Disruptive Technology: Creating Change for Good
Disruptive technologies are impacting every aspect of daily life, from streaming media services like Netflix to wearable fitness devices such as Nike Fuelbands. Everyday businesses are becoming increasingly convenient, personalised and above all, human. However, we are increasingly realising the ability for new technologies to initiate change and do good. Take Big Data – one of the most disruptive, widely spread, and relatively recent technologies. The data revolution places focus on identifying trends, patterns and outcomes, ultimately enhancing customer experiences. From a social point of view the analysis of such Big Data could help aid earlier diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, as well as dramatically increasing the efficiency of precision agriculture technologies; maximizing food production, minimizing environmental impact and reducing costs.
So what are the day-to-day results of disruptive technologies? It would appear to be a more creative, collectivist and connected global economy. I caught up with two organisations to see how they are using technology to disrupt two key social issues: education and health.
Universal education is a somewhat utopian idea notoriously difficult to crack. However, this view wasn’t to deter Projects for All, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to make learning free and accessible to all, regardless of location or wealth. They’re doing this through introducing robust solar powered and internet enabled computers, called Hello Hubs, into some of the most remote communities in the developing world.
The mission is to provide 2 million children with free and unlimited education by 2019, which yes, seems ambitious but when you explore deeper into organisation’s values, completely doable. Built on the work of Professor Sugata Mitra the Hello Hubs are testament to the fact that not only do children have the capabilities to educate themselves, but they are incredibly keen to learn and to teach each other.
So how does it work? Well Projects for All take their knowledge – but not resources – to developing communities and empower them to build the internet kiosks. These communities are required to negotiate resources, contribute physical labour, and – perhaps most importantly – learn about the technical maintenance, which ensures that the hubs are sustainable. The result; the community haven’t been handed anything. They have built something from scratch, made decisions about where to build it, and they can maintain, repair and upgrade the technology.
Interestingly, users all have a unique login and therefore educational progress and usage over time can be tracked, providing some incredibly useful data on communities typically neglected. Aside from being open source, the Hello Hubs technology is also highly scalable. Projects for All produce comprehensive ‘how to’ guides so anyone, anywhere, can build their own hub – effectively the ultimate goal is to be put out of business!
The first hub was built in Suleja, Nigeria – a town targeted by Boko Haram on Christmas day 2011. Since its completion in 2013 the Suleja hub is not only still standing, but has actually been improved and is being used by hundreds of children and adults on a daily basis. Projects for All will be building four Hubs Uganda later this year, and there are plans in the pipeline to bring the hubs to Peru, Pakistan and South Sudan.
The overriding priority of the organisation is to provide an inclusive tool for education but the hubs do also facilitate creativity. Children can take pictures, make movies, host radio stations and tell their stories. Adults can learn how to start a business, check traffic, or simply ask Google questions about being a parent. The more vulnerable groups in the community have been thought about too; different groups are allocated specific times to use the hubs, including women and girls, and homeless children not enrolled in any type of school who use the hub late at night.
From start to finish a hub costs less than 5% of a traditional school, yet can reach 3 times the number of children. The cost to educate a child for life is a mere $22. The computers in the hubs are loaded with educational materials, but let’s just consider the internet for a minute. No student will ever outgrow all the information available to them on the internet. Children have taught themselves astrophysics solely using internet resources. Of course, the internet comes with its own set of dangers and Projects for All doesn’t interfere with implementing restrictions (that’s up to the community), but the shared screens in public areas do make a pretty good deterrent.
There is a pressing need to revolutionise the education system; the schooling systems that exist around the world today are ridiculously outdated. For access to education to become universal digital schools need to become the norm. Here’s hoping Projects for All’s technology can be the one to transform the complicated and expensive schooling system of present into something accessible and open to all, regardless of location or situation.
When talking about disruptive technologies, the mention of Uber is getting old. However, I’m going to do it anyway. It goes without saying it is one of the most incredibly successful startup stories of the decade. Aside from its own accolades, the company has had an invaluable influence across the service industry. We’ve seen the business model mirrored everywhere from cleaners and handymen to accommodation and dry cleaning.
Glancing at the health sector, “uberization” has taken place here too. Health tech startup babylon has created an on-demand digital health platform available through smartphones; connecting patients with GPs and medical specialists. It even comes complete with a GP rating system! Founded by Dr Ali Parsa in 2013, babylon addresses a resounding frustration that exists with UK health services at present. The combination of technology and great doctors has given the health sector a much needed upgrade, making healthcare far more accessible and convenient to all.
The power and potential of babylon lies in alleviating pressure from the NHS. A study by Pulse magazine found that a patient will typically wait 10 days for an appointment with their GP. And to aggravate the issue further, patients fail to show up to 14 million GP appointments a year. Thus, a lot of time is wasted, on both sides. babylon users can literally be connected with a GP within minutes who can consult, diagnose and even prescribe medication in real time. The experienced team of specialists cover 57 disciplines; from dermatology to cardiology. For more mundane issues, when an appointment isn’t necessary patients can use the ‘Ask’ text service to get queries answered which can often provide quick peace of mind. Email campaigns give relevant and very helpful health advice; like when you should get that mole checked out. The on-demand nature of the digital health platform fits today’s hectic lifestyle perfectly; a typical GPs operating hours suit very few of us, and sometimes it’s just easier to go without speaking to a professional, which should not be the case.
babylon patients can use the service on a pay as you go basis or pay a small monthly membership fee of £4.99 for unlimited access. Again, the company stress they want it to be accessible and affordable to all. Alleviating some of the pressures that GP surgeries are facing is just one part of their plan for international expansion.
“In terms of the future, we see babylon becoming the personal health service for everyone, everywhere. Helping people stay well and treating them when ill. We’re combining the best technology with top-quality doctors, to ultimately change the way people look after their health.” Parsa explains.
And beyond that? Considering by 2020 70% of the world’s population will have smartphones there is an unprecedented scope for universal digitalised services. This 70% could have access to low cost, efficient health care from highly-trained specialists, which is incredible. On a global scale it is these technologies that will pave the way to a connected and collectivist economy.
Projects for All and babylon represent a movement of organisations working to create equality on a global scale. The potential benefits and scope of these technologies are tremendous; on top of improved healthcare and education the associated creation of millions of jobs has the power to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of extreme poverty. Over the coming years technology will continue to play a significant part in people’s lives and the next decade will see even greater achievements as more people and more devices get online and connected. Gartner estimates that by 2020, 25 billion ‘things’ will be connected – but what’s most exciting is that the most dramatic results will be seen in economic and social benefits throughout developing economies.