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Technology Benefiting Equality
Allen S. Hammond
Introduction: Not Just a Digital Divide, but also a Technology Divide
Many people in the United States and abroad have heard of the “Digital Divide ”.1 However,the Digital Divide in the United States and in the world 2 is part of a larger global technology divide between the Northern and Southern hemispheres,the rich and poor nations and the rich and poor inhabitants of the world.3 Even in the Northern Hemisphere,even in countries such as the United States,geography,un- equal distribution of wealth and cost conspire to per- petuate a technology divide.Recently the technology divide has been evident in the conflict between U.S. pharmaceutical companies and South Africa and Bra- zil over the countries ’ attempts to create generic AIDS drugs for which the companies hold patents.4 The technology divide is also evident in the growing de- bate over access to biotechnology to increase food pro- duction5 and technology to treat and potentially cure disease.
In an effort to address these global discrepancies in a limited way, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University and The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose identified Technology Benefiting Equality as one of the five categories for its Technology Benefiting Humanity awards. The panel selecting the finalists and the winner in this category was required to select an award recipient from among the applications of numerous organizations, companies, and individuals whose innovative use of technology has the potential to reduce the technology divide.
The panel established a set of general criteria for the selection of the finalists. The use of a technology was to address a serious problem or challenge of broad significance. The technology was to be used responsibly in its delivery to its intended beneficiaries. The technology in question could be used in a new way, or could be a new technology altogether.Thetechnology ’s use must have a measurable impact on the problem addressed.In addition,applicants were required to have a sense of potential adverse effects the technology ’s implementation might have.And,finally, the use of the technology to address the particular prob- lem or challenge should be able to be replicated.
In reviewing the applications,we eschewed an emphasis on novelty or newness in favor of an em- phasis on effectiveness.To quote one of our panelists: “Novelty for its own sake isn ’t worth much,unless it demonstrates or at least promises effectiveness in achieving its goal.” Consistent with the judging ru- bric,we made no distinction between a project using old technology to address a pressing problem,and a project using new technology to address a pressing problem.Instead,we sought to select those projects using technology that showed the greatest promise and that possessed the potential to enable lots of new uses if developed.
We were “technology neutral” in that we sought to avoid favoring one generic form of technology (for instance, information technology) over others. We also sought to judge projects using a single technology and those using multiple technologies as theoretically equal, but recognized that there is great value in projects that orchestrate a variety of technologies or media to achieve a particular end. We attempted to select applicants that could have international impact consistent with the criteria established in the judging rubric. Finally, we treated as equals the applications that proposed training in the use of technology and the applications that focused on the deployment and or implementation of a technology to achieve equality by leveraging positive change.
The Panel selected five finalists from among the many worthy applicants. The finalists in alphabetical order are: Benetech, Chaz M. Holder, Greenstar, James Sheats and LINCOS, and the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP). Whether seeking to improve the mobility of the physically handicapped through the development of efficient cheaply produced prosthetics; or developing and deploying self contained and powered technology centers to enhance the provision of potable water, medical services, electric power and communication; or expanding the voice of the women; or expanding the access to information of the world’s blind and visually impaired; the finalists are engaged in using technology to address the serious global problem of inequality. Each of the finalists met all of the criteria established by the panel.
Benentech’s Bookshare.org uses technology to provide people with sight disabilities access to a growing online library of digital books. While this concept is not new, its implementation is critical and timely. Aside from the population born with a significant disability, those growing older tend to develop sight disabilities as well. This fact will become increasingly clear to Americans as the post-war babyboomers continue to age. In the United States it is estimated that there are at least ten million blind or visually impaired individuals.6
Bookshare.org offers a Web-based digital library for individuals with visual and other print disabilities. Prospective registered users access and download library materials in the NISO/Daisy XML digital talking book standard or the BRF (an electronic Braille format). In all probability, the vast majority of the ten million blind or visually impaired Americans can make use of Bookshare.org’s technology.7 One can add a significant portion of dyslexic Americans as well.8 There are approximately forty-five million blind individuals in the world.9 This number could double by the year 2020.10 It is estimated that between eighty and ninety percent of the forty-five million blind live in the less developed countries of the world. Twenty-five percent of these live in one country, India. One million, four hundred thousand of these individuals are children. Seventy-five percent of the 1.4 million children live in the poorest parts of less developed countries.11 In addition, it is estimated that five percent of the world’s population is dyslexic.12 Thus the potential impact of Bookshare.org could be substantial should it expand its digital library to include books in other languages besides English.
