How to make sure tech doesn’t leave people behind

  • Inspiring applications for tech include AI to detect eye problems in babies.
  • Sophisticated technology is all around us – but it can leave people behind.
  • 43% of people in the EU don’t know how to perform basic tasks like searching for information online.

Dr. Victoria Pueyo is an eye doctor for babies. They’re referred to as non-collaborative patients, which makes sense, because they can’t voice their thoughts or perceptions.

Think of your last eye exam:

Read the last row.

What’s more clear, this… or that?

What number do you see in the colored dots?

Any parents reading this will know how hard it is to get toddler to sit still, much less answer any questions. The same goes for kids with developmental challenges. Needless to say, there aren’t many people out there who can do what Dr. Pueyo does.

So she set out to change that.

Helping every child see

According to the World Health Organization, there are 19 million visually impaired children (PDF) around the world. As you might expect for someone in Dr. Pueyo’s line of work, she has a great vision: a world where no child goes undiagnosed.

The stakes are much higher than squinting to see the whiteboard in math class. Of these 19 million children, three in every five have serious conditions that can lead to permanent blindness. And in developing countries, 60% of children who go blind at an early age will die within a year from related complications.

The sad truth is that most of these conditions are preventable and treatable if you catch them early, which is where Dr. Pueyo and her team enter the picture.

Her startup, DIVE-Medical, joined forces with Huawei engineers to develop an application called Track.Ai. It uses a small device that tracks how children’s eyes respond to cartoons. Powered by the AI chips on our smartphones, Track.Ai can help diagnose visual impairment in babies as young as six months old.

The equipment is portable, and any non-trained professional can crunch the data right there on their phone – you don’t even need Wi-Fi. With results from Track.Ai, children who are at risk of developing vision problems can be referred to a specialist for treatment.

By making her solution as accessible as possible, Dr. Pueyo has effectively removed the barriers to early diagnosis, even in the world’s most remote communities that don’t have access to high-end medical resources.

It’s incredible. The world needs more people like her.

Leaving no one behind

At the World Economic Forum, we talk a lot about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an age of transformation where all kinds of different technologies will converge, the speed of innovation will skyrocket, and nearly every industry will change the way it works.

Given this, it’s easy to get excited about the amazing stuff we can do with new breakthroughs in digital technology. But it’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that more complex – and expensive – technology is likely to leave large swaths of the population behind.

A few months ago I was showing off one of our new smartphones to my friend’s parents. They went through all the motions of acting impressed. Then after a few minutes of polite nodding, they looked me straight in the eye and said, “Ken, this is great, but honestly… we don’t like it. We don’t know how to use it.”

They told me that, instead of helping them, new technology was making it harder to get around the city. In China these days, most people book rides on mobile apps, which means it’s becoming more and more difficult to hail a taxi on the side of the road like you used to. So for older people like my friend’s parents, if you can’t use the tech, you’re stuck at home.

Here I was extolling the virtues of digital technology and the two people sitting right in front of me had been completely overlooked. Left behind.

It’s not right.

As technology providers, we need to learn from Dr. Pueyo and design our technology for inclusiveness from the start.


Ken HuDeputy Chairman, Huawei Technologies – Read more on weforum.org


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