Ellen Ward, Máirín Murray
0 views • 15:58

Máirín Murray: Raise your hands if you believe that technology is taking us in the wrong direction. And keep your hands in the air if you wish this wasn't the case. Okay, great. It looks like a lot of you are in the right place because today we're going to be talking about turning the tides around and using technology as a force for good. I come from outside a tiny village in County Down, called Ballygowan. There are Ballygowans all over Ireland. Ballygowan means 'Baile an ghobhann', the town of the blacksmith. Blacksmiths used what is arguably the first technology ever invented, which was iron. They were the techies, the tool makers of their day. And they did make weapons of war - they made spears and daggers and swords. But here's the thing: they also made ploughs to help your crops, they made vessels to carry water, they made grits to keep our homes warm. They made the tools to sustain life. That was the Iron Age, and here we are now in the digital age, and the same principles apply. Technology can be used for good or for bad. It's up to us to shape it and make sure that it has a positive impact. Some blacksmiths could've been considered the Tech for Good pioneers of their day, and way back in the Iron Age, the big issues of the time were sustaining the life of the local village, the local community, whereas now our challenges are on a global scale, they're complicated, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Take your pick: seas filling up with plastic; a shortage of doctors, globally; climate crisis. But big problems are also really motivating. As US president John F. Kennedy said, they wanted to go to the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard. So big challenges, they're exciting, they're scary even, and they give us an opportunity for incredible innovation and learning. As the protesters' sign says, 'The seas are rising and so are we.' People are waking up; we get it now. There's widespread acceptance of the problems that we're facing. And the language is also catching up. The Guardian is now calling climate change a climate emergency. Greta Thunberg says that we need to get angry and to transform that anger into action. Make no mistake, we are living in revolutionary times. The status quo is not an option. But there needs to be more than taking to the streets. How do we harness this energy, this revolutionary zeal, into something practical? Living today, it's not hard to find a purpose, to find a why. And people, we are natural problem solvers. What makes us human is our ability to make tools and fix things. This is where technology comes in. Technology gives us a practical way to have positive impact. Digital technology is so powerful in terms of its ability to connect us globally, to scale and to automate. There is so much potential. The planet is literally awash with techies. In Ireland, there are a 100,000 people working for tech companies. Globally, we have millions of software engineers. Imagine if we could focus these technical skills, this knowledge to work on and to address the problems and issues that really matter. Steve Jobs said that we're here to put a dent in the universe. Why else even be here? He got it, but it's a basic human need to want to have impact, and tech enables this. A few years ago, we thought of the founders of tech companies. We thought of them like rock stars; they were like gods. And they did have a really big impact, but they've also had a very negative impact - we've all seen the news stories. It's not enough to have a stated positive purpose for a tech product. We need to be alert and wise to unintended negative consequences and to address these as a priority. Not everybody needs to be a coder. It is important, though, to be tech-literate, to be tech-aware, to know the potential of technology so that we can tap into it, even if we're not hands-on making the tools ourselves. I come from County Down, it's near Strangford Lough. It's a really beautiful part of the world. Near my home are the remains of the ancient monastery of Saint Mochaoi, on the Island of Nendrum. The monks there were world innovators. In the seventh century, they found a way to harness the power of tides and currents. Archeologists have confirmed that Nendrum is the site of the first water tidal mill in the world. We can use this as a clue in terms of how we can harness technology for good. Monasteries were collectives, they were communities of learning and doing, and sometimes brewing as well. They were focused on local solutions, and they shared the knowledge through global networks. Their focus was on the social good. Today in a similar way, there are Tech4good communities popping up all over the world. Tech4good is more than a hashtag, it's a global grassroots movement. There's no rulebook or manual to follow; we don't have all the answers. But we do know that it's about working and learning from each other in community. It's about building a collective intelligence. Myself and Ellen founded Tech4good in Dublin over two years ago, and we're really proud to be part of this movement. Tech4good in Dublin has over 1,500 members, of activists, techies, non-techies, people from every different walk of life. Well, seeing is believing, so Ellen is going to show you some powerful examples of Tech4good in action. Thank you. Ellen Ward: So, before I share our examples today, I just wanted to tell you very briefly how Máirín and I ended up here today. We met a little over two years ago on Twitter. We shared an interest in using technology to solve social problems, but we come from different backgrounds ourselves. I work in international development and Máirín works in digital media. So we met for coffee and had a chat and decided that we felt Dublin had all the perfect ingredients to explore Tech4good. So we began by running free events showcasing projects with purpose and sharing digital skills. Our own enthusiasm was shared by the people who came along in their hundreds to learn, share their own ideas, and get involved. So here are three examples of some of the projects happening in Dublin today. We've probably all borrowed some clothes from someone at some point in our lives - a suit for a