ICT4D.at becomes first partner of the Digital-Environment System Coalition

Recently, we got contacted by Tim Unwin, current chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and with which we had the pleasure to work with earlier. He had launched a new networking initative to collate knowledge about the entanglements and limitations where the digital and physical worlds encounter. This initiative is called the “Digital-Environment System Coalition” (DESC) and it is currently searching for supporters.

preliminary DESC logo

Why we need this coalition

Not only since the COVID-19 pandemic have we seen that digital technologies being touted as the solution for almost everything. But can they really ever be? Of course, given our human condition that is social by nature, physical meetings can never be fully replaced by virtual ones – but besides that there are also physical limitations to digitalisation, and the DESC initative tries to shed lights on the blind spots we have here. There has been extensive research on many aspects of the environmental impact of digital technologies, but much of this has been discipline specific. There remains no overarching holistic model or understanding of these impacts.

This initiative is fundamentally multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, international and policy oriented. It tries to engage academics, companies, civil society organisations, international organisations and governments. By doing that, we hope to have the scope to address the big issues necessary for crafting an appropriate holistic system model. The aim is to develop policy reports and publications with recommendations that help ensuring digital technologies in the long-term interests of citizens and planet earth.

ICT4D.at aboard!

As the first organisation we took the invitation to join the coalition with hopefully many to follow. We are looking forward to working together with researchers and practitioners from all different disciplines and backgrounds on enhancing our holistic understanding of the inter-relationships between digital technologies and the physical environment. Currently, the coalition is designing the framework we will work under, consolidates a steering group and starts with shaping working groups.

If you are interested in joining the Digital-Environment System Coalition as well, short expressions of interest can be submitted through the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s contact page.

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ICT4D.at becomes first partner of the Digital-Environment System Coalition
was published on 11.08.2021 by Isabella Wagner. It files under global
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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2021

As a member of the research group INSO at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technologies) I am once a year invited to give an introduction to ICT4D. The research group for Industrial Software (INSO) deals with the study of development and maintenance of software systems in practice. The presentation will be a part of their Beyond the Desktop lecture.
I will introduce participants to ICT4D, discuss projects & past research and I will give an overview of our activities at ICT4D.at. We are currently looking for students who are interested in participating in our projects or to start writing a thesis in the field of ICT4D.

For the second time due to the Covid-19 outbreak will the lecture be available via an online conference. Everyone is welcome to tune in:

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 17:05 – 19:00 (CET Vienna time zone)
Join via Zoom by clicking here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85874819852

The lecture will be in English language. See you there!

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Introduction to ICT4D – Online Guest Lecture at the TU Wien 2021
was published on 22.03.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19

A girl is taking a selfy while another girl is watching a video on a computer.
Image by the EdTech Hub

2020 has been a rough year. Everyone was impacted by the current global pandemic, many lost their beloved ones and an end to the crisis is still not yet in sight. As always, the ones who got most impacted by the crisis are the most marginalised in our communities. Millions lost their jobs with often no social safety net and the pandemic has disproportionately affected women workers [1]. Children and young adults were also profoundly impacted by the pandemic. The Wold Bank estimates that school closures due to COVID-19 have left over a billion students out of school. This results in a loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing down the effective years of basic schooling that children achieve during their schooling life from 7.9 years to 7.3 years [2].

ICTs were prised as the solution and home schooling became the norm. This surfaced once more the darker sides of ICTs and how they amplify inequalities rather then reduce them. Students from privileged backgrounds could continue their education from home while having access to high-speed internet and their own devices, but many others were not so lucky. It is estimated that the pandemic threatens to push 72 million more children into learning poverty – meaning that they are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 [3]. Many teachers, parents and students were not prepared for this shift into the online world. Teachers and parents (mostly women) are truly, under many others, the heroes of this crisis. All of this also impacted my life and work:

