by SF Team, 3 February 2017
We are delighted to welcome four new Fellows into the Shuttleworth Fellowship Programme: Alasdair Davies, Anasuya Sengupta, Madeleine Ball and Tarek Loubani. The wonderful Cory Doctorow acted as the Honorary Steward for this round of fellowship, making the final selection from the short-list.
In the world, the new cohort brings openness to conversation technology, inclusivity on the web, genetic research and medical devices. We are excited to learn with them as they progress upon their journeys.
Conservation is an area in which we believe low cost, open technology can make a substantial difference. With limited resources, governments and conservationists have to weigh up priorities carefully in the perceived gap between human and environmental interests. If the technology is prohibitively expensive, closed, not purpose made nor customizable, cost outweighs utility and value. The result is that technology is often excluded from conservation efforts. We believe the necessary technology should be fundamental, affordable and available to all and it is here that an open source collective can be game changing.
An active conservationist and technologist all his working life, Alasdair Davies is combining these two passions with a third - openness - to bring affordable, customizable technology to the field. His relationship with specific conservation efforts mean specific solutions to specific problems. His focus on openness in conservation technology, rather than the conservation of a specific animal or habitat, creates fertile ground for broad collaboration.
Technology informs, but cannot solve conservation challenges alone. It is an important tool though, and that is where Alasdair is starting. Access to appropriate, open technologies will allow us to assess and understand patterns over time and across geographical regions. As a result, conservation strategies can be adapted accordingly, free from past constraints. We believe Alasdair’s work will remove barriers to gathering information and free up resources to focus on social and political change.
There is much talk of the post-truth and post-trust world. As we try and understand our complex realities, we need to recognise that information and knowledge are produced through dynamics of power and privilege: whose knowledge is amplified, is based on whose voice is represented. History is written by victors and the same is true for the internet. What we see online has been created by those who have access, those who are able to write and record, those that are bold enough to share their thoughts, and those who have the time to do it. Add to that the privilege English has over other languages, and you have a very specific perspective on “objective reality”. We think of ourselves as citizens of the digital world, but that still excludes very large proportions of the physical world.
Anasuya Sengupta wants to expand the ways we understand our world. Our past and our present are so much more nuanced. Multiple forms of knowledge exist. She wants to create the opportunities for that to be reflected online. The value of this idea is not only to represent those so far unrepresented on the internet, and to ensure that the knowledge of marginalized communities is seen and heard. The value is to us all, who get to access the rich diversity of thinking, the full available facts, in order to broaden our knowledge, expand our minds and make better informed decisions. This is one of the most critical ways in which we can build a shared world of pluralism, openness and multiple freedoms. Re-imagining the internet is her way of re-imagining the world.
As a veteran Wikipedian, Anasuya is well versed in both collaborative knowledge creation and community engagement, making her the ideal champion for this cause. Having seen the best and worst of attempts at expanding online representation, Anasuya’s approach will be thoughtful and inclusive. While we know we are likely to see an increase in the diversity of online content during her fellowship, we hope that there will be broader acceptance of, and an eagerness to invite such contributions, by knowledge initiatives more generally.
Shared health data can be invaluable to medical research. However, risks around privacy, security and discrimination contribute to maintaining a siloed approach to data gathering. How can we introduce openness into the system in a way that respects and empowers the individuals being studied? This is especially important in fringe cases such as rare diseases, where subjects are few and funding is not easy to access. Both the reward and the risks of sharing is so much higher in these instances.
Madeleine’s work focuses on decentralising control and power over health data to empower contributors while advancing research. She is developing an open approach to human subjects research, with a particular focus on genetic research. This approach will enable research participants, individually and as a community, to access and explore their own data. They can manage and share this data, generated by any study, openly with new projects. The right to choose whether and how to share turns subjects into active participants.
There are more questions than answers for us in this field. How will this work technically? Can it work socially? What impact will the research findings have on individuals and on society? Most of these questions will not be answered over the next year. We will however explore, experiment and in doing so learn enough to help us think of the next steps.
The quality of any medical intervention is greatly affected by the availability of the tools of the trade - equipment and medicines. For both, the determinants of true access are quality, cost and relevance. Can we afford to buy it? Does it meet the highest standards? Is it suitable for my context? Medical equipment plays an especially large part in diagnostics and emergency treatment. Yet this equipment is not open for scrutiny and the quality cannot be fully assessed. Our absolute reliance on them working 100% all of the time is often used as the reason these devices cannot and should not be made open. We believe it is in fact the reason medical equipment should be open.
With the advance of the Internet of Things, the ability (or lack thereof) to audit and control these devices has become critical. At the same time, 3D printing and maker lab facilities have become more and more accessible. The opportunity exists to re-imagine how medical equipment is designed and made.
For Tarek Loubani a conflict zone has forced the issue. Devices can not be easily attained nor afforded, yet the need is stark and immediate. He decided to apply his medical skills to design high quality, low cost, openly licensed medical equipment. He started with a $3 stethoscope that meets the same standards as a $300 one. Rooted in utility and practicality, his approach extends beyond specific devices, to enabling independent development post-conflict and post-scarcity. This is not a challenge that will be solved in a year. However, we believe that in this time Tarek can and will make a substantial contribution to improved medical care today, and to how we think about ownership of medical equipment and devices for the future.