Feeling Cynical and Jaded? Tech for Good Will Warm Your Cold, Dead Heart
Tech news that will actually warm your heart.
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It's easy to get incredibly jaded when you read about tech in the news. From privacy breaches to tech as a catalyst for government social control, every day we bear witness to more and more examples that move further away from the ideals of those who created the tech in the first place. But I still have hope that tech can change not only our individual lives but the societies we live in — for the better. Take a look at some of my favorite examples of how companies are using tech such as image recognition, geolocation analytics, wearable tech, and drones to provide insights, analytics, and potential solutions for serious problems that humans alone have been unable to solve in any meaningful way:
In November 2010, harrowing footage obtained by UK broadcaster Channel 4 emerged, seemingly showing Sri Lankan troops executing Tamil prisoners. Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA), was one of the international lawyers asked to examine the video. He found that the authenticity of the footage could not be verified. ‘Watching that film was a catalyst for the idea that an app could be created to act as a tool of verification and allow the video to be admissible in a court of law,’ he says. So began a four-year effort to create such technology. The result is eyeWitness to Atrocities, a mobile app with the unique capability to authenticate and securely store footage of gross human rights abuses while maintaining the anonymity of the user.
The app is a tool for human rights defenders, documenters, journalists, and other courageous citizens to capture verifiable footage related to international atrocity crimes. The easy-to-use camera app captures the metadata needed to ensure that images can be used in investigations or trials. It then safely stores the information in a storage facility, hosted by Lexis Nexis and maintained by the eyeWitness organization. The information received is reviewed by the eyeWitness expert team, who then seek to ensure that the data is used to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice.
Poaching is a significant problem in Africa, with almost all poaching of big animals happens overnight, especially during full moons. Air Shepherd is run by UAV & Drone Solutions with help from California-based Elephant Cooperation and uses drones to protect rhinos and elephants in Africa. Using sophisticated three-aircraft operating teams that works with rangers on the ground, drones are flown over high probable poaching areas, allowing rangers to intercept suspects before a poaching incident can take place.
The program uses intelligence from multiple sources while infrared-capable drones fly silently. A new SPOT program, developed with the University of Southern California, automatically detects poachers in less than half a second. Rangers are then sent to intercept them. Thus, Air Shepherd drones offer more protection for rangers who, while patrolling at night, are exposed to a high level of danger from armed poachers and wild animals. Air Shepherd’s experience on the ground has shown that when they are flying drones, poaching stops.
Air Shepherd has flown in multiple African countries, including South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and now, Botswana. With more than 30,000 flight hours, Air Shepherd drone teams are pushing the boundaries of drone technology by flying 25 km beyond the line of sight and at night — when poachers operate.
Robots working in cafes is hardly something new in Japan, but a new pilot aims to offer something truly exceptional. A partnership between robotics startup Ory labs, NPO Nippon Foundation, and airline ANA, have created a temporary eatery called Dawn ver.β. It’s staffed by robots that are operated remotely by paralyzed individuals, who can control the robots from their own homes. The robots are operated by a staff of 10 people, whose conditions range from spinal cord injuries to ALS, with many controlling the robots via eye movement and adaptive technology.
The staff are paid 1,000 yen per hour ($8.80USD), this is the standard wage for part-time work in Japan. But more importantly, it offers a sense of purpose and independence for people whose quality of life has been compromised due to serious health conditions.
BBC Africa Eye
In July 2018 a horrifying video began to circulate on social media. It shows two women and two young children being led away at gunpoint by a group of Cameroonian soldiers who accused the women of belonging to the militant group Boko Haram. The captives are blindfolded, forced to the ground, and shot 22 times.
The video was widely circulated with speculation about the identities of the victims and offenders. BBC's Africa Eye team decided to investigate, relying on open-source resources to examine as geolocation, weapons analysis, and vehicle tracking. Through forensic analysis of the footage, was able to determine exactly where the event happened, when it happened, and who was responsible for the killings. For example, tools such as Google Earth and Sentinel Hub enabled them to pair the mountain's ridgeline in the footage to the topography of Northern Cameroon, as a means to verify the location. An analysis of the shadows cast as soldiers walked with the use of SunCalc made it possible to determine the time frame. Due to the evidence, the government finally acknowledged that the killings seen in this video were carried out by Cameroonian soldiers, with legal action in process.
As evidenced in the work of EyeWitness above, human rights researchers often rely on videos shared online to document war crimes, atrocities, and human rights violations. Manually reviewing these videos is expensive and can cause vicarious trauma. Researchers at Syrian Archive, an organization dedicated to documenting war crimes and human rights violations, have already identified evidence of illegal cluster bombs in dozens of videos. But manually reviewing videos does not scale and currently, there are over 1.500.000 videos waiting to be reviewed -over three years of end to end viewing.
VFRAME Prototype #1B: Cluster Munition Detector from VFRAME on Vimeo.
In response, Adam Harvey and fellow contributors in Berlin have created VFRAME (Visual Forensics and Metadata Extraction), a collection of open source computer vision tools designed specifically for human rights investigations that rely on large video datasets. Specifically, it provides customized state-of-the-art tools for object detection and quantification, scene classification, visual search, image annotation for creating datasets, APIs to integrate with existing workflows, the ability to train new algorithms, and graphic content filtering algorithms to reduce exposure to traumatic content. Anyone with access to the project website will eventually be able to test the computer vision algorithms and explore the datasets created for VFRAMEproject collaborations.
Tech doesn't need to be overly complex to be life-saving. As Quartz reported: "On the night of Sunday, Aug. 28, Matthew Marchetti was one of thousands of Houstonians feeling powerless as their city drowned in tropical storm Harvey’s deluge. People needed help while waiting for emergency services. By Monday morning, the 27-year-old developer, sitting in his leaky office, had slapped together an online mapping tool to track stranded residents. A day later, nearly 5,000 people had registered to be rescued, and 2,700 of them were safe."
CrowdSource Rescue has helped connect over 12,000 professional and volunteer rescuers with 35,000 people using its mapping and dispatching technology. It's a public-safety grade platform that uses next-generation technology to quickly connect both professional first-responders and vetted volunteers with response, relief, and recovery cases before, during, and immediately after a disaster.
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