  1. My humble try to learn the French language was interrupted and my language course was moved online. My professor simply said that she does not know on how to teach online and ended the course. I was lucky to find another group I could join. In the end this was not a problem, since I have a computer and internet at home, but it illustrated the unpreparedness of the education system.
  2. My Indian students were not so lucky. I was teaching computer science at an university in South-India. The course is a mix of online and offline hands-on programming – so there should not have been a problem, since I was already teaching online. But since the university was closed and all students went home, more than half of them lost their access to a computer. Fig. 1 illustrates the responses to questions I conducted at the beginning of the lock-down to find out if I can continue the course. 17 out of 25 responded and half of them have no computer at home. Back then I decided that I will pause the course, because I thought that the university will again open soon. This was a tough call, I did not want to exclude the students with no computers, but therefore I also had to end the training for those who could have continued.
Diagram of how many of my Indian students have a computer at home. Less than 50 have one at home.
Fig. 1 – Do you have a computer at home?

Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education

Back then I discussed with Tim Unwin the global developments in education due to COVID-19 and he told me that he is currently in progress of starting a new report. He was so kind to accept my request to join his team, since I was eager to work on the topic: Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19. We started working and I joined the core team:

  • Alicja Pawluczuk (UNU Institute in Macau)
  • Azra Naseem (Aga Khan University, Pakistan)
  • Christopher Yoo (Univeristy of Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Mohamed Shareef (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Maldives)
  • Paul Spiesberger (Chair of ICT4D.at, Co-Head of BRIC at INSOTU Wien, Austria)
  • Paul West (Creative Commons Chapter, South Africa)
  • Tim Unwin (UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, UK)

We also had a distinguished panel of advisors and support from the EdTech Hub. The report was funded by DFID (now FCDO) and the World Bank through their EdTech Hub. The aim was to create a report for governments to advise them on how to use technologies in their education systems. Not in short terms, but rather post COVID-19 to prepare for the next catastrophe and make our education systems more resilient in the long run. Back then we saw many ICT education implementations done in haste and not thought through. For us the most important was a clear focus on the most marginalized to counter inequalities and an easy read for higher government officials in the form of two pager guidance notes.

Our work began in June 2020 and drew largely on an extensive consultation process to identify the main priorities on which our report should concentrate. We worked with groups from Civil Society and International Organisations, the Private Sector, Governments, UN Agencies and Academics, as well as regional consultations from Africa, Asia/Pacific/Middle East and the Americas to help shape our recommended priorities [4].

Tim orchestrated in 9 thematic online session discussions and the creation of mindmaps. We tried to support him as best as possible. In total, 43 women and 44 men from 34 countries contributed to our thoughts in crafting the report and guidance notes. You can find all mindmaps here licenced under the Creative Commons CC BY Licence.

Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.
Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.

These mind-maps can be summarised in the word map below prepared by myself, which represents the frequency of words included in all of these mind-maps.

Out of the consultations, we found that there are five things that a government must do once a holistic vision has been crafted that is committed to using digital technologies to create a resilient education system that provides education and learning for all [5]:

  1. Create a whole society approach that delivers equity in education.
  2. Enable access for all to digital technologies by providing resilient funded infrastructures for learning, funded by Central Government rather than Ministries of Education.
  3. Be context-specific at all times, especially in terms of the technologies used in education and the content crafted for learners.
  4. Ensure that appropriate pedagogies are used in the practices of teaching and learning.
  5. Use digital technologies wisely and safely.

The report consists of 3 acts [5]:

  1. Act One is intended primarily for the most senior government officials and contains a summary of the report’s approach and main recommendations. 
  2. Act Two provides the detailed exposition, arguments and evidence upon which these recommendations are based, and is intended primarily for those in government who are charged with implementing them. 
  3. Act Three contains 14 Guidance Notes which provide succinct advice on delivering important distinct aspects of the overall report.

I had the honour to contribute to Guidance Note 3: Digital technologies and girls’ education. Georg Steinfelder and I then also worked on creating an audio track of the guideline, you can listen to it here.

The report launched on the December 18, 2020 and I am proud that I could contribute to its creation. I encourage you to read and discuss our results. You find the the report here at its official website and you can read more about the creation here.

