By Leo Whyte, Digital, IoT and Telecoms Advisor, GSMA

On the 25th April, I moderated an insightful panel at Aid & Trade London entitled “Tech for good: the next game changer” which looked at how modern Digital Tech can be used to help in Humanitarian Aid Operations.  This opportunity really got me thinking about whether Digital Tech is helping the growth in inequality across the world as exemplified by the high performing FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) stocks or whether Digital Tech can be used as a force for Good.  Digital Tech is an important ingredient in social inclusion and has important applications in terms of social impact for people who lack disposable income, commonly termed as those at the Bottom of the Pyramid.  The challenge in the global economy is to ensure that those at the bottom of the pyramid are not excluded from participating in the digital world.  In order to enable social inclusion it is important that Digital Tech is underpinned by a philosophy of ensuring that what gets built at the application, middle layer and protocol levels is designed to be fully open with as wide access as possible. 

In Europe we have been wrestling with the refugee crisis, where rising numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants have arrived in increasing numbers in the European Union (EU) since 2015.  When refugees and displaced persons arrive in a new country without a government to back up their identities, it is a significant challenge to finding meaningful work and have the ability to provide for themselves. 

IrisGuard who joined me at the “Tech for Good” panel at Aid & Trade London have an interesting technology innovation based upon the science that every human eye is different, which provides a unique identifier for refugees and displaced persons using its pioneering and market leading iris recognition technology.  IrisGuard have combined their technology with Blockchain to provide a piece of Tech4Good that has the potential to have a major impact in humanitarian aid.  IrisGuard have been able to combine blockhain with their secure EyePay® iris-enabled POS platforms, with this innovation allowing the processing of supermarket transactions via Ethereum secure ledger in real time.  IrisGuard have been recognised for their progressive work in securing the last mile in blockchain authentication by using a verified iris to release the 32-byte blockchain private key.  The project has now been rolled out across five supermarkets in Jordanian refugee camps, processing blockchain transactions valued at millions of dollars per month and serving over 120,000 Syrian refugee beneficiaries.  It is the claimed to be the largest deployment in the world of blockchain involving mass numbers of people in real time, and was recognised by the World Food Programme earlier this year as one of its "10 innovations changing the way the U.N delivers food".  Imagine the possibilities where blockchain could be used to provide e-vouchers to refugees in camps, allowing them to purchase goods in a localized refugee-economy and increasing the likelihood for self-reliance in the camp?  This demonstrates that beyond the Blockchain hype, this technology could become an enabler for social change with a bigger human impact in the humanitarian aid sector.  Blockchain could be used to create a system which enables people to register their identity documents and provide Digital IDs to millions of undocumented or stateless people who lack access to basic government and financial services and Microsoft could play a part in this.

Another Digital Tech going through a period of expansion is Artificial Intelligence (AI).  You may have seen my previous post on Google’s Duplex AI demo and read the backlash around the ethics of the demo, but putting the controversy to the side for the moment, could AI be an example of Digital Tech that again is a Tech for Good?  Rapid Disaster response and management can be aided with AI through the power to gather, analyse and utilise data more effectively than ever before.  By leveraging the vast amounts of real-time data generated during national disasters and emergencies, AI has the potential to radically transform the way the international community assesses and responds to these and other kinds of crises. With the power to gather, analyse, and utilise data more effectively than ever before, we can begin to create and imagine the future of humanitarian response. 

DJI, the market leader in easy-to-fly drones also took part in the Aid & Trade panel to educate the audience on how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones can be also be found in non-commercial applications such as humanitarian aid, to assess the impact of a disaster and deliver life-saving assistance.  The World Food Programme is exploring the use of AI to analyse the data gathered from satellites and drones to assess the impact of a disaster, inform their response, and deliver life-saving assistance.  It is also exploring how AI-powered vehicles and drones could help deliver assistance to areas that are difficult to reach or too dangerous to enter. 

Another expanding Digital tech is virtual reality (VR) and Google mentioned how VR can be used to make potential donors feel as though they are actually there, and experiencing the tragedy first hand. If this is too harrowing a thought, the flipside could be in using VR to show exactly where donations are going and the impact a contribution makes.

I hope this short piece has made you think a bit more about not only the personal or corporate impact of Digital Tech, but also how Digital Tech can have a bigger impact in society.  There is a huge opportunity for Tech4Good, but it is not just the simple application of a single technology.  It’s often having the ability to combine a number of technologies in innovative and new ways that provides the highest potential for social impact and inclusion.  Thank you to Aid & Trade London for the personal opportunity to see the bigger picture of Digital Tech.