Events

18Aug

Recap: Virtual Reality at Google Developer Group – Doha

As I child, I loved to play with kaleidoscopes. It seemed like pure magic to put a box to your face and see colour and light design and change before your eyes. A sense of play in technology can lead to new startups and creative research science.

Last night Qatar Computing Research Institute hosted the Google Developer Group – Doha team for the Virtual Reality session. The night included an introduction to Virtual Reality, Google Cardboard and then a hands-on session with creating VR with Unity. Hadij Hicham and Sachin Kumar lead the training and are founders of GDG Doha. As always, it is a pleasure to have technical guests at QCRI to collaborate and learn.

Get involved:

GDG Doha
G+
Twitter

The next event is to be scheduled, so watch those spaces for more details.

Some photos from the night:

Google Cardboard at GDG

Sachin at GDG August 2015

Sachin and soliders

Sofiane and Ingmar with VR

Hicham on Google Cardboard

Sofiane testing Tech gdg

Yasine's son trying out Google Cardboard

Chen with the VR

Waqas Ajaz at GDG

Yacines son testing vr

Mufeed and Google Cardboard

Sachin and Hicham at GDG

Note:

There were 6 women in attendance too, I just missing getting a good action photo of their brilliance. All photos are CCBY.

10Aug

Virtual Reality – Doha Google Developer Group

SciFi dreams come alive with research and technology tinkering! Doha’s Google Developer Group (GDG) and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) are hosting a Virtual Reality event on Monday, August 17, 2015. Tickets are going fast, so we hope you can join us.

It is exciting to see this technology find roots in Doha. Qatar University has a Virtual Reality Lab and QCRI’s team is doing some deep computer vision work with 3D and 4D. Our hope is that this event will help you get an understanding of how the technology works and how you might be able to make things.

About GDG:

Google Developer Groups (GDGs) are for developers who are interested in Google’s developer technology; everything from the Android, Chrome, Drive, and Google Cloud platforms, to product APIs like the Cast API, Maps API, and YouTube API.

DETAILS

Who Should Attend: The GDG is for your learning. We invite entrepreneurs, students, technologists and the curious.
When: Monday, August 17, 2015 17:00 – 20:00
Where: QCRI offices, 18th floor, Tornado Tower

How to Prepare:

Download these tools before you arrive and bring your laptop. Also, if you have some VR items or tips on resources, please do share. DOWNLOAD:

Registration

Please CLICK HERE to register in advance as there are limited spots available. Also, if you can’t attend, please let us know so that we can open up a spot.

Lastly, what is virtual reality anyway? Always turn to XKCD if confused.

XKCD Depth Perception

(Image: XKCD CCBY NC2.5)

31Jul

Is there a Civic Tech Community in Qatar?

The Code for All Summit is in full swing in NYC this weekend. Civic technology friends and allies are meeting to brainstorm and create. Inspiring. Since I moved to Doha, I’ve been contemplating the role of citizen engagement, open source, digital humanitarianism and civic tech within Qatar. Qatar Computing Research Institute has a mandate to support the Qatar Foundation mission of a knowledge economy. Some of the programs I am creating include fostering and investigating social computing and ‘civic tech’ within the research ecosystem. In order to do this, I spent months as a participant observer asking myself: Is there a civic tech community in Doha? What exists and what is needed? If yes, what can I do to foster it?

web speaker by Mazil (Noun project) noun_108827_cc

Participating in local technology community found allies like Qatar Living, Doha Tweetups, Qatar Mobility Innovation Center (QMIC), Mada Qatar (Qatar Assistive Technology Cente) I Love Qatar, or the Google Developer Group. We have Drupal and Creative Commons meetups. There are entrepreneur spaces like ictQatar (Digital Incubation Center), Qatar Business Innovation Center and Qatar Science and Technology Park.
Some recent examples of Civic Tech like activities include:Media in Canvas – Al Jazeera and Challenge 22 . People are creating technology that could be deemed civic tech-like. But what of a Civic Tech Community?

Qatar is a relationship-based culture. There is a wealth of civic tech items to tackle: everything from lack of decent city maps, accessibility, traffic/pedestrian navigation and environmental issues. There are the beginnings of local engagement programmes like Tamm Volunteer Network:

Tamm, which means “consider it done” in Arabic, brings together the currently existing volunteer programs and initiatives in Qatar into one comprehensive online database. Through the Tamm portal (www.tamm.qa), young people can search for the volunteer opportunities of most interest to them, understand what they can expect from their volunteer experience, and learn about the many benefits that can be gained through volunteering.