It is somewhat a contradiction that I spent half of 2020 in my apartment and still did not find the time to write about this report earlier. I wish for 2021 that this reports gets into the hands of many decision makers around the globe, that we together defeat this virus once and for all and that I will find more time to share work that is as inspiring as this report. I am grateful to Tim and my team colleagues for giving me this opportunity and wish all of you a Happy New 2021!

[1] UN News, “Hard times forecast for global job recovery in 2020, warns UN labour agency chief”, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1067432
[2] World Bank Group on Education, “Simulating the Potential Impacts of the COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning Outcomes: A set of Global Estimates”, June 2020
[3] World Bank Press Release, “Pandemic Threatens to Push 72 Million More Children into Learning Poverty—World Bank outlines a New Vision to ensure that every child learns, everywhere”, December 2, 2020 https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/02/pandemic-threatens-to-push-72-million-more-children-into-learning-poverty-world-bank-outlines-new-vision-to-ensure-that-every-child-learns-everywhere
[4] UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, “Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19”, https://ict4d.org.uk/technology-and-education-post-covid-19/
[5] EdTech Hub, “Education for the most marginalised post‑COVID-19, Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education”, https://edtechhub.org/education-for-the-most-marginalised-post-covid-19/

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Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19
was published on 03.01.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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RISE, INSO & ICT4D.at – A Strategic Partnership

Over the last years we implemented several projects and initiatives with the Vienna University of Technology and the Research Industry Software Engineering GmbH (RISE). Our biggest and longest collaboration was within the ICT4DMZ project where INSO, the research group for Industrial Software was our scientific partner. I work with RISE as a mobile software developer and am the co-head of BRIC, a research group at INSO where I regularly teach and conduct my research in the context of ICT4D. Other members also have connections to INSO or RISE and back in 2008 two out of three founding members were part of INSO.

Our shared story goes way back to our roots and recently we once more started a new project. This time RISE, as a software company, takes over the part of developing software within this collaboration. We as ICT4D.at do develop and maintain small open source software projects, but we do not have the resources to implement large scale software project. Most of our members contribute to our cause in their spare time and everyone who already developed software knows that it takes serious efforts to go live and have happy users. Furthermore, ICT4D.at also does not want to professionally develop software. We see our engagement within the ICT4D movement, we have insights, we connect, we plan & support others, we teach & reflect on the wise use of technologies for the most marginalized. We do not develop software, we develop the ideas behind the technology in respect of its context and foremost implications.

In the last couple of months we as RISE, INSO and ICT4D.at decided to take the next step and formalize our partnership. We signed a strategic partnership where RISE & INSO will support our engagement. We continue with having INSO as our designated scientific partner and RISE as our preferred software development associate. Our triangle of research, software development and ICT4D simply got stronger while we still maintain our freedom and openness to collaborate with others. We deeply thank RISE & INSO and are grateful for their support. These are exciting times for us, we are growing, expanding and new opportunities are ahead! Reach out to us if you would like to know more or are interested in joining ICT4D.at.

Logos of RISE, INSO and ICT4D.at

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RISE, INSO & ICT4D.at – A Strategic Partnership
was published on 24.10.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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ICT4D.at 2020 General Assembly

2020. The year, where everything is a little bit different than what it used to be. Due to the Corona virus, the idea for a physical meeting for the general assembly was abandoned. But gladly for us, especially in comparison to older pandemics that humanity has suffered from, our generation has an advantages – the technology to „meet“ at least virtually and catch a glimpse of each other’s homes.

On our call, on 12th of September, we remembered the projects and successes of the past year:

We also discussed ideas for our new website, legal requirements such as ICT4D.at’s budget 2020 and also held the election of our chair and vice-chair. Paul got reelected as our chair and we are very happy to have him lead our organization. Georg decided to step down from his role and I was elected as vice-chair. I would like to thank everyone again for their trust in me.

