By Jon Fortt
August 19, 2008
August 19, 2008
Intel Chairman Craig Barrett encouraged the tech community to solve global problems. Photo: Intel

Intel once again has both dominance and momentum in the chip world, so when it opened its biggest conference of the year on Tuesday the company didn’t need to resort to chest thumping. Instead, it aimed to inspire.

Chairman Craig Barrett delivered the keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, an event that the company uses to rally the technology community behind its products and vision. But rather than take an us-versus-them view of the world, Barrett used the stage to urge technologists to use their skills to improve healthcare, education, global economic development and the environment. He also announced the Intel Challenge, in which Intel will give four $100,000 prizes to entrepreneurs with the boldest ideas in those areas.

There’s more to Barrett’s global focus than humanitarian zeal. As the U.S. economy slows, technology companies are increasingly looking to emerging markets overseas as the best hope for growth. Besides Intel, heavyweights including Dell , Hewlett-Packard and Cisco are focused on the “next billion” people who will connect to the Internet for the first time in the coming years. Michael Dell, for one, is fond of pointing out that half a million people get online for the first time every day, and their needs are very different than the U.S. customers the tech world has traditionally served.

To help illustrate the new global growth opportunities, Barrett invited a few technologists to the stage to showcase their efforts. A couple of highlights: Johnny Lee, a PhD in human-computer interaction, showcased a method he developed for creating inexpensive interactive whiteboards using a Nintendo Wii remote and homemade digital pens. Matt Flannery, CEO of Kiva.org, talked about his microfinance website that allows individuals to loan money to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

After the keynote, Barrett sat down with Fortune and spoke more about his views on how the U.S. needs to change. He said that in this presidential election year, both candidates are promising improvements to education, but neither seems willing to commit the needed dollars to research and development.

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