Benefit of Clouds in Africa


The mobile web is growing by leaps and bounds. Jon Thompson points out one reason why this is happening in places like Africa where clouds provide the only way of providing mass computing power.

When providing aid, the need for good communication and measurement is paramount.  Clouds provide an answer although they have nothing to do with those beautiful towering shapes you may see in the sky.

If only one person takes their iPhone to the field and commits to mapping their tracks while going from health post to health post and then uploading that data via a local network (either while roaming or on a cracked handset) the world might just be a better place.  My guess is that mapping Monrovia, Goma, Juba, etc. now will pay off in the long run.  With the cloud hovering over Africa rapidly growing in size the advantage goes to those folks on the ground who have the power to generate the data and ultimately benefit from it.

Tim O’Reilly provides an explanation on why using your iPhone and working in the clouds is so powerful:

Cloud integration

It’s easy to forget that the speech recognition isn’t happening on your phone. It’s happening on Google’s servers. It’s Google’s vast database of speech data that makes the speech recognition work so well. It would be hard to pack all that into a local device. And that of course is the future of mobile as well. A mobile phone is inherently a connected device with local memory and processing. But it’s time we realized that the local compute power is a fraction of what’s available in the cloud. Web applications take this for granted — for example, when we request a map tile for our phone — but it’s surprising how many native applications settle themselves comfortably in their silos.

The announcement earlier in the year that IBM is Opening Cloud Computing Centers in Africa and  China shows the kind of support that is being put in place:

Cloud computing enables the delivery of personal and business services from remote, centralized servers (the "cloud") that share computing resources and bandwidth — to any device, anywhere. Cloud computing represents a major step up in computing — as it enables governments, businesses and individuals to access super-computing power, analysis of massive amounts of data, and applications five to 10-times more cost effectively.

For example, using IBM’s new centers, a university could access the computational power of a supercomputer to analyze data and determine how diseases might spread in a region or how climate changes will affect natural resources.

This points to new ways of getting the facts more impartially and openly such as Crowdsourcing when reporting on crises.

Crisis reporting usually had to deal with politics, bureaucracy and authenticity mostly because policy making and crisis situations are joined by the hip. It has always been a one-to-many situation with government/corporate dominated (and manipulated) crisis reporting. Basically we have always had to believe what ‘they’ tell us about how it happened, how it is being handled and how it will be prevented in future.

Crowdsourcing means that crisis situations can be explored at comparatively little cost, by making information freely available from an untold numbers of sources. We would basically be liberating information from the vaults of Non Governmental (and governmental) Organizations that have of necessity safeguarded information release for self-preservation.

The Clue-train manifesto pointed in this direction but few could have envisaged how massively the movement would expand.