F8, Facebook’s annual conference, was my first trip to Silicon Valley—I’ve been to the Silicon Wadi in Israel and the Silicon Savannah in Kenya, but never had I stepped foot where it all began. It was the perfect sort of baptism by fire into the ethos of the place that brought us semiconductors, personal computing and smartphones: a gathering where the future is dreamed up by developers and defined by technology’s limitless potential. It was wild.

I’ll outline below a few of the innovations that are particularly relevant to the work we do, and then make an argument for why the practice of ICT4D is more important than ever.

Augmented Reality: Post-it Notes 2.0


When we think of augmented reality (AR), we think of goggles and lenses and bulky, awkward apparatus we have to strap to our faces. One of the big themes of F8 is that there already is an AR platform on billions of smartphones: a camera. Facebook has already rolled out a camera and filters and effects (a la Snapchat) to its app. At F8, it demo’d its next round: a more advanced AR, capable of recognizing individual objects in videos, blending the real world with animated objects, and creating 3D scenes from 2D photos. This means, for example, that you could hold your camera up to a room and see notes or objects other folks have left you there. The demo at F8 was someone leaving a beer recommendation note in a bar for a friend, but I immediately thought of all the amazing geo-tagged advice and training you could roll out in say, an agriculture program, complete with both written notes and the integration of object recognition (machinery or crops) and animated objects (see how a tool can be used to enhance irrigation). Obviously this will take a while (though I imagine not as long as the skeptics think) to roll out to developing world markets in terms of device and bandwidth readiness, but those days are coming.

The (ro)Bots are Coming: Chatbots to the Rescue

We’ve dabbled around with Chatbots on the ICT team and found them to be useful but still awkward. Mark (Zuck and I are on a first name basis) knows this, so he made them better. Thanks, Mark!

In all seriousness, the new and improved bots experience is incredible and works in all the ways you wanted them to but couldn’t really articulate—full integration into Facebook Messenger group chats for bot fun with friends and, in the future, on pages and in groups, a new Discovery feature that where people can see their recently used bots, browse bot categories, see trending experiences or search for specific bots, and a feature that uses artificial intelligence to scan your conversations and suggest bots from outside developers that could serve a need that users are talking about. This solves a lot of the churn problems developers have had and strengthens the value proposition to invest in bot development. As we look to markets where Facebook Messenger is one of the primary channels of communication for our target audiences, I’m sure we’ll start integrating bots to share specific information and engage users in our programming. I could see this being specifically valuable in youth-oriented programming.

Silicon Valley is Good at So Many Things…ICT4D Isn’t One of Them

Among the thousands of true tech believers and their thousands upon thousands of gadgets parading around F8 in very non-Beltway clothing, there was little conversation (beyond the incredible keynote about Facebook’s rural connectivity efforts) about the ways Facebook and its constellation of apps could be used for social impact. The context Facebook sells to is the urban elite looking to make their morning bowl of cereal turn into shark bait. There was a lot of whimsy, and design delight, and effortless convenience. To translate these features into things that are useful in the international development context takes just that—a translator. As smartphone penetration grows and the ways in which developers design apps and services become more complex, our translations skills are going to be more important than ever—it’s pretty obvious how text messages can be used in development, but much less obvious how and why AR should be. We’re busy thinking about it, and eager to continue mulling on this in the blog and otherwise.

Interested in thinking alongside us on these issues? Tweet @DAIGlobal or @kroggemann so we can connect.

*Gift for you if you’ve read this far: The last day there was a mind-blowing talk about how we can hear through our skin - no joke. Totally worth your time: Watch it here!*