Virtual 2020 General Assembly

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ICT4D.at 2020 General Assembly
was published on 28.09.2020 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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AnitaB.org and TEQtogether online workshop: Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology

May 26, 2020 · 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm BST register here.

AnitaB.org and TEQtogether present an online workshop that aims to help men rethink what more they can do to help empower women in and through digital technologies. In the past ICT4D.at partnered up with TEQtogether to work together to change men’s attitudes about women and technology.

Join Professor Tim Unwin,  Dr Elizabeth Quaglia. Dr Chux Daniels and Paul Spiesberger on May 26, 2020 · 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm BST for an online workshop about Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology.

Find further information here and do not to forget to register in advance since spaces are limited.

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AnitaB.org and TEQtogether online workshop: Changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology
was published on 13.05.2020 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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Fight for your home

We were on time! I swear! We even arrived way ahead of time. But nonetheless, we were not prepared for the masses that would follow the call of the Viennese chamber of labour and the weekly newspaper “Falter” for the so called “Wiener Stadtgespräch” (Vienna city talk) of Shoshana Zuboff.

Even with a valid registration, we were not able to enter the packed hall were the speech and interview took place. Gladly, there was a live stream of the conversation right next to it across the corridor and we were able to follow the discussion live. And what a bliss that was.

The Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff coined the term “surveillance capitalism”. In her work she calls upon political and public action against the overwhelming power of surveillance that internet giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. accumulate.

In her captivating speech she stressed the importance of our democracy, our freedom and our society, which she compared to our home and our home being on fire right now. If the planet is on fire like Greta Thurnberg says, it is fair to call our society our home and the current state that it is in – “on fire”.

We are on the brink of the transition to an information civilization. How we want to shape our future is still in our hands – but we have to fight for it.

Find more information here:

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Fight for your home
was published on 22.11.2019 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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Android ICT4D News Application – for You from Us

ICT4D News App Icon
ICT4D News Logo designed by Chloé Zimmermann

We are software engineers, open source enthusiasts, programmers, designers, geeks and simply love to make the life of others easier with ICTs. We are happy to announce our Android ICT4D News Application. ICT4D News combines 29 blogs and news sources (complete list on GitHub) around the topic of ICT4D and Digital Development. The goal is to offer an easy way to stay tuned and receive the latest ICT4D updates. All blogs and sources are combined into one handy list and provide offline reading capabilities. The blogs and sources can be deactivated to customize your reading. Please download it and do not hesitate to send us your feedback at news.app@ict4d.at

Get it on Google Play
Download now!

The latest version hit 1.1.0 and is solely for you, the ICT4D community, made by us, ICT4D.at. But we hope this will not stay this way, the application is Open Source and just waiting for you to reports bugs, discuss new features and contribute to the code base. So if you recently fell in love with Kotlin (as I did) and want to bring in your ideas, then don’t hesitate to contribute.

We also strongly believe in diversity and the benefits coming with it. We are proud of being an international team from 3 different continents (Africa, Asia and Europe) and 4 different countries: The core team consist of three members: Noah Alorwu, who is active in Ghana, Raja Saboor Ali is strongly committed in Pakistan and myself is involved from Austria. We also have support from Chloé Zimmermann a designer from France. We develop, work, share and take decisions equally.

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Android ICT4D News Application – for You from Us
was published on 13.05.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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10 years of ICT4D.at – how it all got started

As we had our 10 years anniversary last year – the NGO was officially formed on 8 November 2008 – I spent some time reflecting how this whole thing came to be and how it all developed. And I’m happy to share these thoughts with you in this blog post.

The reason why I got interested into the field of ICT4D is connected to my year of Erasmus student exchange during my Master studies in “Wirtschaftsinformatik” (management information systems). I went to Sweden from August 2006 to July 2007 and attended several courses at the Department of Computer and System Sciences of the University of Stockholm. At that time they had a Master course in ICT for Development with several courses which I got interested in. Nowadays, there’s no Master course anymore but still a research focus on ICT4D (https://dsv.su.se/en/research/research-areas/ict4d). There were hardly any “Westerners” doing the course, but a lot of people from Bangladesh, Iran or Pakistan. The courses were rather theoretical in nature, but still it got me hooked – I always wanted to do “something good” with my studies.

