- Kentaro Toyama
Our resident Geek Heretic Kentaro Toyama, a renowned computer scientist and former top executive at Microsoft Research, has decided to take on the gist of a new book on technology’s promise by Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in an article for The Atlantic.
The article is entitled Our Future Might Be Bright: The Tentative, Rosy Predictions of Google’s Eric Schmidt though he did consider giving it the title ‘It’s Not the Technology, Stupid!’ which we here at Humanosphere like better. Read on to see why … Continue reading
Kentaro Toyama is a geek heretic, or at least, that’s what Tom Paulson dubbed him last year. Now it’s the working title for Toyama’s upcoming book. Toyama is a renowned computer scientist and expert in computer-human visual interactions. He helped launch Microsoft Research in India in 2005 and was dispatched by Bill Gates to find technological solutions to poverty and inequity. After giving it his best, Toyama decided technology, though useful, cannot fix poverty.
- Kentaro Toyama in the studio
One of the commenters on Toyama’s ideas last year wasn’t convinced: “If he is only talking about current things like personal computers, sure. But when we get 3D Printers that can make more replicators, nanobots and the like, he is totally wrong.”
It’s certainly tempting to think that next generation of futuristic technologies can change the world. But Toyama has seen innovative technology rendered powerless, harmful even, in settings of severe poverty. He says the problems require even deeper solutions.
So we get deep into the issues in the podcast. Listen in below.
The Lessons of Kony 2012
by Kentaro Toyama
Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army
For a couple of weeks, Kony 2012 stole the spotlight in international development. It dominated conversation, with some applauding its success as an awareness-raising campaign (e.g., Nicholas Kristof); some criticizing it for its oversimplified, condescending, self-gratifying portrayal of the issues (e.g., Teju Cole); and many grumbling along the lines of, “Who are these punks who managed to get so much attention and funding?”
Almost all of the commentary, whether positive or negative, discusses one of three issues:
- – Content of the video, its accuracy and the various subtexts of the video.
- – Intent of the non-profit that produced the movie.
- – Budgeting of donor money.
These are all important questions, but they miss the real issue that Kony 2012 raises — namely, how we as a society prioritize important issues in the age of Internet social media.
Prioritization is the essential question in a world of finite resources, and especially in times of economic distress. Yet, it’s also a question that the hyper-connected anarchy of the online world is horribly unsuited to answering. Continue reading
Kentaro Toyama is a Seattle man on a mission.
A computer and information scientist who co-founded and ran Microsoft Research in India, Toyama has become something of a ‘geek heretic‘ who is now devoted to fighting poverty and transforming our approach to aid and development. A big task but Toyama seems to be enjoying his new career.
Toyama provides a glimpse of that mission in an article he published this week in The Atlantic – The Two Indias: Astounding Poverty in the Backyard of Amazing Growth. Opening line:
“Incredible India” is the brand this country’s Ministry of Tourism has been pushing in a global marketing campaign launched in 2002, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Over the last decade, India has witnessed a stunning acceleration of rapid changes, both good and bad, that it began in the 1990s.
India’s economic growth over the past decade is second in the world only to China’s. The country which handles so many of our computer technical problems is widely perceived as on a path to prosperity and progress. But wait, look a bit deeper, says Toyama.
Though theoretically a democracy, India’s governance has resembled something of a feudal system in practice. Politicians and bureaucrats often act like dukes and barons with term limits. They routinely apply a corrupt layer of graft for their personal benefit…. (and) Though rates of poverty are declining, in 2005 the World Bank estimated that 42% of India’s population still lived at under $1.25 a day (PPP), and nearly twice as many under $2. Thus, 800-900 million Indians live in conditions that most developed-world citizens would consider destitution.
Kentaro’s article in The Atlantic is brief, but worth a read. And worth reading between the lines to follow his thinking. There’s a warning here, against assuming overall economic growth is an accurate measure of progress against poverty — and against business as usual.
Kentaro Toyama is clearly a heretic. A geek heretic.
And, based on his career path, I would guess brilliant.
A computer scientist currently at the University of California, Berkeley, Toyama co-founded Microsoft Research India in 2005 and remained there as assistant managing director until 2009.
If you’re not familiar with what they do at Microsoft Research, think artificial intelligence, computer vision, terabyte juggling, high-octane mathematics and the craziest things you can try to do with bits, bytes or any kind of information technology.
While in India, Toyama launched Microsoft Research’s Technology for Emerging Markets group. (The website shows a toddler who appears to be sending a text message by cell phone.)
So you’d expect Toyama to be another one of those folks claiming that if we can just “bridge the digital divide” in poor countries, many chronic problems will be more easily solved. You’d expect him to be happy to see headlines like this New York Times article Can The Cellphone End Poverty?
Nope. ”That’s the reason I quit Microsoft,” said Toyama.