/Ideas from Europe Part 2/
Disruptive technology, such as the internet and the myriad of apps that it has spawned, has changed forever the way we access and interpret information. We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘googling’ any enquiry. But a less familiar result of the same technology is that the creation of information is now a massive activity and one which has a very uneven outcome – anyone can now publish anything on the internet where it is likely to stay unread.
According to Anita Schøll Brede of Norway, well over 3000 research-based papers are published each and every day – that’s over one million papers published each year – and around 50% of these will have a readership of less than five people. To Anita, that suggests that a huge quantity of information is being lost, a problem she set out to address with the help of AI IRIS, her robotic assistant. IRIS reads all new papers, and analyses, summarises and presents them in a comprehensive and ordered way thereby making the information more widely and easily available.
Kenny Ewan of the United Kingdom is also concerned about the availability of quality information, especially for those who could benefit from it most. Kenny reports that 500 million small scale farmers are without access to the internet and many are at least 30 kms from the nearest village, making the crowd-sourced information they could use to address their queries inaccessible. What is needed, he asserts, is a peer-to-peer network for small scale farmers that allows them to access information without having to leave their village.
“Knowledge is free and accessible but not widely implemented on the big problems”
Charalampos Ioannou of Greece sees the need for communication technologies in other areas too. He believes that, in future, many more people will suffer from loneliness and, perhaps, most worryingly, a lack of supervised and integrated health care. To address this, Charalampos has created Bioassist, a gadget that integrates communications (including social media) with a health monitor that is connected to and integrated with health service providers and emergency response services.
The problem of the amount of waste that is generated in society, and its efficient collection, sorting and recycling, is a preoccupation of Pirkka Palomäki of Finland. Pirkka considers that to approach a sustainable waste handling system, we need to not only look at and invest in recycling systems, but we also need to improve the efficiency of the collection system. Waste collection in most developed countries is carried out in accordance with a schedule and this results in an inefficient process in which the collectors are dealing as much with partially filled containers as with those that are overflowing. What Palomäki wants to see is a variation of just-in-time thinking so that the waste collection vehicles only stop and empty those bins that are approaching a “full” condition. Pirrka developed the Enevo, which looks like a yellow blob attached to a waste bin. It contains sensors that determine how full the bin is, when would be the optimum time to empty it and then sends that information to a central computer that works out the optimum routing for the waste collection vehicle. The adoption of Palomäki system would eventually see the end of uncollected waste and streets blocked by waste collection vehicles. It would also reduce costs and emissions by utilising a sustainable waste disposal system.
“We need to think outside the box”
Not all issues can be addressed by technology, as Nathan Farrugia of Malta showed us. Considered ‘disabled’ by many in his society, he recounted that when he was young, his friends adapted their plans so that he was included rather than excluded because of his health condition. But, as he grew up, he realised that only about 5% of disabled people found work and that businesses and potential employers claimed a lack of resources and expertise to support them. This results, according to Nathan, in a huge waste of talent – a waste that costs governments millions of euros in support benefits. To support those who are ‘disabled’ but would like to work, Nathan has assembled a team and created Empower to promote the strengths of the disabled and to show employers that these outweigh the perceived weaknesses of their disability. With the continuing development of robots and other disruptive technologies, the disabled are being placed in an even more marginalised and vulnerable position. “We need to think outside the box to empower and realise the potential of those with disabilities” Nathan says.
No surprise speakers earned standing ovation in the end. The commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska summed it up perfectly: “Entrepreneurs are our future; go on inspiring us!”
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