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After a 20-something-hour flight, I am about to face an immigration officer in the United States – not always the best experience. It’s my turn and I edge forward.
“What is the purpose of your visit?” he asks me.
“I am here for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup,” I respond.
“That’s great,” he exclaims (surprising). “Are you one of the students? What have you built? Will it change the world?”
Unfortunately I had to inform him that I am not a developer genius about to change the world, but he’s right, there are students from 34 countries here that are about to. Microsoft created the event to “have fun” and watch what students could do with technology. There are many competitions like this that target students and what they can do with technology and it seems a trend is emerging, especially with the emerging market. Rather than aiming to make billions, students want to do good with technology.
Changing the world through medical tech
“When I look at the competition I can definitely see a trend toward medical and wanting to help people,” says Steven Guggenhimer, Microsoft’s technical evangelist.
The competition winner this year ticks all those boxes. Australia’s Eyenaemia is indeed using technology and medicine to help people both in the developed and developing world.
“We are a bunch of enthusiastic medical students who envision the use of technology to help people live and stay healthy,” says the team.
Medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang argue that screening for anaemia is as “simple as taking a selfie”. So for their Imagine Cup project they created a Windows Phone app that does that — Eyenaemia. According to the duo, it is a simple, non-invasive and easily accessible screening tool made for use by everyday people.
“Eyenaemia analyses the conjunctiva and calculates the risk of anaemia, putting years of medical training into the hands of untrained users,” says the team.
Their product is complete and waiting for some NGO partners to take it to people who really need it in the developing world.
We have seen this trend in using technology to rethink existing medical problems from other competitions such as Intel’s ISEF for high school students.
Well thought out and complete products
“People aren’t just coming up with solutions, they have user experiences that make sense and business models. What we are seeing now at Imagine Cup are complete offerings,” says Guggenhimer. “The polish of the solutions and the thinking end-to-end scenario of the projects are very different from where we started.”
As the competition grows, he reckons that the teams will evolve in their thinking. It is simply not just about the technology anymore, it is about the product, the business and how it can affect the world on a larger and social scale.
“If you look at some the solutions, we see a lot more of things you can do to help people. Medically oriented to diagnose different potential diseases and the ability to help people with accessibility issues or autism. It is very interesting, the trend in helping people and using technology to do that has really gone up.”
Two of the three African teams represented at Imagine Cup this year also built medical apps that help for remote diagnoses of Sickle Cell and cataracts respectively. Guggenhimer reckons that the potential for such apps in the developing world is great and could be perfectly poised to save lives.
When we think about a continent like Africa and its great and wildly dispersed population, sometimes detecting treatable diseases is almost nonexistent. Applications like Uganda’s mDex (sickle cell tester) and Nigeria’s CATARA (cataract detector) could prove very valuable for the developing world.
The future is about doing good with tech
The world’s future creators aren’t just thinking about medical problems that need to be solved either. They are also thinking about the world in general and ways to make it better for everyone. The competition’s World Citizenship category is littered with projects aimed at doing good and educating the world. From easy navigation for the mobility impaired to better disaster alerts and post-disaster communications for larger areas, all show massive potential.
Even the students in the gaming category are thinking about games as tool rather than just fun.
“I have seen that a lot actually,” Guggenheimer says. “They think about the game more of a tool to convey a message. The gaming category can be pure fun or it can have an educational component to it to it. I have seen a lot puzzle-solving games and a chemistry one.”
A team from India used a game to tell the story of a young girl growing up in India and the challenges of what it means to be a woman in India. The game plays out as story with a series of events and, depending on the player, the girl can have happy memories or sad ones. The game, Petite, has a total of 42 levels broken into the girl’s childhood, teen years and adulthood. Every level focuses on a different incident that the girl goes through. The game ends up being quite emotional and every happy memory you win her feels like a personal win too.
The future of tech seems to be all about making a change for the better. The future of artificial intelligence taking over our world to enslave may not be our destiny after all. If the creators of the future are allowed to keep thinking of ways to use both simple and complicated technology to build a future of doing good, then things could turn out pretty damn well.