So after this year in Sweden I wanted to pursue my interest in ICT4D further, but there was nothing similar like these courses at any university in Vienna. But still I made the topic ICT4D one focus of my Master thesis which I started in 2008 (- can still be downloaded here by the way: http://othes.univie.ac.at/3571/). In the course of writing it I was pointed by a common acquaintance to Martin Konzett who had also a big interest in ICTs connected to Africa. He is a coder himself and has personal ties to Zanzibar. We met at a cafe in Vienna and he was super enthusiastic about starting an organisation in Austria, doing a movie, a blog, going to conferences and starting projects. He had also the concrete idea to develop the organisation to run as a business – e.g. through outsourcing programming or web design to Africans we had educated in a project. I found all this very exciting and we decided to join forces.

Our first concrete activites were the movie Hello Africa and this website and blog.

For the movie Martin went with Martin Tomitisch (lecturer in Human Computer Interaction – he became the third co-founder) and Anders Bolin (film maker) to South Africa and Tanzania to document how everyday life in these countries was connected to mobile phones even then already. At that time people in Austria hardly thought of Africans as mobile phone users. The movie – called “Hello Africa” – got great feedback, was shown on festival and watched by many people. It was released under CC-license, so it can still be watched on Vimeo for free under https://vimeo.com/4664795.

The blog started on 28 April 2008 with a definition of the term “ICT4D” as the first post. In the beginning Martin and me published a blog post almost every day. We referred to all sorts of ICT4D projects, news articles and documented our own activities. To gather content and to document the whole ICT4D research scene we also went to several conferences and ICT4D-related events around Europe. There we interviewed researchers, activists and policy makers and put the videos on our Youtube channel and blog. My “highlight” was the ICTD2010 conference in London (http://www.ictd2010.org/), where we interviewed Tim Berners-Lee, Geoff Walsham, Ineke Buskens or Tim Unwin among others. I still remember the interview with Tim Berners-Lee, because I was super nervous and the questions I asked him weren’t very smart. All the videos are still up on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/user/ict4dat/videos.

We also formed a partnership with the e-Development group of the World Bank to cover their events and webcasts on social media, mostly via our Twitter account (https://twitter.com/ict4ddotat). However, we also weren’t so avid Twitterers and the eDev group didn’t really have an enthusiastic online crowd to watch their streams, so that was most times rather redundant

Several people joined at this time. Worlali Senyo, a Ghanian ICT research analyst became interested in our NGO and became a member. He has been supporting our efforts in Ghana ever since. Also Isabella Wagner (then – student of the master course “Society, Technology, Science”) joined the NGO.

Through the movie project and Martin’s ties to Zanzibar we started our first project there in 2009. It was called “Zanzicode” (http://zanzicode.ict4d.at/) – inspired by the project “Zanzibits” which also took place there at that time. (http://zanzibits.blogspot.com/) The aim of Zanzicode was to “help build the personal careers of our graduates as well as to kickstart a local web development community”. To achieve this, we “provided free education in the field of Web Development to a small number of talented and motivated students of poor background in Zanzibar, Tanzania”. We got a little funding from the Austrian Development Agency for this project and also the NGO “Leos” from St. Pölten gave us a donation. The courses ran for around two years in total and we had different people teaching programming on the spot – first Martin himself, Dan Hamm and Fritz Grabo (then informatics student at TU Vienna) who joined the NGO afterwards. All in all the project was ambitious but rather small and worked quite well. After two years we didn’t have anyone on the spot any more who was willing to organise the courses in a way we thought made sense, with a strong focus on Open Source. So we terminated the courses around 2011.

