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Tackling Natural Disasters with Call for Code

 4 min read / 

The year is 2054 in Washington DC, where the police PreCrime department uses foreknowledge to predict and apprehend criminal activities before they happen. The movie Minority Report tells the story of the “Precogs”, three psychics used to foretell crime and thus, prevents crime before it happens.

Aside from the movie’s many accolades and rewards, Minority Report teaches that society could be better if tragedies could be anticipated. This where the Call for Code initiative by David Clar Clause and IBM enters the picture – an effort that challenges developers to solve one specific global problem: natural disaster.

Though the Call for Code initiative would not stop natural disasters from occurring, its aim is to prepare for and prevent the deadly impacts that come along with such catastrophes. The initiative is the brainchild of David Clark Clause and IBM and supported by the Linux Foundation, United Nations, American Red Cross, and Anglehack. Where prevention of natural disasters won’t work, a proper response system will be in place, along with a recovery model – because Minority Report remains science-fiction, for now.

What Is the Call for Code Initiative about?

It’s been three weeks since IBM and partners unveiled the Call for Code initiative.

The purpose? Tackling one of the most daunting issues confronting society today: prevention of, response to, and recovery from natural catastrophes. The global initiative aims to bring academia, startups, and developers under one umbrella to find solutions for natural disasters around the globe.

The initiative will take entries from developers between June and August 2018, will span a period of five years and will receive a total funding of $30m. IBM and its partners will help developers leverage new and emerging technologies, including AI, blockchain, cloud computing, and IoT to help foster a better future for generations to come.

Technology for Society

From the 2004 earthquake in Thailand, claiming 220 million lives, to the 2011 earthquake in Japan bringing about $210bn in economic damages, natural disasters have cost the world a fortune. The time has come for international bodies and world leaders to return to the drawing table. 2017 was one of the deadliest years on the natural disaster front. Occurrences include the threats of tsunamis and earthquakes in Central America, drought in parts of Africa, earthquakes and the deadly hurricanes in North America, and the monsoons and floodings in South Asia. A total of 330 natural disasters were recorded across the globe.

Governments, international bodies, and individuals have realised that using technology to analyse disasters is not enough. The world needs that same technology to find ways of preventing or controlling disasters.

The Code Will Do Its Part – but Not All

Computer Code has had and will continue to have an immense impact on our lives. Just like Ada Lovelace, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Satoshi Nakamoto changed the world with code, the same can be said for Call for Code which seeks to change disaster prevention and management for the better.

The theme for the Call for Code 2018 is “Natural Disaster Preparedness and Relief”. This year’s challenge, according to the programme’s official site,  is the first of its kind, with funding from the private sector (IBM) and support from academic, international, and humanitarian organisations. The money will go into development tools, code, expert training, and technologies. But one crucial factor remains unaddressed.

The Biggest ‘Code-solution’ Is Humans

While the Call for Code is doing its part, one should not forget that humans are the primary cause of natural disasters because of how we treat our environment. While developers are busy building AI systems, robotics, and trying to populate other planets, human impact on the planet earth is often neglected.


Technology is a tool to be used by society to help improve lives and create a better future for generations to come. One should, however, pay attention to current human endeavours – ranging from littering to damaging oceans. If a balance between technological and behavioural solutions is not found, society will continue treading on the dangerous path it has been on.

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