During the Eid break, I enjoyed reading some new civic tech books: A Lever and Place to Stand: How Civic Tech can Move the World and The Internet is my Religion. Plus, I finally read the seminal book Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. Each of these provide some insight in how to analyze and inspire civic technology. In the coming weeks, I will write more about what I think is happening in Doha and whether it fits into the ‘civic tech’ models. Thankfully Micah Sifry’s chapter“In Search of a Common Language” has some interesting methodology for this type of analysis.

Local techies that I meet speak warmly about how these social and civic tech events inspired them to solve real citizen issues. I believe that my mandate to foster social innovation research in Qatar starts with writing these types of bright spots.

29Jul

Teaching Global Goals

Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere. Some of us are building lesson and program plans for the fall season. Perhaps you are starting to think about your own: “Back to School” mantra. This means priorities, activities, goals and objectives. Well, you are not alone. The United Nations will convene to review the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The new goals will replace the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) with the aim to reach more people with impact.

global goals

The UN Foundation is in Doha this week hosting a media training event for reporters from around the world. The goal is to encourage hyper-local storytelling focused on the SDGs. If the SDGs are going to really reach people, then media needs to be informed and included in the journey. It was great that Ooredoo is one of the hosts.

Aaron Sherinian and UN Foundation


So, as you plan your social good activities, take a moment to consider how you will action the SDGs? How will you activate these stories as digital humanitarians? And, how will you teach people in your communities? How will it influence your programmes? It really starts with us.

Sidenote: How did I not know about the Global Daily before? Seriously, news that matters.

http://globaldaily.com/

But the UN is leaving no teaching unturned. In fact, they also are targeting children with the great big lesson.

28Jul

Matter – A Reflection on Volunteering

Motivation and matter: topics that drive me. (I’ve written about Heart and Fractual Matter before.) At Qatar Computing Research Institute, I’m creating programs to make it easier for MENA, GCC and Qatari folks to get involved in Digital Volunteering. The World Humanitarian Youth Summit is coming to Doha, so opportunity is knocking. I’ve also been thinking more about sustainable care-taking of “matter-ness” within the digital communities.

Volunteer motivation reasons frequently narrow down to “Matter” or “Inspired” or “Do Something” or “Knowing I can do something“. Today I got the “matter shivers” again. Tracy Glenn of SIDRA spoke at the Humanitarians of SIDRA event. Sidra is a Doha-based Medical and Research Center.

humanitarians of sidra

Tracy volunteered as a nurse in a Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) in Rwanda and Palestine. During her time, she assessed and made recommendations to improve processes in the PACU. Her talk incorporated stories and photos from her experience in Jenin (Palestine) with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Helping the vulnerable and train local capacity is a gift. Her honest integrity showed in every sentence and photo. By telling little snippets of life in the medical facility, she gave us a window in the healthcare needs in Jenin and the lives of the people she served. Listening to Tracy reminded me of all the other humanitarians in my life who have shared such heartfelt inspiration to volunteer with their skills. I hope that you get hear all their stories more. Healthcare professionals truly have this hardwired in their processes and networks. What can we learn from them? I certainly learned today from Tracy. (Thank you).

********

We’re all here coz we care

Jemilah Mahmoud on WHSummit (July 28, 2015)

Returning to my desk, I started to reflect on how to sustain motivation in a healthy way. As Digital Humanitarians, we go through phases of on/off. With every large response, I am seeing the wear on digital volunteers. Some of the people who gave their digital skills during the Haiti or Christchurch response contacted me just after the Nepal Earthquake and said sorry that they took a break but were ready to do something. Warmly I told each person how happy I was to hear from them.

We are so connected but disconnected some times in how we talk about volunteering. Every interaction is a gift. The human-ness of giving and volunteering is beautiful. We need to keep walking forward in cycles of sustainable patterns. And, when I say sustainable patterns, I mean – our own pace, taking care of ourselves, those we love and those who are allies. The saturation of energy during a response often takes weeks to months to recoup the cicada rhythms of spirit. Each digital organization needs this in their fabric.

The World Humanitarian Summit tweets via #ReShapeAid are a daily read for me. I try to read all the reports. And, I have had the pleasure to review and add some comments on how digital training needs to be part of the youth engagement strategy. But as we build programs and software to really ACTION the feedback of #ReShapeAid, how can we keep that pure sense of “motivation” and “matter” without burning out people. The intense purpose needs sunshine and a hug. I’m not trying to make light of the real focus we need to have. But with joy, the spaces (online and offline) that we create need to have human check-ins and keep humanity. This means inclusive, respectful, locally driven and with a spirit of “Matter” that does not crush the spirit or the action required. I think that digital spaces need to #Reshape too.

