Computing Applications

Grace Hopper Keynote 1: Megan Smith

Valerie Barr
Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science, Union College

Thursday’s keynote address was by Megan Smith of Google.  Megan is Vice President of New Business Development and General Manager  of  She has been at Google since 2003 and oversaw the acquisitions that resulted in Google Earth and Google Maps.  In her talk Megan focused on the interconnectedness of CS, using four examples of areas that demonstrate this.

1.  Interconnectedness of people around the world:  When you look at Google query traffice worldwide (which Megan demonstrated with incredibly cool graphics) you see that there is almost no query traffic from Africa, though there is increasing SMS activity.  For example,  M-Pesa is a service in Kenya that allows full telephony-based money transfer.  But the "real" commercial Internet is coming to Africa.  Google is opening five new offices in Africa, bringing the total to seven.  They will be doing maps and supporting all the "usual" Google apps, working with the Grameen AppLab, working on health related applications, building on existing SMS efforts, and working to get NGO information onto the web. 

2.  Interconnectedness of data:  People at Google have been generating real time information about the spread of flu.  They have used search logs to predict flu rates, based on the belief that the first thing people do when they get sick is start searching the web.  Turns out that they are 89% accurate on seasonal flu rates, based on verifying with CDC data.  The benefit of this data mining work is that Google can actually give the CDC real time information more quickly than the CDC gets it from doctors and hospitals.  Next, Google is working to get these applications into multiple languages — turns out that in many parts of the world it is becoming cheaper to collect data digitally than on paper, so the developing world can begin to move in this direction as well, using data mining of digital data to gain information on trends.

3.  Civil liberties: events in Iran and Colombia have demonstrated the use of technology to mobilize people.  The Alliance of Youth Movements Summit, held last year in NYC and soon to be held again, taught people how to create youth groups, and heavily utilized webcast and facebook.  Megan discussed the role technology can play for people in "extreme" situations, how SMS alerts can be used in parts of Africa to warn women about save routes.  She argued that technology can help speed up the improvement of life, particularly for women, in some parts of the world where there is still great danger.  She also discussed the potential for improving education, creating opportunities for collaboration between schools across geographic and economic divides.

4.  The environment:  There are many CS opportunities in building the control systems involved for new energy delivery approaches.  For example, SolarBlox is an application that will help groups of people organize to increase buying power of solar panels in their neighborhood.  Google’s PowerMeter application will help people see power usage in their home.  Studies show that once people know how much energy they are using, they usually decrease usage 5%-15%

Megan closed by saying that the 21st century will be all about these kinds of interconnectedness, and that there are many many opportunities for people in CS to work on exciting and interesting and relevant projects.


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