Afterwards it became a bit more quiet, also due to Martin Konzett moving away from Vienna and investing less time in the NGO. We experimented with ICT4D “Stammtisch” in Vienna where several people attended over the years – for example Christoph Derndorfer from OLPC News. We also had guest lectures at the university from time to time. We also worked on the book “Social Business Forge” – focusing on tax and business issues around the field in which our NGO was active. This project was spearheaded by Paul Pöltner (then – student at TU Wien and aspiring tax consultant), who also initiated our next big “development”-project.

This next big project was called “ICT4DMZ – Information and Communication Technology for Development in Mozambique” (http://www.ict4dmz.org/). Its objective was to “to strengthen universities’ capacities for improved access, use and application of ICT for social development and economic growth in Mozambique.” The framework for this was a collaboration of Vienna University of Technology – more specifically the Research Group for Industrial Software (INSO) – and the faculty of Informatics at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. ICT4D.at was facilitating the collaboration and many members were involved and made trips to Mozambique to teach, learn, connect and support – including the new member Paul Spiesberger (then student of informatics at TU Wien). I was also there myself in 2013 for three weeks, teaching a course in software development – here’s two blog posts about that:

The valuable lessons learned from this project were, that although there’s huge potential in the motivated students and teaching personnel at this particular university, it’s hard to create a sustainable impact, even though the project budget was fairly large compared to our other projects. We educated personnel which would eventually leave the university and work in the private sector, funded unnecessary hardware and had a hard time wrestling with university bureaucracy on the Mozambiquan side. We applied for follow up of this project – as this would have made it possible to profit from these experiences, but funding was denied although we handed in the application three times. We still have ties to the university, with Paul supporting some students in their app-programming efforts (see e.g. this blog post: https://www.ict4d.at/2015/09/06/ourmoz-wins-world-banks-apps4maputo-contest-in-mozambique/) and also with our project partners, but no other funding opportunity has come up in the mean time.

Another project which started at about the same time, in 2012 also had a big impact, even though it relied almost exclusively on voluntary work. Our member Margarete Grimus initiated and carried out this project in partnership with several students and staff of the Keta Technical High School in Keta, Ghana. The project focus was on using available technology, such as the mobile phones of students to create teaching materials from the internet. For this, she spent some time in Keta for three consecutive years, one time joined by another new member – Michael Pollak – to teach staff and students about difference ways to use the internet for teaching. Here’s a post of her stay there in 2014: https://www.ict4d.at/2014/06/20/news-from-ketascomobile/.

One of the students who took part in this project is Noah Alorwu, who has been active since, launching programming initiatives and workshops. Here’s some blog posts about that:

Through the project in Mozambique and other small activities, Paul Spiesberger became more and more involved in the NGO. In 2015, when I felt that I had led the NGO long enough, he decided to take over the role of chair person and has acted in this role since. I’m grateful to have been able to pass over this role to him, as since then new energy has come and we have become more active again.

The first signs of this new activities were the involvement of Georg Steinfelder (graphic designer & artist) and Chloe Zimmermann (architect), who joined together with Paul, in the Nimble Building Days, improving refugee housing in Austria – https://www.ict4d.at/2017/04/10/nimble-building-days-3-integration-through-collaborative-work/.

Also Alvaro Valverde, development professional at CABI has become engaged in the NGO in 2017 and is supporting us since with his experience.

Paul himself has made ICT4D a part of his work at TU Wien and through this has built ties with SSE Puttaprthi in India (http://sseptp.org/). He is also doing research in ICT4D, which allows him to attend a lot of exciting events:

Right after our 10 years anniversary party in November 2018 we had at our annual “vision meeting”, several new possibilities emerged for the NGO. One is the Erasmus+ project “Yes We Care 2”, which allows us to network with NGOs from Macedonia, Romania, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe around the topics of Social Entrepreneurship. Another is the project TEQtogether, which is committed to changing men’s attitudes and behaviours towards women and technology – https://www.ict4d.at/2019/02/25/teqtogether-teams-up-with-ict4d-at/.

More projects are in store and potential new members are motivated to get more active. You’ll hear about that on this blog for sure!

I’m looking forward to 10 more exciting years!

