracles will happen. He broadens this to ta…

From Money to Meaning

Big complex social problems. Your skills and experiences. Benetech. Combining those three potent ingredients is how we change the world. If you’ve been burning to use your considerable talents to make a difference, rather than make a lot of money, it’s time you considered joining our growing team.

We are looking for more than a dozen motivated individuals to make the leap to positive social impact. From executives to summer interns, from engineers and product managers, to communications and outreach professionals, we have a wide range of opportunities.

From children with disabilities to African human rights activists, you will have direct exposure to how Benetech’s products and services change lives for the better. Our benefits are great, and our pay is excellent by nonprofit standards! Flexibility is one of our core values. It’s just one of the reasons that Benetech is the rare software company that is majority women (also true of our managers). We believe in wildcards: if you have…

Ratify Marrakesh!

The United States Senate has a terrific opportunity to expand opportunity The United States Senate has just been presented with the ratification package for the Marrakesh Treaty. We are joining with our peers in the disability and library community in a joint statement to strongly encourage the Senate to ratify the treaty and for Congress to implement the minor legislative changes recommended as part of the package.

We know a great deal about this Treaty, which is designed to help people who are blind or have other disabilities that interfere with reading, such as dyslexia. Our nonprofit organization operates Bookshare, the largest online library in the world that focuses on the needs of people with these disabilities. The creation of Bookshare was made possible because of an enlightened copyright law exception. And, that American copyright exception was the inspiration for the Marrakesh Treaty!

Because the Marrakesh Treaty was modeled after the Chafee Amendment, as the Section 121 …

Silicon Valley’s Developing Conscience: It’s Called Apple

Silicon Valley has a problem. In our quest to build better products and better meet the needs of the world for information, we built the most amazing system for effortless government surveillance as a byproduct. It is now incumbent on Silicon Valley to remedy this situation.

Forcing tech companies to weaken their products through compelling the creation of backdoors would be a massive step backwards.

Whatever the power of search engines or social networks, it’s really the smartphone that is the most incredible tool for tracking our every move and activity. With access to the information collected by a person’s smartphone, it’s probably straightforward to figure out everything important about that person. Who they love. What religion they profess. Their ethnicity. What drugs (legal or illegal) they consume. What content they read or watch. What laws they violate. Every secret.

And, without encryption of this information, the makers of smartphones had effectively handed those secre…