Background and Concept for a
Technology Peace Corps
Mel Siegel
The Robotics Institute
School of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University
IT4B Course – 2003 Dec 03
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IT4B Technology Peace Corps Lecture
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outline
• survey "Technology Peace Corps" concept
• place in context of early and current
“Peace Corps” activities and philosophies
• compare and contrast with other volunteer or
low-pay programs
– UN's
– other countries and international organizations
• illustrated with case of Ghana "then and now"
• overview of the e2WEHAB concept and proposal
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history …
•
John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps
(1961) “to promote world peace and friendship”.
• Three goals comprise its explicit mission:
1. Helping the people of interested countries to
meet their needs for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of
Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other
peoples on the part of all Americans.
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… history
• Kennedy appointed his brother-in-law
Sargent Shriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s
father-in-law) first Peace Corps Director
• planning, recruiting, and training began by
executive order before Congress provided
funding (on “Joe Kennedy’s Am Ex card”)
• first group left US for Ghana (after training
at Berkeley) on September 1, 1961
• see link: http://www.archives.gov/...
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key concept
• each volunteer lives at the same level as
his/her “host country counterpart”
– but local Peace Corps organization provides
additional health monitoring and care
– and additional cash (in local currency) for
educational travel during vacations etc
• see the classic: “Living Poor: A Peace
Corps Chronical”, Moritz Thomsen
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IT4B Technology Peace Corps Lecture
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typical assignments
• teaching: mostly secondary school, some
primary school, university, professional
– and a lot of English as Second Language
• agricultural technology and economics
– fish farming is a very common sort of project
• resource development, e.g., geology
• health care and issues: family planning,
AIDS, malaria, schistosomiasis, etc
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record
• ~150,000 returned volunteers (RPCVs)
• annual budget currently ~$275M
– ~ 1.7% of annual foreign aid budget
– ~ 0.1% of annual DoD budget
• 42 years of Peace Corps  1 week of DoD
• RPCVs represented substantially out-ofproportion in Senate, Congress, executive
branches, World Bank, journalism, etc
– as are their students in the countries served
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other “Peace Corp” programs
• United Nations Volunteers
– see http://www.unv.org/
• World Volunteer Web
– see http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/
• International Volunteer Organization
– see http://www.nymouse.org/international-volunteer-organization.shtml
• Israel Forum for Internat. Humanitarian Aid
– see http://www.israaid.org.il
• Global Volunteer Network (New Zealand)
– see http://www.volunteer.org.nz/
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IT & developing nations
• personal observation: with the emergence
of the internet as a critical tool for research
and communication, academics in
developing nations are worse off than they
were 40 years ago relative to their
counterparts in developed nations!
– print journals and paper mail were of more-orless equal quality and availability everywhere
– now dismal internet connectivity in developing
nations cuts them out of main stream research
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
problem
opportunity
solution

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UN Johannesburg Agenda
• WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE
DEVELOPMENT (WSSD), August 2002
• WEHAB
– water and sanitation
– energy
– health and environment
– agriculture
– biodiversity and ecosystem management
• see http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/documents/wehab_papers.html
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window of opportunity
• to install comprehensive IT infrastructure
(“dark fiber”) while labor is still cheap
• to create, operate, and maintain national
information grids at affordable costs
• but how to link them to the global grid?
– relatively small volume of person-to-person
communication is affordable with a little help
– relatively large volume of data-to-researcher
storage and look-up can be handled by mirror
sites based on exchange of hard disks
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water and sanitation
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energy
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health and environment
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agriculture
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biodiversity
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CMU extends it to e2WEHAB
• education and e-technology
applied to issues in the WEHAB agenda
• achieve via a Technology Peace Corps
– academic study/research at senior undergrad,
masters degree, maybe PhD graduate levels
– collaboration with host country counterpart
students in participating developing nations
– both distance- and overseas-collaboration
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education
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e-technology
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e2WEHAB proposal
• context-appropriate information and
communication technology (ICT)
– providing education and e-technology
• that supports sustainable development
– of water, energy, health, agriculture, and
biodiversity (WEHAB)
• in selected developing nations
• via a Technology Peace Corps
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basic research hypothesis
• the “Peace Corps approach”
– i.e., one-on-one training of a studentvolunteer’s host-country counterpart
• adding high-quality internet connections
– between the volunteer and the counterpart
during training and reporting phases
– between the academic advisor and studentvolunteer during overseas program phases
• is more effective than conventional
approaches to sustainable development
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practical service component
• develop, implement, and deploy sustained
economic development projects
• in at least one Asian and one African
country during the pilot phase, e.g.,
– Ghana
– Sri Lanka
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deliverables
• basic ICT research results
• practical contributions to sustained
economic development projects
• training of approximately 60 American
student-volunteers
– in the intersection of ICT and sustained
economic development
• and training of approximately 120
counterparts in developing nations
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technical challenges …
• low cost systems and software
• hardware reliability in harsh climates
– minimal indigenous maintenance capability
• software robustness in environments with
limited access to support expertise
• providing low cost, easily deployed, easily
integrated sensors for monitoring functions
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… technical challenges
• supporting environments with low levels of
literacy and rare local languages
• reliable performance in the absence of a
reliable power grid
• high-bandwidth high-reliability wireless
communication at all geographical scales
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approach
• Our approach to e2WEHAB is modeled on the
success of the US Peace Corps as a proven
low-cost and effective means for communicating
practical sustainable knowledge and skills
between the developed and the developing
worlds. We say “between ... and” vs. “from ... to”
to emphasize that the basic Peace Corps model
of pairing an American volunteer with a “host
country counterpart” of similar age and
sophistication assures a bi-directional transfer of
knowledge and skills that ultimately benefits the
developed nation, i.e., the US, as much as the
developing nation.
