Time for a High-Tech Peace Corps?

11/14/2016 06:16 pm ET
By Jos van Zetten from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

To say the election results have been troubling could be the most historic understatement ever. The deep rifts in the country, shown in red and blue, depict a tale of a changing economy, one where retooling factories, digging deeper for more coal, or producing more steel are, for many reasons, an unworkable solution.

So how do you revitalize hurting communities that were promised a decent life and an American dream? I believe you turn to the high-tech community for answers. It’s a community that thrives on the premise that when you define a problem and you set out to solve it. It’s a community that has spawned jobs and wealth, not just for the programmers or CEOs, but for those who service their industry with entertainment, food, transportation and more. It’s a community that viscerally understands the new economy’s inventiveness with shared working spaces, gig jobs, and innovative programs.

A High-Tech Peace Corps would place new-economy thinkers in the towns and cities that have been in decline. Their first job would be to do an analysis of the assets and liabilities of the town.

Next, they would take the best practices that emerge from cities that are on the upswing and introduce those services and technologies that could kick start the process.

The examples are plentiful.

Many declining manufacturing towns are populated by an aging generation in need of services. Services such as, telepresence medicine allowing for home visits and expert medical advice served up remotely, Uber/Lyft type transportation, and services offered by companies like HomeAdvisor and TaskRabbit are just a few of the low-hanging solutions.

Youth centers where kids are exposed to the tools of the future: virtual and augmented reality, robotics, STEM curriculum and AI offer a gateway to modern skills that make students job ready.

Town planning commissions with access to data analytics, monitoring everything from usage of public places to environmental health issues would help too.

The investment in these services would pay off in a future where towns have more jobs, healthier constituencies, a better trained work force and a weaning from social services.

Who will fund this effort? I’m not banking on our new government to understand the importance of the tech-mindset. It’ll need to be the tech community itself.

If the Microsofts, Googles and Apples of the world teamed up to create a High-Tech Peace Corp on American towns and cities the investment would pay off, both in future workers and in future purchasers of their equipment.

High tech companies are uniquely qualified to create best practices training manuals to bring America’s hurting populations into the new economy. Ambassadors from these companies could be embedded into the community life, serving as a resource and facilitator for a re-imagined and better life.

After nearly 40 years of watching technology enhance the lives of those who understand and embrace it, I’m on the plan. Anyone with me? It’s time for a Peace Corp that mends fences and breaks down walls with technology.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.

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