One of the 28 events during the 5-day long “UniDays” (it, de) at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (FUB) was the “Aperitivo Informatico” (held this morning from 11 to about 2pm) that had as theme informatics & democracy with new forms of inclusion and direct participation, closing the digital divide, and online social networks.
The invited guests were: Gabriella Dodero, rector’s delegate for the “diversamente abili” (disabled), Rosella Gennari, FUB PI of the EU FP7 project TERENCE (Technology Enhanced Learning area) and national project LODE (a LOgic-based e-learning tool for DEaf children), Luca Nicotra, Secretary of Agorà Digitale, Paolo Campostrini, a journalist of the Alto Adige newspaper, and Paolo Mazzucato, a journalist for Radio Rai. My role as invited guest was to represent Informatici Senza Frontiere (ISF, Informaticians without borders, an Italian NGO).
The first topics that passed the revue were about what FUB does for the differently abled, noting that there is (and has been) support for blind and deaf people both in the FUB structures and providing suitable software etc, and Gabriella Dodero is also looking into support for people with dyslexia (even though in Italy it is not categorized as a disability). Rosella Gennari zoomed in on deaf children and development of suitable computer-supported learning environments for young poor comprehenders. Luca Nicotra introduced Agorà Digitale, a political/lobby organization concerned with democracy, privacy, net neutrality, and the way of dissemination of information that is an essential component of a well-functioning democracy.
I introduced various projects of ISF, which does not look so much at so-called trash-ware (shipping [dumping?] old hardware to less computerized locations), but, among others, putting effort into developing suitable software for the locale, such as the (open source) openHospital implemented in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Benin for day-to-day management of hospital data, installing financial software for managing microcredit in Madagascar, reconnecting Congo to the internet (hospitals and the University Masi Manimba in particular), openStaff in Chad to, among others, provide assistance to refugees, developing controlInfantil in Ecuador, as well as projects in Italy to narrow the digital divide, such as connecting hospitalized children with a long-term illness to their family, friends, and school in a hospital in Brescia, and a computer room and providing basic IT courses in the casa dell’ospitalità in Mestre. (note: some information about these and other projects is also available in English)
Other topics that passed the revue what the future might bring us for Internet & democratization and if the Internet merits to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize (see also Internet for peace). Response on the second topic was diverse, with Dodero continuing her work regardless if it were awarded a prize or not, Gennari jokingly mentioning that after Obama, then, well, why not, whereas Nicotra was not at all that positive about the idea because the Internet can be used for the worse as well and become monopolized like TV and radio before it. Like with most, if not all, technologies, they can be used for the benefit and detriment of society and humankind, and this holds for the Internet just as much and in all three principal components: regarding the hardware (and limitations to connect due to, e.g., blockades), the software for accessibility by diverse groups of peoples, and the generation & dissemination of (dis)information. That is, Internet technologies themselves are not intrinsically good and just (the first networked computers were at DARPA, a research facility of USA defense forces). And perhaps it is not too far fetched to stretch the information component to the ‘Web of Knowledge’ with its current incarnation as the Semantic Web—thus far, it has been used mostly to indeed share, link, and integrate data, information, and knowledge more efficiently and effectively; let us keep focussing on the positive, constructive, side of the usage of Semantic Web technologies.