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implementation …
• the pilot program tests the hypothesis that
ICT-intensive sustained economic
development programs are more effective
than traditional programs
– approximately 60 student-volunteers in 60
development projects
– individually tailored projects of typically
15-18 month duration
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… implementation …
• small enough that only minimal
administrative infrastructure is required
• big enough to generate meaningful data
• big enough to permit deciding whether
effectiveness is local or apparently global
– local: works in some specific regions
– apparently global: seems like it should work
in any developing nation
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… implementation …
• each student-volunteer is enrolled in an
established CMU academic program
• student-volunteer selection based on assessed
– ability to learn and teach cutting edge ICT technology
– participate in basic research
– work productively in an overseas project
• student-volunteer receives interdisciplinary
faculty supervision and advice
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… implementation …
• student-volunteer works side-by-side with a host
country counterpart
– physically side-by-side during overseas phases
– remotely side-by-side via high-quality internet link
during on-campus phases
• individually tailored projects of typically 15-18
month duration
– Masters Degree at end of program makes it attractive
for undergraduates
– interdisciplinary research potential makes it attractive
for graduate students.
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… implementation
• faculty advisors receive benefit of publishing in
interdisciplinary research area
• faculty honoraria only if supplementary
foundation support is obtained
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contrasts
• critical contrasts with “classical”
Peace Corps programs:
– volunteers must start with substantial
technical expertise
– ongoing ICT-based support
• from faculty advisor to volunteer
when volunteer is in the field
• from volunteer to host country counterpart
when volunteer is at CMU
– volunteer receives academic credit for
his/her contribution and experience
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project scenario …
• water + sensors:
– humans are not good water safety sensors
• bad looking, smelling, tasting water can be safe
• clear, odorless, tasteless water can be deadly
– semiconductor, MEMS, and other sensing
technologies have been demonstrated, but
extensive software support is needed for
• installation and maintenance instruction
• automatic calibration and drift compensation
• distributed environmental monitoring networks
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… project scenario …
• energy + off-grid capability
– inhospitable climates and terrain lead to
frequent outages in many developing nations
• nodes in an electric power grid require external
power to recover from outages
• hence grid management requires substantial
human intelligence or excellent AI capability
• ICT physically independent of grid and power line
right-of-way integrity enhances reliability
– software and hardware challenges to
• sustain ICT in difficult environment
• employ ICT to manage the difficulties
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… project scenario …
• health + literacy and language
– low levels of literacy and rare local languages
challenge attempts to deliver health care
– low cost ICT needed to provide
• high quality translation
– concept-to-concept vs. word-to-word
when local language lacks necessary words
• voice-to-voice communication
– pressing health care needs drive applications
• e.g., AIDS awareness and prevention
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… project scenario …
• agriculture + wireless communication
– wireless support for “just in time” agriculture
• timely response to unexpected weather, pests, etc
• an edge that transforms marginal commodity
markets into lucrative specialty markets
• reduce worldwide dependence on over-localized
production of essential agricultural products
• promotes return to diverse mix of varieties
vs. current concentration on monotypes
– more interesting, more healthful, and
genetically much more robust
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… project scenario …
• biodiversity + environmental computing
– monitoring, management, and re-introduction
of biodiversity into environments damaged by
• deforestation
• overgrazing
• monoculture
– ICT and robotic support for automation of
• wildlife detection, identification, and census
• plant census and life-cycle monitoring
• microbiological analysis of soil and water
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impact
• for the US: experience and training of
Americans in sustainable development
– potential extension to domestic programs
• for developing nations: impact of projects,
on-going work of host country nationals
– developing international collegial relationships
• for the ICT field: methodology and results
of project and volunteer evaluations
– validation of technological approaches
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wrap up
• contrary to expectations, move to internetbased communication and publication may
be widening the academic gap between
developed and developing nations
• we have a technological model for closing it
• it requires substantially raising the level of
ICT capability in the developing nations
• accomplish it via a “Peace Corps” model
• instantiate it on the UN WEHAB agenda
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Background and Concept for a Technology Peace Corps