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Using Software and Data to Change the World

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I had the honor to be the opening keynoter for the first-ever Good Tech Fest, which was held in Detroit on May 22, 2018.  It was a blast to be with an entire conference full of social good software and data people from around the world.

Using Software and Data to Change the World We are in an amazing time. Society is a buzz about new technology: artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, autonomous cars, the surveillance state, and more.

And then we take a time machine and journey into the past – no wait! It’s just the present day social good sector. It just seems like Y2K!

 Probably like many of you, I feel like a time traveler when I’m asked constantly about what machine learning and blockchain can do for the communities we want to help, and the social enterprises that serve them. Of course we know that the questioner has no data to speak of and today’s answer is probably “nothing.” With a pronounced shrug.

But wait, there’s a silver lining here. We have to realize tha…

Bringing Millions of Books to Billions of People: Making the Book Truly Accessible

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I believe in the power of books to change the world.That is not a particularly radical belief among librarians, but I hope to make you believe even more in the power of books. Literacy and access to knowledge underpins just about every social good, from education, to economic development, to health, to women’s empowerment, democracy and respect for human rights. Today, we are poised at a moment in time where we can transcend the limitations of past book technologies and bring the power of books to all humans.

To bring the power of books to everybody on this planet, we must make books truly accessible.
Love of the print book. It made me who I am. I’m a big fan of the printed book and always have been. However, as a technology, printed books come with serious challenges for some communities (like blind people) that technology can unlock.

Consider the issues with printed books. First, they are place-based. In order to read a printed book, you must have physical access to it.  What if you…

Tribute to My Mentor

In honor of Gerry Davis, April 2018 My mentor passed away earlier this month. I have had the benefit of numerous mentors over my long career, but Gerry Davis was The Mentor. We worked together for over 35 years, from the very beginnings of my Silicon Valley career. Gerry’s incredible advice guided me along my entire path, and so many crucial turning points went well because of Gerry’s invaluable insight and guidance.
Gerry was one of the earliest computer software attorneys, and even wrote one of the firstbooks on the subject. I could always count on Gerry to come up with a breakthrough idea that made something I dreamed about doing become a reality. He considered himself a “problem-solving lawyer” and warned me against getting involved with “problem-creating lawyers!” I am incredibly indebted to Gerry for so many reasons but want to highlight three in particular.

First, Gerry turned me from a geek into a businessperson and entrepreneur. When I cofounded my first (successful) Silicon…

Jamila Hassoune, the Librarian of Marrakesh, announces a new Book Caravan

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I've been privileged to meet so many awesome social entrepreneurs around the world, doing fabulous work without much recognition (and often, even less funding). Jamila Hassoune is one of those social entrepreneurs, and we share a love for books and the power of access to books. We've been in touch for almost fifteen years, and I met her in person in 2014 when I was attending the diplomatic conference that resulted in the Treaty of Marrakesh. She's known as the Librarian of Marrakesh, in recognition of her dedication to books and her role as Morocco's first woman bookseller.

She leads Book Caravans into Morocco's rural regions to share knowledge, books and history with students and women. She just sent me the announcement of her new Book Caravan:
The 13th book caravan Under the theme: The valorization of our heritage is a responsibility of our present and our future. Jamila Hassoune is pleased to announce the 13th Edition of the book caravan from April 16 …

Thinking of and Thanking Paul Otellini

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A friend just sent me the surprising and sad news of the unexpected passing of former Intel CEO, Paul Otellini. Paul did so many things for me over a long career at Intel, and I had to put fingers to keyboard (something Intel enabled, of course) right away to acknowledge his many (and unknown) contributions to my work.

I first met Paul over thirty years ago.  My first (successful) Silicon Valley company had Sevin-Rosen as lead investors, and Roger Borovoy was our board chair, the former Intel General Counsel.  Roger thought that outside board service would be a good experience for an up and coming Intel executive, and that our startup would really benefit from Paul's input.  The company went on to great success, and today is still represented in the product lines of Nuance (NUAN).

Paul was there on the fateful day when I presented a reading machine prototype to the Calera Recognition Systems board.  The board's veto of the project (because it wasn't a big enough financial…

A Call for Millions: Ending the Global Book Famine for the Blind

There’s a global book famine afflicting people with disabilities. They lack the books they need for education, employment, and social inclusion. Billions have been spent addressing the problem over the past decade.

I have good news: For $5 million a year, we can build a global library that provides tens of millions of people around the world who are blind, low vision, or dyslexic free access to books that will work for them.

Benetech has already solved this problem for students in the United States. Our Bookshare library has over 550,000 books that have been delivered digitally over 10 million times. Bookshare adapts to the needs of all readers with a disability that makes reading hard, whether they read with their eyes, ears, or fingers. We’re already delivering services at scale in three other countries—Canada, the UK, and India.


Very few philanthropic opportunities come with the chance to solve a global problem with modest risk. This one does. We just need the resources to scale. Why…

You Can Help Us Strengthen the Social Safety Net!

Tech entrepreneurs can change the world through their philanthropy. They will achieve the greatest bang for their philanthropic buck by prioritizing the better use of community-driven software and data. That was my message in a recent interview, which you can read on the Benetech blog series, The Impact.
Today, I’m writing to provide the first in a series of specific ideas on how philanthropic tech entrepreneurs can do good by doing what they do best: using software and data to create massive value.
What if every person in need had access to the help they needed?
Every day in every community, there are people who need help. From a single mom facing eviction to a vet struggling with PTSD, to a domestic violence survivor fighting for custody of her kids. A web of complex needs exists, but information about the various services that address those needs—services that form the social safety net—is difficult to find. Compared to the data I have at my fingertips about businesses (how many sa…