***

Dr. Mahmoud’s comment above on the same day as Tracy’s talk got me thinking. There are videos, photos and audio clips all around the internet. Many organizations have this as part of their use case narrative. But, what if there was a massive aggregator of videos, audio and photos on Why Humanitarian Volunteering Matters? Maybe we should start creating these items in all our digital spaces to honour the upcoming
World Humanitarian Day on August 19th this year.

27May

Doha brewing Smart City activities

Driving into the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), one is struck with the sweeping architecture reflecting a fast-paced ambition to evolve. There are moments in Doha where you can see the future. Places like QSTP very much demonstrate the active efforts of many to change a city and country. It is only fitting that such a place would host the Smart Cities: Dreams to Reality Tech Talk.

Smart Cities TechTalk panel May252015

(Photo: Dr.Thomas Groegler, Waleed Al Saadi, Mansoor Al-Khater and Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal)

The event opened with Mansoor Al-Khater: Chief Strategy Officer of Ooredoo Qatar (a national telco) asking: How can use the huge amount of data to push economic development? Building on his wide-angle lens vision of Smart Cities, he set that tone outlining the potential of smart city technologies. Examples included using smart city technology to change traffic flows to divert from accidents/volume or notify citizens in case of emergencies. But, he emphasized that Smart cities are not just about the technology. It is a shift in culture and how we interact with our cities.

Mr. Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal, Chief Commercial Officer at Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC) highlighted some points about why smart cities will matter to the citizens. He asked us how startups can spark from organic ideas to full technical platforms. QMIC is a partner of Qatar Computing Research Institute. In my time at QCRI, I’ve had a chance to meet a number of the staff and review their platforms. There are over 300 sensors on the various streets and roads around Doha. These sensors stream to real-time maps and provide large data insights into traffic flow. This is one of the growing issues as the city population expands faster than the infrastructure build. While QMIC is seeking to build businesses and foster data-driven startups, QCRI is along on this journey to use our data analytics brainpower and ponder how social computing (how humans interact and provide data via social media.).

Doha is a mix of old city and new city, but Qatar is building Lusail from scratch as a Smart City. This is really a long tail plan. You can read about it on the Lusail website. Having driven by this city, I really am more curious now the city in the making will evolve. Engineer Waleed Al Saadi invited people to explore the Lusail progress. I’ll add it to the list right after visiting the Msherieb enrichment centre. This part of Doha is set to be the most wired and sustainable area.

Lastly Dr. Thomas Groegler, Head of the Innovation Center of Siemens, reminded us that with all this technology and dreaming, we need to deeply consider and address how the smart city work will increase the digital divide, improve or decrease accessibility and, most importantly, effect all parts of physical and digital security. Points taken. Truly, it is with these realities that we must be mindful of our decisions and engage citizens.

How does this relate to our work at QCRI?

At QCRI Social Computing, we have two research and development streams that directly intersect with smart city activities: Social Media in Disaster and Resilient Cities. It is exciting to consider how our work can support and measure the national goals. As a digital humanitarian, I see how a network of Digital Qatar could support this emergency chart. While the formal organizations will use sensors and SMS, there is still a need to consider how social media in Qatar would be used during an emergency. This is about preparedness and an engaged citizenery.
Ooredoo on Smart City Emergency Response

Doha has a way to go to improve as we journey down the Smart City Path. Listed as #41 on the Sustainable City Index, there are standards and programmes to build to engage citizens in what they need from their city as well to foster the brightest entrepreneurs to use data to grow businesses to support the needs of various communities. Smart City Doha needs to keep building a civic tech community. There are pockets of amazing social entrepreneurship and technology groups. These just need to be activated more.

20May

Advanced Research and Technology from WGET: ICT Humanitarian Innovation Forum

What are some of the research opportunities in Humanitarian Innovation? What are some of the “bright spots” to advance technology (new or existing)? The Working Group for Emergency Telecommunications (WGET) – ICT Humanitarian Innovation Forum was held in Dubai on April 29 – 30, 2015. While I curated the session, I was unable to attend at the last minute. Colleagues Larissa Fast and Rakesh Bharania kindly lead the interactive workshop about Communicating with Affected Communities. The WGET audience is a mix of technology companies, humanitarians, researchers and governmental (INGO, NGO, national and international) experts. This unique forum provided a chance to really drive conversations across disciplines.