wedding, a jumper if we're cold, or a costume for a school play - but we might not realize the power of that simple act to help save the planet. Until recently I didn't know what fast fashion was. I didn't realize that fashion contributes to 10% of global carbon emissions, or that it takes 2,700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed for one T-shirt. And yet clothes are sold so cheaply that we buy them and throw them away just as easily. The average American throws away 36kg of clothes per year and 80 per cent of textiles will end up incinerated or in landfill. Treating clothes as disposable is damaging our planet. Two people who came up with a great solution to this were Aisling and Aoife. They love fashion but didn't want to feel guilty every time they bought something new. As students, they survived on a tight budget but wanted to look fabulous at parties and formal events. So they began with an idea to have swap shops in their university but soon realized that people wanted to lend and return items to each other. So that became the plan. And technology allowed them to do this in a simple and scalable way. Over the next few years, they built 'The Nu Wardrobe', an app which allows you to find the perfect outfit and borrow it with agreed terms. By recirculating clothes, we can reduce our reliance on fast fashion and we can live a little bit more consciously by buying less and sharing more. Back to those big problems we talked about, Dublin is currently in the middle of a homelessness crisis. We have more than 10,000 people homeless and many families among them, with more than 3,700 children. While we wait for new homes to be built in the suburbs, there are many empty buildings in Dublin, and those opportunities still need to be explored. Two people who tackled this problem are Philip and Aoife of 'Space Engagers'. They came up with a map-based app called 'Reusing Dublin', which allows people to find vacant or empty buildings near them and plot them on the map. You simply take a photograph and add it to the app with any information you have, and importantly, this starts a process to discover which of those buildings can be renovated and turned back into living accommodation by a partner charity. Towns and cities are living things, and by being involved in projects like this, we can all have an impact on our doorstep. It can also turn us into active citizens. And active citizens can get an awful lot done when we focus on solving problems together. Not all technology is on our phones these days, and my third example uses the Internet of Things, which, in non-technical terms, is adding data to everyday objects. It is also an example of how active citizens, in this case, the cyclists, can contribute to positive change. Census data shows us that 8 per cent of Dublin commuters cycle to work. And that number is increasing, but a target of 25 percent is still a long way off. Like many cities, Dublin was not built with cyclists in mind. We have narrow streets, big buses, tram lines, waterways, and one-way systems to deal with. Not to mention very dark winters and lots of rain. Making cycling safer and easier is essential for our city to thrive in the future. Two people who are tackling this problem are Philip and Irene of 'See.Sense'. And they came up with - hang on, it's in my pocket - this very small object which is an intelligent bike light. It has multiple features, but the main feature is when it's attached to your bike, it'll collect data from cyclists who are moving around the city. It uses sensor technology to collect information about road surface quality, speed and unsafe routes. It'll shine more brightly when you're cycling through an unsafe route. It will send you a notification if the battery is low or if your bike is moved. It will even notify an emergency contact if you need help. The data captured is aggregated and anonymised and shared with city planners who are working to improve cycling infrastructure and safety. It's one very simple but practical contribution, and I think it's a very clever little gadget that we can all get behind. So, those are three examples - Sorry, there's a picture of the data moving around Dublin and the maps that can be built from their sensor data. So what do all three of these ideas and all of the change-makers involved have in common? Well, we think they share a very clear sense of purpose. They understood the problem they were trying to solve. Their own knowledge and experience allowed them to stay focused even when the journey took them in an unexpected direction. They maintained that clarity of purpose. Secondly, they were all connected to other people. They were already part of a community of cyclists or students and other people who also wanted to make a change. And that was going to be important because they'd be asking those communities to get involved in their projects. Lastly, they all saw technology as a tool they could use to reach their goal. They may not have been computer programmers themselves, but they found help to build tools which would scale to reach many more people than they could ever meet in person. The impact they had would not have been possible without technology. Active citizens are an incredible force for good. When they harness the power of technology, this change is what is possible. Ultimately, for these solutions to succeed, people needed to care about the issues being addressed, and our work with Tech4good has shown us that many, many people do care and want to help. These were just a few examples, but there are many more projects already happening and many more still forming as ideas in people's minds. MM: Tech4good is the movement for our times. The big opportunity we have is to harness the power not of the water and tides, like medieval Irish monks, but to harness our collective intelligence, our abilities, our voices, and to use digital technology for social good. I'd ask all of you today to sign up and join the Tech4good movement. Like modern day blacksmiths, we can work together and create tools, and shape tools to serve and empower our communities. Together we can change our world for the better and make a positive dent on the universe. Thank you. EW: Thank you. (Applause)