Less than 24 hours before the Highground Hackathon, there was a shooting that resulted in 6 people dead in Santa Monica. In the wake of Sandy Hook and Santa Monica as well as ongoing violence in cities like Chicago and San Jose, a hackathon for gun safety seems incredibly timely.
This weekend was the beginning of a call for hackers to get real on addressing one of the social issues of our time. There is always plenty of attention focused on the sexier side of technology rather than those solutions that might not ever get covered in tech blogs but have the power to change the way we live in the world.
I’m guilty of it too. E-commerce and consumer tech are my wheelhouse. When I think about product, I think about what motivates people buy, what triggers that visceral, lizard brain need to possess or consume and it takes a bit of effort to shift focus from revenue or DAU to the measures of potential social impact.
To be fair, technologists are really only responding to the demands of the market. Compare the number of gaming or shopping apps on your phone to the number of apps related to your own safety. See what I’m sayin’?
If we’re going to move the needle even a little bit on deep societal issues, it’s not going to be Candy Crush 3.0 that does it. We’re going to have to do more to address how we react to violence in our cities, provide healthcare, and alleviate the effects of poverty.
Over the weekend, Highground Hackers and the Technology Committee to Reduce Gun Violence (organized by Ron Conway) brought together developers and experts from mental health, education, law enforcement, government, and community safety to create software solutions to address gun crime and safety. The resulting Highground Hackathon at Twilio HQ put developers to work for 2 days creating software solutions to address gun crime and safety.
The developers came up with a lot of thoughtful applications that I hadn’t seen before, but some of the standouts for me were: a prototype for wearable tech that would help police officers locate children in the case of a school emergency and an API that translates police scanner audio and delivers closer to real-time crime data.
The winner of the hackathon (and a check which they signed over to the nonprofit organization Cure Violence) was Kryptonite – “a location tracking app to alert people of crimes happening near them and allow the police to request eye witness reports from people that were near a crime that happened.”
The mobile app uses geofencing to determine who is in the immediate area of an incident and alert them to move to a safe zone while also giving them the ability to submit eye-witness information. For instance, if this app had been deployed during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, it could have warned app users within a 3-mile radius to the Watertown manhunt to stay out of the area and then sent a message only to the app users who were in the area with a request to share any photo, video, or eye-witness information.
There’s a place for all tech — from the frivolous to the life-changing, but if we are going to find solutions for the major issues of our time, for every Angry Birds, there has to be a Kryptonite.