WGET Session Description

Disaster-affected communities are increasingly the source of the “Big Data” that gets generated during disasters. Making sense of this flash flood of information is proving an impossible challenge for traditional humanitarian organizations. What are the next generation needs for actionable research and software in the fields of Social Data, Predictives and New Technology for Humanitarian response, especially focused on communicating with communities? This session will highlight the lessons learned from the Field while engaging participants in small group feedback sessions. Participants will be asked to discuss key topics such as research needs, opportunities and barriers. Suggestions will be documented and serve as an output from the workshop.

ABOUT WGET

UN OCHA created this Storify: Unveiling Digital Aid at the 2015 WGET
Find the WGETForum on Twitter
See the WGET website

WGET  Session

What are some of the opportunities, barriers and research needs to advance technology use for Humanitarian response?

Many of these answers are fairly common for any project: development and humanitarian. I am struck by the missing ‘step ladder’ to solutions. With the World Humanitarian Summit coming, will there be some technical meetings to brainstorm on ‘what does success look like’? Some of the work at Qatar Computing Research Institute, School of Data, Responsible Data Forum, Brck and various social entrepreneurs are tackling these issues. Are these tools and techniques reaching the right people?

I’ve taken the liberty to highlight the key points. The session format provided ‘headline’ topics. While these lists are missing some of the conversational context, it is our hope that it gives you a window into some of the knowledge shared. The next steps are truly up to all of us.

Some of the barriers cited for advancing use of technology include:
  • How they can operate best where countries declare an emergency. When a country says it does not have an emergency, it prevents from responding.
  • Lack of clear problem statement—lack of social data but we don’t know how more of it would solve a problem.
  • Predictive models need to be adaptive to be effective, which increases complexity
  • Funding, Costs
  • Restrictive government policies
  • Regulation/policy
  • No coordination of efforts
  • Trust (between organizations and people to organizations)
  • Decision-making triggers/timelines
  • Variety of platforms – trusted?
  • Connectivity
  • Disrupted networks in disasters, lack of real-time data
  • Energy infrastructure, energy resources, energy/electricity competencies
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Veracity of information
  • Risk of information to the organization
  • Reliability of data
  • Data protection,Data expiration
  • Do we want to use social data? What’s the point?
  • High noise-to-signal ratio
  • No one person(s) who across all organizations is collecting data and knowledge of all going on
  • Knowing information gaps and what is being collected and not
Opportunities in research and advancing technology:
  • Everyone is trying to solve this problem… need a forum where we can share
  • Financing mechanisms based on predictive data/forecast
  • Social media; good platform if we are able to use it properly.
  • Provide insight into an issue
  • Create awareness
  • Feedback mechanisms to better adapt humanitarian response to needs
  • Integration of public social media awareness for self-filtering (?) into preparedness campaigns
  • Move towards demand-driven assistance, especially in acute phase of relief
  • How can we evaluate effectiveness of our interventions.
  • Enhance decision-making
  • Mechanism/triggers for decisions
  • Common tools, analysis to collect intelligence from a variety of platforms
  • Base applications on HXL so that they can be aggregated (?), exchanged, consolidated
  • Share initiatives – communicate to all others so no duplication and extra effort
  • Crisis signal – see areas with coverage of phones etc. Provides useful info
  • To use the new social related applications which we are well known to send live videos of cases that required immediate action (e.g., Snapchat)
  • Using the UAVs to send live videos to people in charge of the humanitarian response
  • Pooling/sharing resources, risk, skills/analysis
  • Provide through experiments
  • Narrative to show need/value, lives saved/lost (feedback (positive/negative)
  • Provision better programmes by reacting to real time data
  • Evaluating effectiveness of our interventions real time
Some Brainstormed ideas:
  • Research: study on impact of tech on community resilience (net effect)
  • Create a humanitarian open-source community to develop tools based on social data
  • Accountability of quality
  • Insecurity of shared information
  • Escalation of information
  • Adaptive, real-time predictive models
  • Integrated social media filters for preparedness programs
  • ICT tech: problem statement, expertise in house (analysis, security), + tools
  • Data transfer agreement
  • Clearing and monitoring mechanisms for social data to make it trustworthy
  • Keep in mind the ethical considerations of ICT use in humanitarian
  • To allow models/analysis and define the way data can be used across agencies or specifically across the cluster

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Thanks to UN OCHA (Patrick and Amanda) for supporting this session, Larissa and Rakesh for hosting in my stead, and Olly Parsons of GSMA for some great notes. And, thanks to all the participants for driving the conversations.