Chaz M. Holder, CZBioMed Enterprises
In developing countries as well as developed nations, accidents, congenital defects, bone deformities, constricted bone growth, and the aftermath of armed conflict result in numerous physically challenged individuals. 13 For many, the cost of acquiring prosthetic limbs14 limits their ability to enjoy a more selfdirected life.15 CZBioMed Enterprises joins a small number of firms seeking to provide prosthetic limbs. These limbs are cheaper and more responsive to the user’s actual need to perform every day tasks taken for granted by those with their biological limbs.16 In the process, CZBiomed will help create opportunities for people in various parts of the world to purchase cheap, user compatible prosthetics and live a more productive life.17
Greenstar recognizes that access to technology is not the primary need of many of its would be beneficiaries. So, it uses technology to deliver services addressing basic health, education, energy, environment, training and financial needs. Greenstar’s Solar- Powered Community Center provides a platform on which a village in an isolated portion of the world can use technology to first meet its immediate needs. 18 As needs such as water purification, telemedicine, education and economic developmentare met, the village can also use communications technology to communicate its culture and perspective to the outside world.19
James Sheats, Hewlett-Packard Corporation, and LINCOS
A LINCOS (Little Intelligent Communities) Digital Town Center is composed of a discarded steelshipping container stocked with computer equipment, modems, solar panels and satellite-dish antennas and dressed up with a nice white awning.20 Developed by James Sheats of Hewlett-Packard Corporation, assisted by the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Living and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, LINCOS Digital Town Centers provide access via satellite to the Web, E-mail, videoconferencing, IT training, and telemedicine. Presently, seven LINCOS centers operate in Costa Rica. The technology’s creators intend to install LINCOS centers throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. The LINCOS model, complete with the shipping containers, is already being deployed by Pride Africa, a Nairobi, Kenya, organization that has established 58 limited bank branches in five African countries for 100,000 of the region’s poorest people.21
Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace
The Women’s Learning Partnership is a U.S.- based group seeking to promote the use of modern technologies by Muslim women worldwide. 22 “Of those in the Arab countries with Internet connections, only 4 percent are women, compared with 7 percent of China’s Internet users, 17 percent of South Africa’s, 17 percent of Japan’s and 38 percent of those in the United States.” 23 According to Noeleen Heyzer, director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, “the key to a better life for millions of women in the Muslim world struggling against poverty, illiteracy, and isolation may be found in E-inclusion., Econsultation, E-campaign.”24 Currently, providing Internet access to most women in the Muslim world remains a distant goal. However, where it is available, the introduction of e-mail and the Internet has already begun to make women activists more effective and has helped women who live in isolated areas in Nigeria, the Palestinian territories and Morocco.25
Allen S. Hammond, Chair, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University
Christine Bachen, Associate Professor ofCommunication, Santa Clara University
Hans-Peter Dommel, Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering, Santa Clara University
Brian Fitzgerald, Dean of the School of Law and Justice, Southern Cross University, Australia
Brenda Laurel, Designer and Writer
Steve Puthuff, Chairman, SyberSayCommunications
David Sul, Director of College Special Programs, Santa Clara University
1 One measure of the global digital divide can be taken by considering these few facts.
2 “Amid reports that the ‘digital divide’ is actually narrowing in the U.S., the facts about a rapidly widening gap worldwide are becoming a focus of concern among internationally minded organizations that assume that information access and connectivity are essential for full participation in the global economy.
The disparities are great. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recently said that the Internet is used only by 5 percent of the world’s population. Some 85 percent of all users and 90 percent of the hosts are in developed countries. Research by University of Maryland professor Ernest J. Wilson III indicates that in 2000, 98 percent of Latin Americans,
99.5 percent of Africans, and about 98 percent ofAsians were not connected to the Internet. And the gap is widening. Access is growing by 23 percent annually in the ‘have’ countries (those mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and Australia and New Zealand), but is only growing by 18 percent annually in the ‘havenot’ countries (mostly in the Southern Hemisphere).” Wally W. Conhaim. “The Global Digital Divide.” Information Today, 7:18 (July 1, 2001), 1.
