ICTs and improving road safety

It’s 17 May 2013, and today we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The purpose of the day, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) website, is “to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”

The date of 17 May was chosen because it marks the date of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865, and the creation of the ITU. Initially the day was only known as World Telecommunications Day (it was celebrated annually since 1969). In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called on the UN General Assembly to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day, “to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS.” In November 2006, at the ITU Conference in Turkey, it was decided to combine the above two events into a single World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Every year, WTISD promotes a specific theme, an area where telecommunications and ICT has a significant impact, or potential for significant impact, on society. For 2013, the theme is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

According to a report by the UN’s Road Safety Collaboration, 1.3 million people die annually in traffic-related accidents, with another 20-50 million injured. Considering the medical costs involved, as well as costs of work-loss etc, traffic accidents clearly have a huge impact on economies globally.

The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive. (© All Rights Reserved)
The impact of telecommunications and ICT on road safety is immense. Sadly, it is not all positive.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The impact of ICT and telecommunications on road safety can be viewed from two sides. On the positive side, improved connectivity has a positive impact in terms of placing road users in contact with emergency services and road side assistance. Ever-increasing accessibility of maps and navigation services through smartphones etc can also improve safety on the road. Increasingly sophisticated traffic management systems have the potential to positively impact on traffic safety, and at the high end of technology, intelligent driver assist systems is another domain where ICT in particular has a huge potential role to play.

On the downside, however, driver distraction and road-user behaviour, including texting and interfacing with navigation and other communications systems while driving, count among the leading contributors to traffic-related accidents. And it is not only distracted drivers that cause problems – texting pedestrians represent an equally big risk, putting themselves and other road users in danger. The challenge in addressing these dangers is, of course, more educational than technical – it is all about educating all road users about the dangers of being distracted by personal communication systems while using the road.

So while today is a day to celebrate the amazing technological contribution ICT has made to improved road safety, it is also a day to remind ourselves of the terrible tragedies that have followed from the injudicious and inconsiderate use of mobile phones, GPS systems, etc while engaged in road usage.

Be safe, everyone.

Creating awareness about the challenges of global accessibility

Today we’re getting into the technology space again as this day, 9 May 2013, is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD.

gaad-logo-miniMore specifically, it is about ‘digital accessibility’ and creating awareness about the tireless quest of many designers and developers to make digital technology accessible, usable and inclusive to users with different disabilities. As stated on the GAAD website, “professionals who work in the field of digital accessibility often find themselves preaching to the converted”, and through this day they are hoping to remedy the situation. To get involved, you can like the GAAD Facebook page, follow @gbla11yday on twitter, or tweet on the subject using the hashtag #gaad.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about equal access to technology for people living with a wide range of disabilities. (© All Rights Reserved)
Global Accessibility Awareness Day is all about equal access to digital technology for people living with a wide range of disabilities.
(© All Rights Reserved)

To make the idea of digital access for the disabled more tangible to able-bodied people, the GAAD website suggests a number of activities one can engage in:

  • Going without a mouse or touchpad for an hour, and try to work using your keyboard only (tab/shift tab, arrow keys, enter and spacebar).
  • Surf the web for an hour using only a screen reader, such as the free/open source NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) application for PC, or the built-in screenreader called VoiceOver on Mac.
  • Learn about and try out some of the accessibility features already included in Windows 7, Mac OS X, iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

Spending some time with the above tools really hammers home the incredible challenge faced by people with disabilities to keep up with the digital revolution. It is so easy for us to just accept and embrace the digital-everything world we are living in, without spending a minute to think about the extent of exclusivity and discrimination that is an inherent part of this world. Not only are there millions of disabled people in digitally accessible areas who cannot fully take part in this world – there are billions more, able-bodied and disabled, who don’t even have the luxury of basic digital access (but that’s a whole different story).

At the same time, spending time with these accessibility tools also reminds us of the incredible work that designers and developers have already done (often as unpaid volunteers) to make global accessibility a reality. Given where the world has gotten to, this is a massive challenge that needs support, both financially and in terms of awareness creation. So use this day to experience it, talk about it, and if at all possible, getting involved – either as a technical contributor or as a lobbyist and campaigner for the cause.

‘Intel Inside’ and the personal computing boom

This day in 1968 marks a very important moment in the history of personal computing – it is the day that semiconductor giant Intel was founded.

Intel was founded by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce. They initially wanted to name the company “Moore Noyce”, but that sounded too much like “more noise”, so they settled on their initials for the name NM Electronics. The name Intel, derived from Integrated Electronics, was adopted later the same year.  Intel produced their first product, a RAM chip, in 1969, and memory chips represented the majority of its business for the first decade. In the meantime they also produced microprocessors, for example releasing the 8080 microprocessor, which was deployed in a vast array of products, from cash registers and traffic lights to computers, in 1974.

The success of IBM microcomputers in the early 80’s prompted Intel to increase its efforts to gain dominance in the microprocessor market. Their subsequent x86 series of microprocessors, followed by the Pentium series, became staples in most personal computers from the 1990’s onwards. Initially a company famous only among engineers and computer scientists, the ‘Intel Inside’ marketing campaign turned Intel into a household name.

The “Intel Inside” campaign remains one of the most famous and successful advertising and marketing campaigns in IT history.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The 1990’s represented an era of unprecedented growth for the company as primary hardware supplier for the personal computer industry. After 2000, changes in market dynamics and increased competition slowed the company’s growth, but Intel has been able to sufficiently adapt to remain relevant in the fast-changing IT sector. In June 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Apple’s transition from its PowerPC architecture to Intel-based architecture, and by mid 2006 the entire Apple Mac consumer line was sporting Intel processors.

Intel currently remains, by revenue, the world’s largest semiconductor chip maker. If you’re reading this on a desktop computer or laptop, you are in all likelihood doing so on an “Intel Inside” system.