Tech can help world's problems, ex-President Clinton says

He points to climate change and health care as issues that need attention

Technology companies can play a major role in solving the toughest problems plaguing the world, if they apply their innovative thinking to issues such as climate change and health care, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Wednesday.

Clinton, speaking at Microsoft Corp.'s Government Leaders Forum for the Americas, urged Microsoft and other technology companies to get involved in world problems outside their immediate scope.

Members of the tech community and country leaders attending the forum are "well-suited to answer" questions about climate change, hunger, AIDS and other problems, said Clinton, founder of the Clinton Global Initiative, an organization focused on economic development, health care and other worldwide issues.

Tech groups and forum attendees can help bring electricity and technology to remote clinics, Clinton said. They can help the U.S. look at new ways to deliver health care without skyrocketing costs, he said.

"Do we have to carry [rising health care costs] like a ball and chain on our children's and our grandchildren's future, down to the end of time?" he asked. "What is the role of information technology in escaping this box we've put ourselves in in health care?"

Tech companies could help raise the standard of living in Puerto Rico by helping create new energy sources, instead of the island importing all of its energy, Clinton noted. "How could Microsoft help with technology?" he said.

IT and government leaders could also work together to come up with innovative ways to deal with massive, overflowing landfills in India and poverty in Haiti, he said. "Does Haiti have to go down to the end of time being by far the poorest country in our hemisphere?" he said.

Too often, debates in Washington and elsewhere focus on two questions -- about what to do and how much it will cost -- instead of questioning how to accomplish the goals, Clinton added. He encouraged forum attendees to focus on "How?"

"I have decided to spend the rest of my life being in the 'how' business," he said.

While Clinton focused on broad issues in his speech, others at the forum talked about ways technology can help solve problems. Technology itself doesn't create innovation, but it can be a platform for new ideas, said Mohsen Khalil, director of global information and communication technologies at World Bank Group.

Developing countries have focused on innovations on top of telecommunications networks, including prepaid calling cards, free mobile roaming and mobile banking, Khalil said.

"Innovation for developing countries is not a question of technology or invention," he said. "Innovation is a matter of change in process, in developing new solutions and transformation of ideas."

Representatives of two provinces in Argentina also described how partnerships with Microsoft are allowing consumers there to buy PCs. San Luis Province has partnered with Microsoft and others to offer residents a 50% discount on PCs, and the number of households there that have PCs has risen by 2% since Dec. 15, when the discount program started, said Alberto Rodriguez Saá, governor of the province.

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