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10 years of ICT4D.at – how it all got started
was published on 15.03.2019 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week? Actually Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development

Source: UNESCO MLW

Today I had the pleasure to be part of the first day of the Mobile Learning Week (MLW) in Paris with its keynotes and discussion rounds. Last year the conference was focused on education in a mobile context with the focus on Skills for a connected world, as the MLW title implies. It seems, that this year it was hijacked by the trending ICT topic Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the education part was left out a bit. I can only assume why, but it seems that the UNESCO is shifting its focus and tries to spicy up their events with more buzzwords. AI is a trending topic and, besides its real significance, used most of the time to sell/promote things to people who have no glue about it. A couple of years ago it was the buzzword Blockchain Technologies to trigger interest and as far as I can remember, before that it was Cloud Computing. Yes, all of these technologies did or are changing the way we use and live with technology, but as before, most people are using the term AI more like this wonderful meme:



To be fair, AI and Machine Learning are much more than just statistics, read more here.

I am reporting from the MLW only from the first day, which is called “Principals for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach” and the discussed AI topic fits more into this definition. To be fair, the next upcoming days will apparently stronger focus on education in combination with with AI and will have sessions such as “How can AI improve learning?”, “How can AI boost education and learning management systems?”, “How can AI be harnessed to reduce the learning inequitability?”, or “Will AI promote equity and gender equality?”.
Therefore, this blog post is not about Mobile Learning, but rather AI itself and summarizes some of the statements. I am pleased that at least some of the speakers were asking questions in the right direction and I hope this will continue in the upcoming AI-Education sessions. AI is happening and used world-wide, but as it is with every technology, it is just a tool and only gets a meaning or purpose when used by us. The question is not for what we should use AI and what it can do. This will be figured out anyway by the private and public sector due to demands by the market and the people. The real questions are:

  • Who is creating the AI, in which context was it created and what are their biases?
  • How transparent is it?
  • Who owns the AI and who has access to its tools?
  • Is it inclusive? Does it really mirror the society and context it is used in? (minorities, gender, sexual preferences, etc.)
  • How can we test and verify the decisions an AI takes for us?
  • Who is responsible for errors and accidents because of AI?
  • How democratic is the use of the AI? Who decided what we ask and for what we use it?

I am sure this list can be extended, feel free to do so, the more discussion the better. Please do not get me wrong, I favour AI and I am exited about the new possibilities AI offers, but I miss often a real discussion about pressing issues and questions. The buzzword topics Blockchain Technologies and Cloud Computing did not have the same impact capabilities as AI has. As a society we need to discuss how we would like to use AI in a democratic way. If we do not, then we will end up like China, where AI is used to control people in an unprecedented way. I personally want to live in a world were AI is enriching my freedom, not used to limit it or just to display me more fitting advertisement on Google or Facebook.

Furthermore, these questions are seldom asked for people in low-income countries. They are excluded from potential benefits of AIs already straight from the beginning. Our main goal must be to use AI to improve the lives of those who need it the most. For me, this would be a real intelligent use of Artificial Intelligence.

Here are some key statements I favoured during the key note and discussion rounds:

“Artificial intelligence is a false term, it’s neither artificial nor intelligent. It is created by us and it is our responsibility.“

“I work in many African countries and some of them have no freedom of press, no mandatory primary schools and a weak economy, but they develop an industry 4.0 and AI strategy for their countries. They don’t want to fall behind, but lack of the basics.”

“IEEE is currently working on Ethical Aligned Design for all who design technology and for the users as well. We work on how to put principal into practice, e.g. use standards to be implemented by the industry which have ethics at the core.”

“Behind every data point are actual people and we should not forget that.”

“Solidarity should be a core principal of AI.“

“African questions have to be taken into the context of an African problem. The design of an AI must take the people and their context into consideration”

“Many people say, that we need more women in AI”

“The current AI situation is reflecting the unfair distribution of wealth in the world. Definition, access and implementation are key.”

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UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week? Actually Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development
was published on 04.03.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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