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Program aids sustainable development via Internet

While unchecked industrialization has been the cause of environmental problems in developing countries, an MIT Technology and Development Program (TDP) initiative is now helping these same countries develop at a pace that won't deplete their natural resources.

The initiative helps these countries "leapfrog" over conventional technology toward innovative technology that would be more environmentally friendly and also conducive to sustainable economic development, said Nazli Choucri, professor of political science and associate director of the TDP.

A $50,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation will support the Global Partnership on Cyberspace for Sustainability (also known as CyberPartnership), an Internet-based network that connects developing countries to industrial countries and to each other, to improve access to new scientific knowledge, technology and policy surrounding sustainable development. The CyberPartnership was created by the TDP through its three constituents: science and technology institutions, industry and governmental agencies.

Although half the world's 60 million Internet users are in the United States, experts predict that in the near future, 80 percent of users will be from foreign nations. Almost every country in the world has access to Internet resources, and the numbers of users in these countries are rapidly expanding.

"In environmental terms, the challenge is to level the playing field so that developing countries don't lag behind in their access to new knowledge in the formation of their own environmental policies and development strategies," said Professor Choucri, who is principal investigator on the project.

The project's goals are to foster access to high-quality information on sustainability, encourage diversity in sources of knowledge and information, support communication among the players and improve information support systems for decision-making, she said.

Available through MIT's Global System for Sustainable Development (GSSD) network, the knowledge in more than 2,000 sites has been organized, cross-referenced and pre-screened by MIT. This first pass will soon be augmented by a distributed knowledge strategy of input and screening via GSSD mirror sites around the world.

The system was created through a collaboration among the Department of Political Science, the Technology and Development Program, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Computer Science and the Center for International Studies.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 14, 1998.

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