How Social Activists Are Tapping Into Emerging Tech to Solve the World’s Problems

Society could solve some of the biggest global problems that plague marginalized communities with technology. Numerous companies are doing just that.

There seems to be no end in sight to the technological advancements that are rapidly emerging across the globe. When I heard news that the company BioLife4D is in the works to create a functioning human heart using a 3D printer, that’s when I truly began to believe that literally anything is possible, technologically speaking. I now firmly believe that if we, as a society, put our minds together, we could utilize technology to solve some of the biggest global problems that plague marginalized communities.

As it turns out, numerous companies are already doing just that.

Take Motherlode. Founded in the fall of 2017 by three female-identifying artists, Motherlode is a NYC-based creative-tech digital art lab for interactive 3D, augmented reality, and virtual reality design. Motherlode fuses together art/tech creators to develop a platform for interactive digital art that explores themes under the umbrella of social justice and identity in fantastical realms.

To be honest, I head to read the blurb three times to understand what Motherlode actually does. That speaks more to me than Motherlode. It only underscores the fact that the future is here, and we’re beginning to solve problems using incredibly novel and advanced technologies that often require a completely new lexicon.

One of the three founders of Motherlode, Leah Roh, did, however, explain to me, “Motherlode is currently developing a virtual reality series titled Pillow Talk, a three-part computer-generated experience exploring topics that are systematically excluded from sex-education curricula, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, consent and communication, and masturbation.”

Using virtual reality, Motherlode is creating a space for women to embrace their sexual identity as well as to (re)educate women who didn’t receive proper sexual health information growing up.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community, founder Isa Ghaffari, like many, was taught under a stale, traditional sex education curriculum [and] felt pigeonholed,” Roh continued, explaining that her “preferences and identity were not mentioned, nor encouraged, in the way that safe sex practices between cis/hetero interactions were.” Hence why Motherlode is working on a project, Lube River, which invites people “of all sexual and gender identities to explore and celebrate self-pleasure and sex toys in a safe, intimate environment.”

Anshul Pandey is the Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer for Accern, a predictive analytics startup that offers data consolidation services for the financial services industry.

He explained how his experience as a Ph.D. candidate in data science at New York University led him to where he is today: “My research explored the application of data technologies for human rights and social activism alongside organizations like The United Nations and Human Rights Watch,” he told the LGBT Foundation.

In his work with the United Nations, Pandey helped create an algorithm to scan social media and local news chatter for the first signs of human rights crises: “The goal was to better connect the communities of an area with resources that they needed. The project not only identified first signs of natural disasters but also identified human rights crises, like areas where rape or abduction were more prevalent, that were then able to be addressed by the proper advocacy groups of the area.”

The issues Pandey ran into weren’t with the technologies themselves. “The way social media is today, I can plug in a very simple extraction of a place like Haiti and get a top-level understand of what their problems are.” The issues stem from the disconnect between technology and policymakers, as well as getting the emerging technologies to the larger organizations who can best utilize them to benefit marginalized groups.

“One of the biggest blockades of technology reaching the people who need to be helped isn’t because the technology isn’t available or advanced enough,” he says, “but often because the decision and policymakers are not functioning on the same speed of the developers and recipients of the technology.”

Pandey then gave the example of the recent Mark Zuckerberg Facebook hearings. “The biggest finding from Joint Sessions of Congress was that U.S. lawmakers didn’t fully understand the technology that they were elected to create laws and policy for. If the disconnect between decision-makers and the technologies they are elected to monitor continues, we’re going to see further roadblocks to technological progress.”

There are, however, ways to bridge the gap — at least between the tech companies and global NGOs/human rights organizations that could benefit most from that technology. “I suggest if you have a technology that can be used in social activism, reach out to the biggest source you can and they may want to use your technology. Every time we we were have reached out to a big organization, we found that something developing as a side project could be used in practicality to solve their biggest problem.”

However, it seems that in order to do the most good, we’ll need to vote in policymakers who have a better understanding of emerging technologies in order to make sure that all of the continually developing tech advancements can actually be used to solve the world’s problems.