Awards recognize tech for good

Image: Peter and Maria Hoey, as reported in the  New York Times on 12/21/18 .

Image: Peter and Maria Hoey, as reported in the New York Times on 12/21/18.

From health care providers to whistleblowers, recipients of the 2018 Good Tech Awards cultivated socially beneficial uses of technology, whether drones or text messaging.

The awards, a feature of New York Times columnist Kevin Roose in the New York Times Magazine, give a nod to innovators who often operate outside of the spotlight.

This in a year described by Roose as “horrible” for tech leaders, such as the Facebook, Google and Twitter executives who were hauled before Congress to testify.

Two of the lauded companies were Zipline and Swoop Aero for using drones to heal the sick.

Roose wrote, “For years, consumer drones were hyped as a new technology that would soon fill the skies over America’s cities, delivering packages and surveilling the populace. Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet, but elsewhere, drone companies are doing real work.”

Start-up company Zipline uses drones to deliver blood and medicine to hospitals in remote areas where travel is difficult. Swoop Aero is a drone-delivery company that partnered with Unicef to deliver vaccines to Vanuata, a remote nation in the South Pacific where approximately 20% of children do not get properly vaccinated, reported Roose.

Upsolve, a nonprofit organization that Roose describes as developing “a tool that has been referred to as the “TurboTax of bankruptcy,” helped people in “47 states discharge a total of more than $13 million in debt, according to Rohan Pavuluri, the company’s chief executive,” reports the New York Times.

Awards were also given to Promise, Uptrust and Clear My Record, “for helping solve our prison problem.”

Roose wrote, “Promise is an app built to keep people out of jail. Aimed at pretrial defendants who cannot afford to post cash bail, it creates customized care plans for each user, sends them reminders of court dates and other critical appointments and allows courts to monitor their progress.”

Uptrust offers a similar text message system that sends personalized appointment reminders to low-income clients, and can connect them to services that make getting to court easier, such as rides or child care, reports Roose. And nonprofit organization Code for America built Clear My Record, a tool that helps people expunge or reduce old criminal convictions to make it easier for them to find jobs and housing.

Finally, the 2018 Good Tech Awards saluted workers at big tech companies, “for holding their employers accountable.”

Employees at Google raised concerns about Project Dragonfly, “a secret Google project to create a censored version of its search engine for China.”

Roose added, “Workers at Amazon and Microsoft have also spoken up for change within their companies, on issues ranging from climate change to surveillance, A.I. ethics and the decision to work with federal immigration agencies.”