Our earth is our responsibility
Rashik Parmar’s perspective on the role responsible computing plays in combatting global issues at scale
Rashik started working for IBM ‘some 38 years ago’. He worked mainly in client facing technical roles with a focus on how to apply technology to business problems – or as Rashik summarizes: ‘complex and large and challenging technical projects, that’s where my real focus is’. The IBM Developer Staff caught up with Rashik to learn more about his perspective on technology.
He’s been involved with the Call for Code Global Challenge for the past years on the judging panel where he evaluated and selected top tech for good solutions from a community of 400,000 participants that aimed to address the world’s most pressing issues through technology. Apart from being a judge, Rashik supports Call for Code teams with his expertise, helping them unleash their potential impact.
This year, Call for Code is tackling the imminent and existential threat to Planet Earth: climate change. As the United Nations describes, “The impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.” Whether you want to build new skills to carry forward into your professional career, meet a worldwide community of innovators, or etch your code on a transformative solution that effectively combats climate change, the time is now to answer the call and join Call for Code. Get started today.
Rashik and fellow technologists alike view using tech for good and responsible computing as the path forward to a better future for our world. To join them in the movement, the Call for Code team provides you with starter kits to address the pertinent subthemes of climate change: Clean water and sanitation, Zero hunger, Responsible production and green consumption. Check out the starter kits.
In addition to Call for Code, over the past few years, Rashik became an advocate for the initiative he started called responsible computing. In essence this means: when you code, realize you work for the future. You might not know it yet, but your code may last for decades to come. Think about the words you choose to annotate your code and think about the possible energy impact and carbon footprint your coding has.
“This didn’t occur to me just like that,” Rashik says. “It came from conversations I had with about a hundred CTOs over the past year, and turned out the topic is not only environment and climate, but also racial justice and equality.”
“What I learned from these talks was that CTOs have a set of anxieties they couldn’t necessarily articulate in a complete perspective. Those anxieties were: do we do enough to reduce the carbon impact of our technological decisions? Are we doing enough ensuring that the infrastructure we use is minimizing its impact on the environment? Can it be more efficient? Are we being thoughtful in having that efficient code? Is this inclusive and valuable code that makes dependable and secure? Do we use citizen data in ethical ways? And when we think of systems, are those inclusive? Do they cater for the diversity of humanity that they serve?”
Responsible computing is a way of life, a way of thinking. Rashik knows how to put a lot of meaning in a few words. One of his main focus points is how the world’s phenomenal technologies got to have so many racial concepts baked into them. “I think about the notion of blackness; think of simple things like a blacklist. We need to make a huge amount of change. We need to make it part of the mindset of those who write and build code that they do this for all developers. This is not going to happen overnight. This is a movement. A movement we want to start. It’s like a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a tornado elsewhere. You have to believe little changes create massive impact elsewhere. It’s those minor changes developers make today but will have a huge impact on the future.”
Responsible coding is part of the responsible computing hexagon. It is all about knowing what we do. For example, can we understand the carbon footprint of certain code, and do we understand how that works?
According to Rashik, we are able to estimate how big a carbon footprint is. “We have tools for that. You can see how efficient the overall code is and how fast it runs. This already gives you some idea to estimate the carbon footprint of certain code. We can measure the amount of energy a data center uses. Any cloud provider can tell you exactly how much CO2 emissions they produce on a yearly basis. They know exactly how much renewable energy they use and how much from other sources.”
He also explained the same goes for language: “There are research assets available with automatic bias detection. We can even check the code itself and the code documentation for biases. For example, on the IBM AI Ethics website, you can find a range of tools for things like ethical tests. The IBM Responsibility Report also offers a lot of links on how to increase the sustainability of infrastructure and code.”
Not only code
It’s not only building efficient code which can make a difference. Rashik wants us to think about how to achieve these goals in a broader sense, such as how you and your network can make a difference together to make the most impact for the world.
He recalls the winners of previous Call for Code years as perfect examples. “People generally want to do good and what TheHeroLoop did was provide a framework for those that had the same purpose around them – and to truly connect with one another. It gave people the opportunity to volunteer at a local level and help their neighbour struggling with finding food during COVID-19.”
Additionally, he mentioned how Prometeo developed an interesting way of protecting firefighters with an internet-of-things solution using simple and available technologies to provide guidance and help to firefighters – giving them a chance for much better survival in dangerous situations.
“And one of the best parts is that all this code is open,” said Rashik. “What you will find is that it goes back to the whole concept about the butterfly. The code, once you’ve produced it and it’s open, others can use it and build on it. The next person takes it a little bit further and further. And, all of a sudden, we’re starting to solve really big societal issues.”
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