3 See “UN Economic and Social Council opens 2001 substantive session; Begins Discussion on Transfer of Knowledge and Technology” M2 PRESSWIRE ( July 4, 2001). Also see Hardev Kaur. “Uneven Results of Globalization” New Straits Times- Malaysia, (February 1, 2001), 17.
“In April 1998, 29 OECD countries spent $520 billion on research and development, most of which is funded by the private sector, which is more than the combined economic output of the 30 poorest countries. In 1992, less than 10% of global spending on health research addressed 90% of the global disease burden, 0.28% was dedicated to research on pneumonia and diarrhea, diseases which constitute 11% of the global disease burden. Out of the 95,000 scientific articles dealing with therapy, only 182 were about tropical diseases. Similarly, out of the 1,223 new drugs introduced worldwide between 1975 and 1996, only 13 were meant to treat tropical diseases.
About 95% of the world’s publicly supported energy research and development was spent by OECD countries and very little on renewable energy resources that are more relevant to the needs of developing countries. More or less the same pattern is visible for Internet use and even the diffusion of what the report calls old innovations such as electricity and grid development, first invented in 1831, but from which a third of the world’s population continues to be deprived. Consumption in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is less than one-tenth of the OECD.
The same pattern is detected as far as scientific and technological research is concerned: OECD countries, with 14% of the world’s population accounted for 86% of the 836,000 patents filed in 1998 and 85% of the 437,000 scientific and technical articles published worldwide. The OECD spends 2.4% of its GDP on research as against 0.6% in South Asia. It follows that new technologies and products are more likely to be developed in OECD countries than elsewhere. This is a natural consequence of the scientific and technological breakthroughs that were first achieved in Europe, reinforced further by the social revolutions that occurred there and the global dominance that followed from these twin causes.” “Technological Power: Massively in Favour of the Western Bloc.” The Statesman – India (August 3, 2001).
4 “The Bush administration said yesterday that the United States was withdrawing its international copyright complaint against Brazil over AIDS drugs. Critics said the U.S. action, which had been brought through the World Trade Organisation, had threatened Brazil’s drive to tackle AIDS, which has been credited with cutting the infection rate by 60 per cent…Brazil was regarded as the latest front in the battle to get cheap AIDS drugs for poorer nations over the objections of drugs firms defending their copyrights. The United States had objected to a Brazilian law requiring drug companies to produce patented drugs inside the country rather than import them - reducing their cost. If this is not done, the law gives the Brazilian government the right to license the manufacturing rights to someone else.
In April, pharmaceutical companies retreated from a three-year lawsuit against South Africa’s government in which they attempted to enforce their copyrights. More recently, Kenya’s parliament unanimously passed a law allowing the government to suspend patent rights in times of emergency, clearing the way for cheaper, generic AIDS drugs in the East African nation.”“Brazil Wins Battle for Cheap Drugs.”The Scotsman (June 26, 2001), 11.
In a direct challenge to the world’s pharmaceutical industry, the authors of a new UN report have called on developing countries to strengthen their national laws in order to enable local production of cheaper, lifesaving AIDS drugs. Such an option can be pursued legitimately under compulsory licensing, a principle in international commerce that permits countries to “use patents without permission of the patent holder in return for a reasonable royalty on sale,” says the Human Development Report 2001, released today by the UN Development Program. The United Nations estimates that, of the 36 million people living with HIV/ AIDS, an estimated 70 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa, with countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya the worst affected. Marwaan Macan-Markar. “UN Report Sees Green Light for Generic Aids Drugs.”Inter Press Service (July 10, 2001).
5 Recently, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], stated that: “biotechnology and genetically modified organisms [GMOs] can help to increase the supply, diversity and quality of food products and reduce costs of production and environmental degradation, as the world grapples with the scourge of hunger and malnutrition”. “ UN FAO Director-General Stresses Benefits of Biotechnology in Fighting Hunger.”Ascribe Newswire ( May 15, 2001).
Also see C. V. Gopalakrishnan. “Breakthroughs in Agro-Biotechnology.”The Hindu (July 26, 2001).
6 Every seven minutes an American becomes blind or visually impaired. Currently, there are approximately 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States. One million, three hundred thousand of them are legally blind. Five million, five hundred thousand of them are older Americans. At least 1.5 million blind or visually impaired adults in the United States use computers. See Barbara T. Mates, “Accessibility Guidelines for Electronic Resources, Library Service for Disabled Persons.” Library Technology Reports 4:17 (July 1, 2001) reciting excerpts from American Foundation for the Blind.
7 “For the purpose of interfacing with a computer, a person who is blind can be considered as someone who cannot use a visual display. People who are blind usually have little or no trouble inputting information, as most can use the keyboard effectively. Accommodation is not needed at the input end of the information chain but is needed for information retrieval. A person who is blind will more than likely not turn on the monitor when accessing information. A blind person will not be able to perform tasks that require eye-hand coordination, such as manipulating a mouse. A person who is blind and wishes to access computer information more than likely will use a Braille display or synthesized speech output.”
Barbara T. Mates. “Accessibility Guidelines for Electronic Resources; Library Service for Disabled Persons.”Library Technology Reports, 4:17 (July 1, 2001), 1.
8 According to the International Dyslexia Association,
2.4 million U.S.school children are reported to have learning disabilities. “Despite Dyslexia, Indiana U. Grad Excels.”University Wire (September 7, 1999).
9 Brian Barber. “Vision group picks Tulsa.”Tulsa World, (August 10, 2001).
10 News, Documents and Commentary. “Kenya;
Project to Fight Blindness.” Africa News, (June 13,
11 Clare Gilbert and Allen Foster. “Childhood
blindness in the context of VISION 2020 — The
Right to Sight.” Bulletin of the World Health
Organization, 3:79 (March 1, 2001), 227.
12 Sarah Boseley. “Tests of Newborns Can Indicate
Dyslexia Risk, Researchers Say.” Minneapolis Star
Tribune (September 5, 1999), E3.
13 “Artificial limbs for the Handicapped.” The Hindu
(May 18, 2000).
14 For instance, “a standard, modern leg prosthetic
costs $2,000. Costs can increase dramatically for the
latest computer-age models that automatically compensate
for going down a slope when body weight
can dramatically shift from one leg to another.”
Elliott Jones. “A Part of Them.” Vero Beach, Florida,
Press Journal (April 3, 2001), C1.
15 Catherine Zandonella. “Legs With Promise”,
Newsday (September 12, 2000), C8.
16 Ibid. Also see Chompoo Trakullertsathien. “Life
and Limb”, Bangkok Post (November 23, 1999), 1.
17 “High-Tech Lab Helps Amputees ‘Just Do It’.” Chicago
Sun-Times (May 06, 2001), 18.
18 “Technology Empowerment Network Selects
Greenstar as Sponsored Project at Davos Conference.”
U.S. Newswire (January 30, 2001) International Desk,
19 “Arab-Ka’abneh entered the modern era last year
when an American foundation set up a solar power
energy plant in the village. Now the village––which
till recently had no running water, electricity or phone
lines––also has its own Web site to promote and sell
its rugs and cheeses in the international
market…[T]oday, a solar-powered system runs an ultraviolet
water purifier, a vaccine cooler, a computer,
a fax machine, a copy machine and a digital cellular
antenna for access to data networks. The project
…brings tele-medicine, distance learning and e-commerce
to areas where electrical power grids are unavailable
––was one of the first to use a combination
of solar power and wireless communications to link a
rural population with the rest of the world.
Arab-Ka’abneh is one of four villages-Palestinian,
Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian––which form
part of a unique solar energy project called A Solar
Bridge for Peace Building’, sponsored by Friends of
the Earth Middle-East (FoEME). The concept is to
turn the villages in this shared solar zone into a model
of sustainable communities relying on the energy of
the sun to power their needs.” Soumya Sarkar.
“Reaching for the Sun to Connect with the Earth.”
Financial Express (May 1, 2000).
20Adam Piore and Ron Moreau. “A Global Gap.”
Newsweek Atlantic Edition (January 29, 2001), 30.
21 Mary E. Thyfault. op. cit.
22 “Getting Connected; Muslim Women Leaders Talk
About Internet’s Potential and Its Perils.” Chicago
Tribune (June 21, 2000), 8.
23 “A Muslim Woman’s Place is ... Online?” The News
and Observer Raleigh, N.C. (June 5, 2000), D3.
25 “Getting Connected; Muslim Women Leaders Talk
About Internet’s Potential and Its Perils.” op. cit.