IBM’s latest effort to solve global problems has evolved from a focus on catastrophic events, which increasingly are caused by climate change, to climate change itself. It is a huge jump to go from dealing with the symptoms of a problem, which generally is relatively easy, to dealing with the causes, particularly global scale. However, it is critical for a sustained impact that makes a real difference, as opposed to playing Whac-A-Mole with catastrophic weather events — and increasingly losing the game.
As I write this, Facebook just canceled its F8 conference due to the coronavirus, which also has been loosely connected to climate change. (As pathogens get exposed to ever-higher temperatures, they evolve to become resistant to higher body heat, potentially making them more viral and deadly.) This possible connection highlights the broad implications of not dealing with the global climate change problem in a timely way.
I’ll share my thoughts on IBM’s Call for Code Global Challenge and then close with my product of the week: an updated version of my favorite travel noise-canceling headset, the Voyager 6200 UC from Poly (formerly Plantronics and Polycom).
Call for Code Global Challenge
IBM’s Call for Code Global Challenge is a fascinating effort that is best targeted at large problems that no one company, or country for that matter, can overcome. Last year the focus was on coming up with apps that could be used by first responders to save lives.
The challenge operates all over the world, collecting solutions that work with open source software and pointing them at the problem. It provides awards and incentives that are leveraged to mount a global effort at a low cost with a meaningful global benefit.
IBM recognized that no company, no matter how large, can address global problems effectively by itself. No company on its own can afford to resource global efforts. IBM created what effectively is a contest, and then sought partners. Currently on board are organizations including Unity Technologies, Persistent Systems, Johnson & Johnson, Capgemini, Red Hat, Nearform, Bank of China, Morgan Stanley, Cognizant, Infosys, Arrow Electronics and the Clinton Foundation. Also joining the effort are influencers including Ellen DeGeneres, the Jonas Brothers, Sting and Morgan Freeman.
Past Grand Prize winners include Project Owl (2018) and Prometeo (2019).
Project Owl is a solar-powered mesh network solution that provides connectivity when a natural disaster has destroyed the related infrastructure, or a remote location doesn’t have it.
Prometeo is a fascinating solution. It is a health monitor on steroids that focuses on firefighters. Using IBM’s Watson, it provides a real-time health monitor for first responders to ensure their safety and continued health while on the job.
This challenge has attracted 180,000 participants across 165 nations who created around 5,000 applications focused on mitigating and preparing for natural disasters. When a project wins, it gets funding and access to IBM and partner resources to bring its solution to life and accomplish the goal it was designed to address.
The funding and foundational technologies, together with the small firms competing in these challenges, then are able to make a meaningful difference due to the combination of resources that become focused on the problem. Teams that don’t win still have concepts they can pitch to partners, and the collective knowledge created can be applied more readily to existing and future problems.
In short, it is the collective nature of this effort that provides what appears to be a huge impact for relatively little cost. The program is impressively innovative.
The 2020 challenge evolved out of the first challenge. The first responders (77 percent of them) felt that what was needed was to focus on the causes of many increasingly devastating natural disasters. Thus the latest challenge focuses on global warming, and the rollout coincides with the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.
The effort will be to create open source applications that can mitigate the impact of climate change and work toward reversing the adverse impacts on the global ecosystem.
It is interesting to note that in surveys conducted in China, Columbia, Egypt, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, 87 percent of respondents felt it was important for an employer to take action to prevent climate change, and eight of 10 people said they wanted to help do something about climate change.
Given the scope of the problem and the massive number of countries and programmers likely to be interested in addressing global climate change, I expect the number of applications in 2020 will eclipse 2018 and 2019.
Addressing disasters is important, but the focus generally is limited to the time period when one occurs. Global climate change touches everyone everyplace and all the time, so the interest and support in this latest effort should be significantly greater.
There are lots of ways to help make the world a better place, but the most powerful generally are the result of collaborative efforts in the context of a contest. That way, the full cost of the effort is spread across a large number of people, not borne by one company or country. IBM’s Call for Code effort is potentially one of the most powerful efforts yet undertaken in the tech sector, and it showcases IBM’s strong corporate responsibility focus.
With efforts like Call for Code, there is a good chance we eventually can wrap our arms around critical problems like global climate change before those problems result in our living in a Mad Max world.
Until I got the Poly 6200 UC, I was going through up to three pairs of expensive noise-canceling headphones a year, largely because I’d put them down while in a rush and walk off without them. Over the ear, designs do a better job of noise cancellation, but they also tend to be large and uncomfortable when not in use; thus, the tendency to put them down and leave them behind.
The Poly Voyager 6200 UC isn’t a cheap date, with a retail price of US$299, but I haven’t lost a set yet. This is because the in-the-ear earpieces are connected to a neck component. You can leave it comfortably around your neck for the entire trip, allowing you easy access to the headset and effectively removing the need to put the headset down.