14May

Using your Voice to Amplify your Career

Mentoring is one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. Over the years, I have learned from mentors many skills on how to build my network, develop my skills, speak publicly and find my voice. Today I had the opportunity to share my experiences with the Qatar Computing Research Institute‘s Summer Interns. I am very thankful to my teachers and mentors for guiding me. Certainly as a mentee and mentor, I consider it a goal to be a lifelong learner. Do you have tips and ideas about amplifying your career? I’d love to learn from you.

Here are the slides with notes, articles, tools and techniques that might help you:

23Apr

Convening Innovation Allies

How can we use advanced computing, human computing and social innovation to have impact in Qatar? Healthy lives, taking care of the environmental, youth engagement, resilient cities, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian response are some of the core Social Computing research activities at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI)?

On Wednesday, April 15, 2015, QCRI hosted a small forum to discuss social innovation in Qatar. The session consisted of speakers from QCRI and partners as well as some informal discussion groups. Thank you for our guests and participants for this informative conversation.

The Qatar Red Crescent Disaster Management Camp was held in Doha, Qatar from March 31 – April 9, 2015. These are some early observations that I had on the use of technology and the opportunities for future research and collaboration:

We plan on expanding this dialogue in the future. Until then, your insights will inform both our strategic planning, research agenda and future activity collaborations.

Social Innovation Workshop Discussion groups 2015

QCRI’s Social Innovation Programme in Qatar is focused on four streams of research and activities:
  • Smart and Resilient Cities
  • Remote Sensing for Social Good
  • Digital Humanitarians
  • Social Media for Disaster

In the Resilient city discussion group we saw some opportunities with ICTQatar leading open data initiatives, QMIC working with traffic sensor data and the potential of sports data to provide insights into society. Collectively we agreed that we need to know more about resilience city and society ecosystems in Qatar. Some of the barriers included lack of policy and regulation in Qatar, community services need access to the data and
cellular data is hard to share.

The Remote Sensing group spent time thinking about blue sky uses for these tools and techniques. Some of the concepts tie directly into the Resilient City Group with opportunities to use phone traffic sensors, computer vision and drones and uavs for parking. Some of the potential imagery sources include landsat imagery, Planet Labs and Skybox (Google).

The Social Media for Disaster and Digital Humanitarian teams joined forces to delve into opportunities, barriers and new research items. Opportunities included a very diverse community (languages, cultures), engaged youth, access to technology/mobile devices and the sense of belonging in a geographically small but strategic area. The barriers include lack of civil society, language barriers, education levels and the fluidity of communities. Also, there is a need to reframe the concept of volunteering into opportunities for educational and society advancement. Research opportunities included understanding the needs/motivations of people, peer-to-peer transfer of knowledge, community development in Qatar and understanding social responsibility programs in Qatar.

Thanks again to the speakers, guests and my colleagues for a great morning.

25Mar

Computers that Think and our Role

What is our role as software developers, research scientists or startup leaders? The very computer software and hardware that we create are changing lives. It is truly inspiring to learn of this advanced computing science of teaching computers. But, what is our role in this? What is the impact of our work on the lives of others? Prasenjit Mitra asked us these very questions during his TedxEducationCity (Doha) talk this past Saturday. Dr. Mitra is a Principal Scientist, Data Analytics at Qatar Computing Research Institute.

 Prasenjit Mitra @ TEDxEducationCity

As innovators, it is important to consider these factors. Often I write about the positive work and changes that these software innovations deliver. But, this comes with responsibility to create wisely and take care of our neighbours. To that end, last year I hosted a workshop on Data Ethics at Stanford University. As an data advocate and someone who works with human computing/machine language processing, I continue to be contemplate the digital cowboy behaviour which may have negative connotations on the very people we may be intended to support and/or research. As a new staff member at QCRI, it matters that my colleagues really consider our role and try to create within a socially and ethically responsible framework. There is no TedX video yet, so take my word that he was an engaging presenter in a conversation way. Please do review the slides with this in mind. Congratulations, Dr. Mitra.

Mindless: How Smart Computers are making Dumber Humans

I literally just finished reading the book, Mindless; How Smart Computers are making Dumber Humans, before attending TedxEducationCity. It provides a wide angle lens into management software (metrics over human conversations) and computational decision-making in various industries. While it is focused on primarily the US economy, the final chapter about China was frightening. While I am a strong advocate of computers and technology for social good, I think that we need to have more conversations about the impact and consequences.

About the book:
“In Mindless, Simon Head argues that these systems have come to trump human expertise, dictating the goals and strategies of a wide array of businesses, and de-skilling the jobs of middle class workers in the process. CBSs are especially dysfunctional, Head argues, when they apply their disembodied expertise to transactions between humans, as in health care, education, customer relations, and human resources management.”

Happy reading!

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