Tuesday, May 27

WCIT 2008 - Monday

Woke up at a godforsaken hour to a cloudy sky but the lowering clouds, the brilliant green trees, the humid air was making me all nostalgic for the monsoon days of my childhood. I felt a deep desire for some durian fruit, but did not dare to stink up the place.

Went to pick up the newspaper and did the morning ablutions, checked some hadith hw, some news, did some emails for work and the charity and then took off for the conference at 750 for the 830 start. Bloody hell the conference center is big! And I got lost in the exhibition hall. So then finally managed to extricate myself, find the plenary hall, and am sitting in the hall looking at an ant hill of activity. I cannot imagine how on earth will they manage to fit 3200 people and assorted volunteers and managers into this hall.

815. The photographers and videographers are all over the place, very distracting. All over the lines and cutting off the view. I like to sit in the aisle so that daddy longlegs, HW Longfellow's legs can be extended into the aisle and my shoulders don't end up looking like they have been stuffed into a can.

But the downside is that I have to get up every 2 seconds to allow people through and every 2nd person will squish my toes. Call me BD the odd toed ungulate. I am struck by the ratio of males to females. If this conference is supposed to be the Olympics of information technology, then I am curious why 80 to 90 percent are males.. Not good to see the future to be so lop sided!!!

Waiting for the Malaysia PM Abdullah Badawi to inaugurate the conference. Heard the fire safety announcement. If fire does break out, I am staying put, never go where the herd goes....

We were welcomed by 40 children welcoming us in 40 languages representing 90 odd countries here, but the language used through out the conference is English. Curious, no? the prevalence of English in the world?

The PM said that there are more women in many universities so the old guard might give way to women, you need to adjust the above statement about more women than men in the future..

He also said that UK and South Korea are behind Malaysia in the World Competitiveness Index, and I can well believe it. Although checking the Global Competitiveness Report here seems like the results are different. Perhaps he is talking about this report. Anyway, mere quibbling. And now the PM has left and literally the front 1/4th of the hall has emptied! Some more speeches about WITSA.

1000 hours

Dr. Craig Bennett, Chairman of Intel, started talking about how we have a billion people on the Internet and now we have to get the next billion on the Internet as well. He said that four factors are important for knowledge based economic development

  1. Physical access to technology
  2. connection to internet and connectivity
  3. content targeted at local population
  4. education on how to use the tool

He said that a well educated teacher is the magic and not the PC in the classroom. Showed a video about a Nigerian school which has embraced technology but is not really the only answer. 200 dollar PC versus 250 dollar monthly connectivity costs in many countries, 100kb monthly cost in japan is 6 cents, 50 cents in USA and more than 80 dollars in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now you can get an idea how tough it will be to get these people on the intranet.

Talk about how Pakistan is being used as an example. 60mm dollars, rolling out in untouched areas in Pakistan, invited a Pakistani chap to the stage but didn't catch the name. Connectivity is a challenge. Satellite is way too expensive. Fiber is the only way. Rolling out fiber is tough, so tehsils where its not remunerative for pvt companies, this company gives money, it helps to improve the business case. Good step. The Pakistani chap said that Govt should not be involved that much in this business, put power to public private consortiums or just private firms, give them a stake in the business and then it will work.

He video conferenced a doctor from Brazil into us, how location differences for patients versus diagnostics versus doctors versus care had disappeared, and this tele-medicine actually is helping far more people than medicine and doctors were previously. Then there was some corporate stuff with some kids brought on stage and it ended. It was a bit too slick and the questions with the kids was too obvious and that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Such a senior chap shouldn't need such kind of gimmicks to play around with such an important topic, we are all adults, you don't have to take us to be children or idiots to play that game.

I was a bit impressed with what he had to say, but what he had to say was crucial (leave aside all the silly posturing and even more silly marketing of Intel stuff). His point was, throwing money at technology and expecting better performance from students was wrong, the idea is to teach the teachers to be better, that will provide better results than thousands of PC's and laptops.

Nothing much to note for the next few sessions. The post lunch session for the Ministerial panel was a bit interesting. Mainly because you could see how various governments approached this entire idea of information technology. You know what was the most disappointing? It was the Philippines MP. She came across as a complete Neanderthal, saying that in many parts of her constituency, there is no electricity power anyway, forget about PC's, and it was a whine. The Philippines government should really have thought that through. The Malaysian government minister and other ministers were smart, they obviously were pushing their countries and with due reason, telling us, the corporate folks, what we wanted to hear..., but Philippines? Pathetic. She is a blot on that country's face.

The next wireless broadband session made me go to sleep. Pure and simple, those two Rumanian scientists, bright as they were, made me doze off, and specially after that excellent lunch.

Woke up to an excellent presentation by Professor Takenaka. He talked about how he was made the Minister for Finance in Japan by a certain Lionheart PM of Japan. Fascinating tale of how he took on the entrenched might of bureaucrats and financial institutions and won. And I well believe him, given some down sides, generally that time was brilliant, it still shows that even in a consensual driven society such as Japan, you can still have mavericks who hire mavericks who really make a huge difference! Brilliant fellow. Unfortunately he was not allowed to fulfill his destiny and do all that he wanted to do but there you go, he literally broke the back of the Japanese economic stalemate.  I was personally quite impressed but I suspect that quite a lot were not as he was talking more about economics and finance than IT. The IT piece came way afterwards, a little bit and as an after thought.

Then we had Bill Gates in a hologram talking about Microsoft and then Dr. Zhang also, not very clear about what, was flagging badly by that time.... and then we went off back to the hotel, did some more emails and then some calls back home and then off to dinner, again, it was brilliant, and pigged out and came back and went to snore, i mean sleep.

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