Computing for the Common Good

In starting to write a long overdue blog post, my thoughts are inevitably on the reason it took me so long: my mother has been seriously ill since the beginning of the year. Throughout the past two months I have been consulting with doctors and medical specialists on a quest to find the best possible solution to her current symptoms, fully aware of the fact that her condition may soon become terminal.

I live on an island on the west coast of Greece; it may be one of the largest islands in the country but there are many shortcomings when it comes to healthcare. Although we do have a hospital, several departments (e.g. gastrointestinal), procedures (e.g. ERCP) and an Intensive Care Unit are missing.

Throughout the three years of my mom’s illness, I am more than certain that she wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for computing. Hardware and software – scanner, digital camera, smartphone, imaging software, e-mail, cloud drives – have all been employed to transmit vital information to doctors in Athens so that they can make timely decisions on her treatment. Sometimes the necessary actions can be taken in Kefalonia – in which case ICT “takes over” to complete the feedback loop. Usually she needs to be transferred to Athens – seven endoscopic and one standard (this last one) surgical procedures plus intensive care, all dependent on cameras, probes, monitors etc. – plus a “fighter” attitude and she’s still here with us, with good quality of life for as long as humanly possible.

On a different note, the school project I am probably proudest of was completed by my students four years ago: amidst a severe humanitarian crisis in Greece we devised a system for distributing meals to the needy based on the concept that volunteers need only contribute a plate of food from their daily cooking. All the material needed to deploy the system in a community is available under a Creative Commons license at (in Greek. For an English summary featured in the European Year of Volunteering 2011 see here)

Now that smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous we may even develop an app for mobile users (anyone interested in furthering the project is free to do so: that’s what the CC Share Alike license is all about!)

The point I am trying to make in this post: all too often when we talk about teaching our students computing we naturally focus on computational thinking, coding classes, how to successfully pursue a career in computer science and technology… for students on the other hand, all too often computing means gaming, social media, entertainment and a profitable career. The videos I reviewed as a member of the Equity Committee in the recent “Faces of Computing” competition showed that this is the primary message our students are getting (though there were some brilliant exceptions!). Perhaps it’s time we encouraged our students to explore the wonderful prospects computing has unlocked in dealing with illness… in helping people in need… in fighting injustice. Perhaps it’s time to shine a spotlight on Computing for the Common Good.

This post was written in Ippokrateio General Hospital in Athens, Greece and is dedicated to its medical, nursing and administrative staff (especially Drs. A. Romanos and S. Matthaiou). In Greek “Ippokrateio” means “belonging to Hippocrates”… I am certain the “Father of Medicine” would be proud of them!

Mina Theofilatou, CSTA International Representative