Computing for Good at Georgia Tech

Network World has an interesting article about a computing-for-good project at Georgia Tech. C4G, as it is known, was started by Georgia Tech distinguished professor Santosh Vempala in Fall 2007 when he made a presentation urging his colleagues to get involved in the growing national movement called “computing for a cause” or “socially relevant computing.” C4G focuses on using computing as a platform to improve the human condition.

So in spring 2008, Vempala, assistant professor Michael Best in the School of International Affairs in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and joint with Computing, and School of Computer Science Professor and Chair Ellen Zegura co-taught a course called Computing for Good (C4G). About two dozen graduate and undergraduate students formed teams to tackle challenges in public health, society and politics as close as downtown Atlanta and as far away as sub-Saharan Africa.

Students in the course took on a number of humanitarian projects, ranging from a website and video recording kiosk to assist Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to a mobile-phone-based system for reporting bird flu outbreaks in Uganda and Ghana.

The project appears to have many of the same goals as the HFOSS project, including its main goal of getting computing students engaged in real projects that benefit humanity. Here’s what one of the instructors reported about the course:

They are down on the ground working on a real problem – using technology to help in global health initiatives or to heal a nation coming out of civil conflict — not sitting in a lab at Tech,” says Best. “Students today want to do work where they can see its impact in real terms.

The article doesn’t mention whether the software and products that they produce as part of their efforts is distributed under FOSS licenses–hopefully so. But this definitely seems like a project that we should get in touch with.

The Network World article mentions other humanitarian computing projects, including a Microsoft-funded project at University of Buffalo.  The Buffalo presented a paper in SIGCSE 2008 but we missed it.  And, judging by the references in the paper, they don’t know about our project either.  Like ships passing in the night…

So it’s good news to find out about other HFOSS efforts.  We should explore opportunities to work together.

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