Craig Barrett, chairman of the chipmaker, told attendees at his opening keynote of the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco that the company is offering four prizes of $100,000 each to help launch the winning ideas. "This isn't for your personal bank account," he said.
The winners of Intel's Inspire/Empower Challenge will be chosen based on the "sustainability and innovativeness" of the technology.
Barrett, who retired as CEO of Intel in 2005, travels to 30 countries a year as Intel's "ambassador for the tech industry." His mission is to promote the use of technology to better the lives of people in poor nations.
Barrett's keynote highlighted the use of technology to better the lives of people living in poor nations. He acknowledged, however, that in many cases the road to solving the world's problems begins with people. In education, for example, the teacher is key while the computer is only a tool, he said.
Barrett also warned against trying to deliver information to developing nations that's only important to the United States, Europe, and other rich nations. "If you're in sub-Sahara Africa, you don't give a damn about Wall Street," he said. Instead, you need technology that can distribute local content to help build businesses and improve the standard of living.
With 85% of the world's 15- to 24-year-olds living in developing countries, Barrett said many of those nations are investing in technology to improve education, particularly science and math, and also are spending increasing amounts on research and development to drive innovation.
"There's only one country where I don't see that attitude -- this one," Barrett said. He called on the U.S. government to act faster and increase spending on not just education and R&D, but in fostering an "environment for innovation" that includes ways to help engineers collaborate on good ideas.
Barrett brought out people who he believed were good examples of putting technology innovation in practice. One of those innovators was Johnny Lee, who recently earned his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University.
Lee described how he converted a Wii remote control into a sensor that can track digital pens used to draw or write on an electronic chalkboard. The whole system can be put together for about $50, Lee said.
Lee offers the software for driving the technology at no charge on his Web site. Since December, the software has been downloaded more than 600,000 times.
Other featured innovators included Matt Flannery, CEO for Kiva.org, which makes it possible for people in the United States and other developed nations to invest in people starting small businesses in poor nations. The people-to-people micro-financing pays a return to investors.
In the area of health care, Dr. Miguel Angarita of Colombia demonstrated the use of a cell phone with a built-in camera to read the bar code on a person's "health card" to deliver medical records to doctors in remote offices. Such an innovation would be useful, for example, in emergency situations such as a car accident.
In closing his keynote, Barrett called on developers in the room to act now in helping to make the world a better place. For inspiration, he quoted a "thought for the day" he found on the pillow of his hotel room during his recent travels. The note read, "A small deed done is better than a great deed planned."