Technology Salon

Washington DC

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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

The Internet of Things vs. Low Tech or No Tech for Development


The Bay Area community is deeply engaged and interested in the Internet of Things, and the lively conversation from the March Technology Salon San Francisco on “How Can Sensors and the Internt of Things Improve International Development Outcomes?” proved it.

I am Jana Melpolder and I joined forty participants gathered to cover the exciting future sensors seem to promise for international development. Throughout the hour, the conversation also turned to vital questions that consider what happens to the data the sensors receive.

IoT and sensors are doing incredible things in modern times. Sensors are placed on handpumps that can notify mechanics if they break down and acoustic sensors in rainforests can detect the sounds of chainsaws. Additionally, refrigerator sensors can monitor the temperature of vaccines, and they can notify nurses to take out vaccines if the refrigerator gets too cold after a power outage.

The use of sensors is exciting and seems promising, especially when considering the notion that human beings tend to be dishonest or uncomfortable when asked questions in person. In other words, sensors obviously give precise figures compared to data collected by individual people.

The conversation quickly turned to highlight the absolute need for the international development community to consider what happens to the data once it’s collected.

“Who owns this data? Who has access to this data?”

These are vitally important questions to ask, but the conversation at this Technology Salon just merely scratched the surface. There was a sense in the room that this needs to be its own Technology Salon in the future.

Another highlight of the conversation plunged into the notion that, although sensors are providing futuristic ways to assist communities in need, the fact is low tech solutions remain as important as ever.

“Low tech is really, really important not to forget.”

The participant who mentioned this quote gave an example of refugees trying to get to Lesbos. These refugees are on the road, unable to charge their cell phone, and it was often discovered that they didn’t know where they were. To resolve this, billboards were placed along the roadside to let them know where they were at. This solution was such a simple and resourceful way to communicate with the refugees – and no energy source or Internet connection was needed. IoT is wonderful, but low tech needs to remain as a valid possible solution no matter what problems arise.

In the end, one participant summed it up perfectly:

“Just because we use technology doesn’t mean it’s the right time or place to do that.”


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