Data Mining Mobiles in the Developing World

The MIT Technology Review annually honors young innovators in their TR35 list of technologists changing our world. One of this year's notables is Nathan Eagle, who has been mining mobile phone data to improve public policy and provide income in the developing world:

For instance, he is working with city planners in Kenya and Rwanda to understand how slums grow and change in response to events such as natural disasters and declines in crop prices. And earlier this year, Eagle began using phone-derived data to build a more accurate model of the spread of malaria in Africa.

In February, he launched Txteagle, a service that lets any company send cell-phone users simple tasks such as text translation. Participants are paid with credits that can be used for phone service or redeemed for cash at special kiosks.

Txteagle was so successful that it quickly had many more people willing to take on the small tasks than there were tasks available.  Eagle is planning to realaunch the program later this year in Kenya, Rwanda, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, with changes he hopes will make it sustainable.

When you think about how new all this technology is, its potential to improve our world seems endless. Think how far we've come since, say, 1990: