Monday, September 28, 2009

Empty projects do nothing

Google is straying further from reality.

I must comment on the jaw-droppingly misguided projects listed at Google's Project 10^100. This kind of list "chosen from suggestions" is inevitable when wealthy, highly-indoctrinated technologists embark on "saving the world" with no experience in community work, and no apparent information on the world's biggest problems.

* Create more efficient landmine removal programs

First of all, wouldn't stopping the deployment of any more landmines be a more interesting and permanent goal? It would require admitting that the country Google has the most influence in is the largest manufacturer and user of weapons that attack civilians.

Secondly, existing removal programs are quite low-tech and effective (for example, replacing hoes with shovels) and simply need more funding. Would google provide those, or help the groups that try to collect money for them? Are shovels too low-tech for their attention? How about funding or helping the anti-war and anti-aggression movement, which could use technological assistance so activists could organize and connect more effectively.

* Drive innovation in public transport

"Develop new transportation technologies to help move more people with less energy, greater efficiency and fewer casualties." You mean, like trams and trains, jitneys and bicycles? We have all the transportation technologies that are needed ... once again, the issue is to get them to happen again, and in the right way: with effective local manufacture, and proper prioritization and funding. The only high-tech that would be useful here is the means for people to organize to retrieve the infrastructure that has been taken from them by, among others, the auto industry, which regularly bought public transport systems in the last century in order to dismantle them.

* Build real-time, user-reported news service

It seems like twitter and facebook already do this ... are we aiming to re-brand them into news organizations? There are hundreds of initiatives like this, including nonprofit ones, and the best will already float to the top. Unless hamstrung by a major "Google 10^100"-funded competitor ...

* Make educational content available online for free

How about helping people to demand more funding for public education and research? They need to demand that taxpayer-funded research, and any published research for that matter, not be locked-up in private journals and books. They need to fight the perception that education and research is an "entitlement" ... and promote the idea that everyone should receive a free education, and benefit from the open disclosure of results, from the government they have themselves funded ...

* Create real-time natural crisis tracking system

First responders will tell you that they could develop what they need if they only had the resources to do so. But in our privatization-crazed society, this is unlikely: for example, the radio frequencies that used to be clear for emergencies have been sold to the entertainment industry.

* Make government more transparent

Wow. With technology? All the technology is already available ... what is needed, again, is funding to politically organize, and crack open egregious government and corporate opacity.

* Help social entrepreneurs drive change

You know, small business creates change already, everyday. Why not help communities to fund their own private, small-scale solutions to their problems? Why does it need to be national and global scale tech venture capital, with its sterilizing effect upon local life?

* Provide quality education to African students

Simply talk with teachers and educators in Africa, and ask them what they need. At the root of their problems, are the neo-colonial first-world powers and corporations stealing their resources and forcing corrupt governments upon them. If you want to help Africa, provide the aid they want ... and work to stop the 'civilized world'.

* Encourage positive media depictions of engineers and scientists

More PR? Science-fiction already has so many positive images of scientists that it has long parted ways from the reality of real-world science. The best way for people to learn to think well of science is to give them more opportunity to get involved in doing it, so that the discipline moves towards science for the people.

* Build better banking tools for everyone

Where to start on this one? It is a transparent attempt to dress up the further encroachment of the financial industry into our lives, as opposed to making people independent of these rapacious corporations with their amoral behavior.

* Work toward socially conscious tax policies

While taxing the rich and the corporate is very healthy, the problem is how the money is spent -- trillions for weapons and corporations, almost nothing for people. But unless you address how these decisions are made, and get legalized corruption out of politics, nothing will improve.

* Collect and organize the world's urban data

This one doesn't even seem to have any goals. Here's a more specific one: collect data on the effect of technocratic government policies (like Urban Renewal) and corporate greed (like real estate speculation) on the quality of life of people in cities.

* Create genocide monitoring and alert system

We know where these things are happening. The problem is stopping them, and stopping US funding of them. Our own government is the leading cause of instability and civilian death in the world. Will google address that?

* Enhance science and engineering education

To create more employees? Or more empowered citizens? Work to bring democracy to this country, and the full funding of education will be part and parcel of everyday life.

* Promote health monitoring and data analysis

The biggest problems in medicine are the payouts to corporations selling insurance and pharmaceuticals etc. Eliminate profit from the health-care, and there will be plenty of money to improve its culture and performance.

* Create real-world issue reporting system

Good grief. This assumes that the "appropriate authorities" care about doing the job they say they are doing! They don't, not even at the most visible levels of government. They care about the wealthy and the powerful, and the rules that support them, not about the majority of people. What we need to do is organize to force accountability from those in power. That means organizing all these complaints ... which are already easy enough to find ... into political action.

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