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Agile Computing: Article

Can the Internet of Things (IoT) End Violence?

A Minor Revelation in Discussing Uganda with Google's Eric Brewer

Violence is the great disruptor, the great destroyer of people, nations, and hope.

Some places on earth, say Somalia, are simply off-limits to outsiders and practically uninhabitable to those having to live there. Others, say Democratic Congo or Iraq, are perilous enough to defy rational investment. Others, say Syria or Ukraine or perhaps Egypt, are being disrupted enough by violence to make investors and certainly visitors back away.

The spectrum continues; through a wide variety of developing nations, then through the "safe" developed world. Although the largest of the developed nations, the United States, certainly has its own serious issues with violence, bad news from developing nations such as Kenya and the Philippines, as magnified by television and reverberated through the Web's echo chamber, often make things seem worse than they are.

Unlikely, or Inevitable?
Getting people to consider all options is a prime drive of our research at the Tau Institute, which has data and rankings on the ICT infrastructures and dynamics of 102 nations. The research ties into my continual study of the IoT as part of my duties as Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, coming up again Nov 4-6 in Santa Clara.

But it can be difficult to get companies and individuals seeking new markets, sources, locations, and investments to consider more "dangerous" places.

How stunned was I, then, a few months ago when I was discussing with Google VP of Infrastructure Eric Brewer the presence of a company Project Link center center in Kampala, Uganda. This nation comes up in our research as the most dynamic of African nations-not the most developed, certainly, but the one that has the potential to change for the better the most quickly.

How prescient of Google to see this as well. How inevitable great technological strides may be for all the nations of the world.

A continent away, I've found serious ICT development activity in Ukraine. If things continue the way they've been going, the country will likely fall steeply in our rankings. But with our current rankings, Ukraine is among the most dynamic countries in the world, and certainly far more dynamic than its bellicose neighbor Russia. (Another country in this region that does very well is Georgia. Take note, Vlad.)

In Asia, Thailand continues to do relatively well, despite its ongoing spasms of violence, and the Philippines is quite dynamic, the occasional disturbing headline be damned.

In Latin America, Honduras was among the more dynamic countries in 2012, but has been falling off. Mexico has been a steady underperformer, although I think a deep analysis of the data will show longstanding structural problems more than violence as a cause for its mediocre performance.

The United States steadily underperforms as well, perhaps partly skewed by its militaristic nature, while peaceful Canada, with low violence but a lot of political ennui, is hanging tough as a global leader overall.

We haven't built a measurement of violence into our algorithms. Statistics can truly be misleading in this area, especially in an era of random horrific events sometimes occurring in the safest of countries. We're sure anyone looking for global locations has already factored their tolerance for violence into their calculations.

We also believe that the effect of violence on a society's growth and its investment potential shows up in the factors that we do measure. A nation's existing and growing ICT infrastructure will suffer if ugly violence is impinging significantly on it.

On the Wane, Not Gone
Harvard Professor Steven Pinker is the best-known proponent of the idea that violence is on the wane, pointing out in The Better Angels of our Nature and other works that day-to-day violence has declined stupendously over the last several hundred years. Technological progress is one of the reasons, he writes, and in my opinion he underrates this aspect of it.

Yet violence continues to plague mankind in all corners of the world. Lowered perhaps from olden dayes, but still a carbuncle on societal growth and the potential for a peaceable world.

So how can the IoT lower violence and change perceptions? The key is turning massive data capture into actionable information and wisdom in a transparent way. When everyone can see what's going on, civil behavior increases and violence declines.

More on this thought in a later article. Please send me your thoughts.

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More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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