Open Source Technologies: Saving and Improving Lives

The thought of ‘open source’ need not always conjure up images of socially removed geeks slamming away at their keyboards.

There have been instances of the open source ideology saving and improving lives, and this article explores a couple of examples on that aspect.

Open Source Technologies in Healthcare

A recent BBC technology news article caught my eye – it’s about Karen Sandler, who suffers from the enlarged heart condition, and believes in the use of more openness to ascertain the functioning of implanted defibrillators. She heads a non-profit community called Gnome Foundation, which is sponsored by several big names in the technology industry and is focused on giving away free software that it develops.

That article explains how her love for open source made her insist on having a defibrillator that transmits data only when it is interrogated directly. Her main worry revolves around the fact that closed software makers are dictating how life saving devices must work – and there’s clearly a problem when devices become a target of criminal hackers, and there’s no open scrutiny of the code that runs those devices.

Software is integral to modern medical treatments, whether it is executed within the body or outside it. Deaths can be prevented if there’s wider examination of the programs that are written to save lives. It’s scary when you read that an insulin pump can be compromised and made to kill a diabetic patient through an overdose. While the possibility of this happening routinely seems remote, this is a warning sign that needs to be heeded.

How much is closed software going to help matters?

Monitoring screen

The HeliOS Project – Making Technology Accessible to All

The HeliOS project is an excellent social initiative that aims to introduce the many benefits of Linux computing to kids whose families cannot arrange it for them.

The fact that over the last seven years more than a thousand underprivileged children in the Texas area have been provided with Linux-powered computers and trained in its use is a clear indication of success. The low cost of running Linux computers and the spirit of giving that is associated with the technology stand out as the most remarkable traits of this movement.

The organization is led by Ken Starks, who has since recently been caught up in a battle with cancer. I hope he returns to good health soon, and that his example continues to spread the open source inspiration not just in the United States, but around the world as well!

It’s heart-warming when you see a testimonial on their site that reads “I am so grateful that their (the children's) educational playing field has been leveled and that they are no longer in danger of falling behind due to a lack of technology and resource.”

Do you believe open source will make a greater difference in initiatives that aim to change lives for the better? Have you come across instances where you think proprietary software may be prefered in such situations? Please feel free to share your thoughts using the comment form below!


Yes, open source mentality has the ability to transform healthcare! Just like it has transformed the communities you reference (Linux, check out Rasperry PI), 3D printers and microcontrollers (Arduino).

Exciting times. The value of patenting and "owning" your ideas for profit is shifting to a new paradigm of benefiting more people... Google WIRED's article on Arduino's by Clive Thompson 10.20.08

Don Dagen,

Thanks for your comment!

I'm now looking up more information on open source hardware; this is going to be the subject of a new blog post from me!

By Naweed Chougle

If it's open source, it should be easy and more cost effective for people under the medical industry.

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