Saturday, September 26, 2009

Google's Project 10^100 results pending

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When I first heard that Google was running this project to elicit community interest in projects I was going to sign up some ideas myself. In the end I decided against participation because they were not offering any financial support for the project, and there was no assurance of driving the project. That is their choice. I would say their folly. Any here are the ideas that people came up with, with my comments about each of them.
1. Help social entrepreneurs drive change
Of course is would be nice for people in the developing world to become commercially astute but the idea of a group of Americans going to Liberia or other countries to teach entrepreneurship is naive. People don't just embrace any set of values; it has to reconcile with their existing values. If you want to encourage entrepreneurship in Africa or Asia it has to start with the parenting.
2. Make government more transparent
This was a superficial solution to the tyranny of government. It does not address the core problem with representative democracies - the absence of reason as the standard.
3. Provide quality education to African students
One can certainly understand the need to educate people in Africa, and the African continent does have one of the largest populations, but if education is a value it makes more sense to start with those with address to online resources. This initiative plus the $100 computer make a lot of sense, though computers require electricity, which is not so cheap for the poor just yet.
4. Create real-time natural crisis tracking system
This is a good idea though we must remember that natural crisis occur because countries cannot fund these systems. It is a funding crisis not a technology crisis. The reason these countries can't deal with natural disasters is because they have the wrong political system. This is a long term problem. But so is a natural disaster system in as much as natural disasters are irregular. It is not a bad idea though, so this one is semi-plausible. The best so far.
5. Promote health monitoring and data analysis
This suggestion is a good idea. It will of course take a lot of money to develop and distribute so it is going to be a commercial decision.
6. Enhance science and engineering education
If there is a lack of regard for science and engineering its not because of lack of awareness of education, its actually a cultural folly. I do however think that engineering could be developed as a subject in school. The problem with physics education in school is that it is too abstract. Greater emphasis needs to be given to grounding physics in real problems, and of course introducing engineering to schools is a useful means of doing that.
7. Create real-world issue reporting system
This is not a bad idea. The problem of course that its a commercial solution which will eventually be developed. In fact its the type of solution that Google should be developing since its a commercial application that is consistent with its current business model. This type of solution will be developed soon as the technology is being rolled out to support such software solutions. Each of us has a cell phone and most have a computer. All it needs is the software to drive it, and integration with a platform like Google, which is already part of our lives.
8. Create genocide monitoring and alert system
This is a hopeless idea. The problem is not that genocide occurs or is inadequately reported. The problem is a lack of sound ethical principles in host countries or Western countries to do anything about it.
9. Work toward socially conscious tax policies
Consumption taxes are a fairer form of taxation but the problem remains governments who fail to reign in their spending, and who attempt to position themselves at the centre of the economy. There is no justification for having a government which accounts for 25-35% of an economy. They would be a fraction less than 1%. The problem is their arbitrary powers.
10. Build better banking tools for everyone
This is already being done in developing countries, and some of these suggestions offer no value.

I see no great value in these suggestions for several reasons. They are problems likely to be resolved in the fullness of time, or they are not fundamental enough. I would have been looking for ideas which offered a better solution for government. I was disappointed. In any respect Google's original conception was flawed by not committing any funds to the program. If it had it would have attracted more interest. Maybe it wanted to avoid corruption of the process by its staff. Who knows? For some reason 'community initiatives' is like code for altruism or other such Christian nonsense.
Andrew Sheldon

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