Intel Chairman Craig Barrett Talks Education, Technology at IDF

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett started off the 2008 Intel Developer Forum with a far-ranging opening keynote address that went beyond Intel processors and focused on how technology and innovation can improve areas from education to health care. The key to this vision, Barrett said, is improvements in technology from PCs to wireless connectivity.

SAN FRANCISCO ?ö?ç?? Intel Chairman Craig Barrett kicked off the 2008 Intel Developer Forum here Aug. 19 with a spirited and far-ranging discussion that focused on how technology can make improvements in education, micro-financing and health care.

In his last few years as Intel chairman, Barrett has made the marriage of technology and education his main focus, and he has been traveling around the world to preach this message.

Barrett's opening keynote at IDF lacked any details about Intel's new processor technology called Nehalem, which is expected to be one of the main focuses on this year's IDF show. Instead, Barrett gave a glimpse of his own experiences in trying to marry technology and improving peoples' lives. He also challenged the engineers and developers in the audience to put their skills to work in the fields of health care and micro-financing.

Where these improvements are needed, Barrett told the audience, is in the emerging world economies of China, India, South America and Eastern Europe, where people are continuing to join the worldwide, free-market economy but where these same people lack access to education and basic services such as health care.

"In every country I visit, they all recognize to be successful and to go forward they have to know, understand and use technology," said Barrett. "They [emerging market governments] have to use technology in education, in economic development, in health care and to communicate with their citizens."

The one country, Barrett said, that seems to lack critical investments in education and technology research and development is the United States, which he said has started to fall behind what other countries have been doing.

"We don't focus as hard as we should on education," said Barrett. "We don't focus as hard on offering incentives for innovation. There is the lack of the R&D tax credit and that's enough of a political statement for today, but the government refuses to acknowledge investing in the future of R&D and the sort of things we do on a daily basis in our lives is important to the future competitiveness of the U.S."

To help illustrate this convergence of technology, innovation and economic opportunity, Barrett brought Johnny Lee on stage to demonstrate his solution for the classroom that creates an interactive whiteboard that uses software Lee developed and the Nintendo Wii. Lee estimated the cost of the system is less than $50, which makes it affordable to schools in these emerging markets.

Barrett also highlighted the efforts of Kiva, a Web site and nonprofit business that offers micro-financing and loans to entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Matt Flannery, the CEO of Kiva and a former software engineer, said his sites give about 75 percent of their loans to women who repay the loans more than 90 percent of the time.

Flannery talked about the challenges of overcoming Internet connectivity problems in far-flung regions of Africa such as Uganda. The goal of the project, Flannery said, was to take what worked in the business world and apply it to a whole different field, such as education or micro-financing.

"What we wanted to do with Kiva is take something that had been off-line, such as making loans, and bring it online for the first time," said Flannery. "One of our biggest challenges has been connectivity and when we went to Uganda for the first time, the power went out every other day... If I wanted to offer some advice to you, it would be to take those engineering skills and those software skills and apply them to something you care about."

Other speakers offered thoughts on health care. Brian Cathy, who took third place in the 2008 Intel Science Talent Search, spoke about how his interest in science grew and the project he took on to place third in the competition.

As part of his focus on the fields of education, health care, economic development and the environment, Barrett announced that Intel would award $100,000 in each of these fields to individuals who apply technology to meet these needs. More information can be found here.