Thursday, October 1, 2009

GHC09: keynote by google VP Megan Smith

Before the keynote started, we watched a very awesome video "I'm a technical woman". It was great to see so many technical women at last year's conference happily proclaim "I am a technical woman!"

Megan started her presentation by telling us the MIT admission question she had to answer when she was applying: what animal would you be and why? The interesting thing is that many boys chose eagles, because they can be at a high vantage point, fly and soar above. Many girls chose dolphins, because they travel in groups and have a lot of interconnectedness.

This leads into her talk about interconnectedness and how it is changing the world. The first area she touched on was interconnectedness in developing world. There is a big pool of talented people in Africa that are not connected to the rest of the world. The good news is broadband is going to the continent and they soon will adjust to life being always connected to each other.

The second area she talked about was interconnectedness of data. Google's virus trend app is gathering disease queries in real time with 80-90% accuracy, and this is helping CDC who is used to having many days of lag before they receive the information. We also should get away from paper-based healthcare records, and we'll be able to aggregate the data and find some common trends in diseases.

Then, Megan talked about civil liberty and individual empowerment. People like to know they're not alone, and they can let each other know what's going on. Send SMS alerts to warn people about dangerous roads and find people who you can walk together.

Lastly, she talked about the impact of computer science on environment. We can use technology to solve the renewable energy problem, make it cheaper than conventional energy and be able to compete with it. We need to invent our way out of the energy crisis.

This year's conference theme is creating technology for social good, and Megan's talk really touched on how we can step back and take a look at all we have created and how they can be used for social good. The keynote is very different than other sessions I've been attending, which mostly focuses on how I can improve myself and get ahead in my career. It is refreshing to take a bigger picture view and be reminded what we work so hard to achieve.

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