Monday 22/08/2005 — Part II
The most interesting bit of the talks came next with Professor Eric Brewer, who runs Intel's lab at Berkeley, and his next big thing — technology for developing regions. He ran through a litany of facts and myths at breakneck speed; poor people have money, but their life is much more expensive. A little technology goes a long way — in the tsunami, one mobile phone in a village could and did save hundreds of people. The key to effective technology is to make it shareable. I could go on — in fact, you lucky people, I have pages of notes and will do so later.
The impression was of an extremely bright and able man finding a challenge equal to his skills, someone able to see the contradictions in the way us rich kids see the world and with the resources to break those contradictions at every level. I'm not about to hand in my battered badge of cynicism about Intel's primary motivation or its ability to act in questionable ways, nor yet able to sign up to the idea that industrial capitalism will save the world if we just stop asking awkward questions, but by golly it's good to see it put its weight behind someone who gets a light in his eye about the economics of goat farming.
He's also refreshingly not in line with everything the company says; one of the keynotes later in the week is pleased to show an Indianised computer that can run on a car battery. Car batteries aren't good, said Brewer, because they cause massive pollution problems. Similarly, Intel is firmly on the side that it would rather work with people like the Chinese government — currently imprisoning journalists and slamming the brakes on Internet access under Hu Jintao — to effect change from within; Brewer made no bones about it being better to work with non-governmental organisations because they had more focus, more continuity and were less corrupt.
It was with a sickening and uncaffeinated crunch that the words of the next speaker filtered into my brain. From ideas of rural networks created by the people who needed them, we were thrown into "wireless innovation enabling future mobile lifestyles" no, it can't be. Pray it isn't so. Yes! It's the Mobile Vision! Poor Alan Crouch, Director of the Corporate Technology Group, had the bad luck to kick off with the standard pile of marketing poo that immediately closes down even a healthy, alert mind.
Which did him no favours, but fortunately once we were past that he had some interesting snippets in his favour. Ask people worldwide how they press a doorbell, and they extend their index finger. Except for anyone nine or under, who put up a thumb — videogames are changing the way we approach technology. Old people don't answer the phone because they're afraid memory lapses will make them look silly; build a phone that tells them who's calling and what they were talking about last time, and communication is restored (Forget about the wrinklies — I need one of those phones. Now. And if you can weasel in some video recognition and a heads-up display so I can use it when meeting people face-to-face, then I for one will bring my own coffee next time.)