Aid getting groovy: what else could follow?

In this edition of the Global Prosperity Wonkcast, Owen Barder talks of an “augmented reality” system for displaying aid information. As he himself rushes to add, it is not really a super-futuristic idea. Remember Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry’s TED talk from last year?

Owen’s augmented reality device basically involves a smart-phone that can identify physical structures it is pointed towards and annotate it, giving additional information about the target object/structure – information such as which aid agency funded the structure/program, what the local communities think of it etc. Very effective. Very groovy. Of course, this need not be the model for aid alone. Governments can adopt this to enhance their local communication strategies, giving out information about public projects.

Is it too far-fetched to imagine a scenario, where a candidate’s picture on an election campaign poster is annotated by the amounts he/she has spent on constituency development, the projects that have been successfully executed and a snap approval rating from his last term in office. Of course, the obvious question is – who controls this information that is being fed into the system? and who verifies it? Of course, when I look up information regarding my candidate, I know for one, that there are multiple sources of information/opinion (just like a ‘google search’) and what I choose to rely on is up to me.

Transparency is good. Unless we know where public funds are being spent, there is little hope that there will be any concrete action attempting to set systems right. Imagine a Build-Operate-Transfer toll road operating over many years, that shows you on the toll ticket, exactly how much toll has been collected off commuters as against the original target revenue, leading people to agitate demanding an end to toll collection when the target has been met. If we had a transparent system, either someone who try to fudge the figures, or toll collection would stop on its own. And there are many ways to fix the former.

Can my farm tell me what nutrients it is lacking the most this year?


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