RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A new study tries to identify what technologies could have the most impact, especially in the developing world in the years to come. The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has come up with a list of 50 breakthroughs in a range of areas, among them global health and human rights. Shashi Buluswar is one of the authors and joined us to talk about some of those ideas. Good morning.
SHASHI BULUSWAR: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Give us some examples of what would be key breakthroughs.
BULUSWAR: The most important one we found was desalination. Right now, it's tremendously energy-intensive and expensive. So trying to come up with a much more affordable, scalable and energy-efficient way of desalinating water would be tremendous. Another one in the context of food security has to do with irrigation. And if we were able to build a sensor that can tell you how deep water is under the ground, that can make digging and hence irrigation much more affordable.
MONTAGNE: And of course, this is a 600-plus page document. So there's plenty more in there - things like different types of homes for the urban poor that are lightweight. They're affordable - all kinds of different aspects of meeting the basic needs of food, water, shelter but also societal problems. And one item suggests some of the painful need, and that would be - you're looking ahead to a low-cost DNA -based rape kit.
BULUSWAR: Yeah, one of the topics we cover is gender equity. A fairly big problem in all societies, not just in developing countries, is that of sexual violence. In a place like the U.S., where you can have the systemic support to file complaints and, in principle, bring the perpetrators to justice, you can imagine how being able to call 911 and go to the police is very helpful. But if you're in rural sub-Saharan Africa, rural India, these things happen, and you don't really have anyone to rely on. Now, if you could actually go to a clinic and have a clinician, a nurse or someone like that actually collect the evidence, it is no longer a case of he-said-she-said.
MONTAGNE: And at least opens a pathway to some sort of...
BULUSWAR: Exactly. Now, it is important to recognize that technology alone won't fix this problem. There are massive issues of societal behavior and patterns and so on that have to change before gender equity and gender parity can be reached. But this can make a small dent.
MONTAGNE: Well, again, asking for examples - but it's interesting. This study puts the ideas on a spectrum from simple to extremely challenging.
MONTAGNE: Some of the extreme challenges have to do with poverty and also lack of good government. But could you give me a quick example of the two extremes?
BULUSWAR: Yeah. One of the simpler ones is a very inexpensive smartphone. Now, we've all heard stories about how mobile technologies and mobile phones have really made a tremendous improvement in the lives of the poor in places like sub-Saharan Africa. But there is increasing recognition that the functionality you get with a smartphone - it could really make a substantially greater difference. Now, given how attractive that market is, a number of phone companies are already on their way to making these products. It's not necessarily simple, but it's going to happen regardless.
MONTAGNE: And so extremely challenging.
BULUSWAR: One really complicated one is a very effective vaccine for malaria, for instance. You know, a lot of money has gone into it right now. But the malaria parasite is such a complicated beast that's been very difficult to come up with something. And it's quite likely that in the next couple of years, there'll be a partially effective vaccine. But we're still a long way from vaccines for HIV, AIDS, malaria and TB. So those are among the three most complicated ones.
MONTAGNE: Shashi Buluswar is one of the authors of the Berkeley report "50 Breakthroughs: Critical Scientific And Technological Advances Needed For Sustainable Global Development." Thank you for joining us.
BULUSWAR: You're very welcome. Thank you, Renee.
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