“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
As the world careens toward an age of limitless technological possibilities—killer robots, 3D printers, rapid biotechnologies (mobile robotic arms), and Star Trek-inspired inventions, the list of things one can’t do and can’t achieve have been considerably reduced.
Applications, tablets and smartphones, among others, have transformed human communication and life as we’ve known it, but have also earned major players in the market tremendous wealth.
Most are familiar with tablets, smartphones and various forms of digital products but technology can mean much more.
In its broadest sense, it means “the purposeful application of information in the design, production, and utilisation of goods and services, and in the organisation of human activities,” according to businessdictionary.com. In many ways, the region and T&T are playing catch-up to the rapid development of digital technology.
Caribbean neighbour Haiti, however, had an entrance into the high-tech market with an Android tablet called Surtab. The tablet was founded and established in Haiti in 2013.
The company that manufactures the Surtab has shown serious growth over the last year. According to its Web site, they have “expanded from four ambitious entrepreneurs to more than 50 Haitian employees.” The company will continue to grow as they increase capacity, it stated. If Dr Margaret Bernard’s (a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Science and Technology) prediction is accurate, then the region’s technological future lies in software development.
“I think where we are is a good way for T&T to go, the focus is on software. The development of mobile apps in health, education, sports, all different areas.” Software, she said, can be developed with very little resources that can then be marketed to the world. Asked how economically viable she saw the development of mobile applications for the region and T&T, Bernard said “very, very economically viable.”
She said, “T&T and the Caribbean, we cannot just be users of the technology and dependent on the US, Europe and Asia for improvements in technology and improved usage in technology. We in the Caribbean also need to become involved in creating technology and creating different usage or applications. We need to make strides in that area to keep up on a global stage.”
The topic, she said, has been widely discussed but the issues remain how to get it done. Strides, she said, have been made in some areas. Her face beamed as she demonstrated data.tt, its open data repository, which gives information on road fatalities, Namdevco’s wholesale fresh produce market reports among others.
Its Agrinett project (an open data repository), it said, would assist in the development of applications such as one currently in works to alert farmers to price changes above a certain limit for planning of crops and time etc.
“It is an agriculture project funded under the research and development impact fund…Initially we looked at what was there in Trinidad…technology in agriculture, not mechanisation but computer technology…out of all our investigation we decided to go the way of open data.”
The group’s cobble applications were developed using data from its open data platform. Bernard said open data is a huge global phenomena. “Sort of the next big wave of things happening in the world...There are large datasets, scientific data as well as business data, and even now educational data, climate data, genome data, that kind of thing... There is a huge movement in the world toward storing and managing that data. Huge amounts of very dynamic data.”
Open data, according to Wikipedia, “is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.”
The group, she said, developed an open data platform (the platform contains statistics on price changes for certain crops, crime data among others) which allowed applications to be built, many of which were mobile.
She said the mobile applications being developed currently would assist farmers to improve agriculture and food production in the country, over the long term.
“That is one of the highest goals we have had…all nations have put food security high on the agenda. That is a big goal for the country, and we think our work can help to improve that.”
T&T, Bernard said, was one of the few countries in the Caribbean with an open data platform which could be made available for use by other Caribbean countries.