The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


February 15, 2023

All Will Be Well

Listen to the article

Listen to the session

Listen to the article

In 1967 film maker (and devout Christian) Irwin “Shorty” Yeaworth  produced “The Gospel Blimp” as a send-up of the craze over mass evangelism using the latest technology to reach a whole community in the most effective way possible – an inflatable blimp. They towed Bible-verse banners, “firebombing” the unchurched citizens with thousands of gospel tracts and broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers. Things unravel and the new technology ends up being just one more way of wasting money with little positive effect. But for a brief moment it is new, exciting and full of promise.

Shorty was a colorful character and a periodic guest in our home. He died tragically in a one-car accident in 2004 and it is in memory of Shorty that I have looked at a few of our generation’s technological advances and speculated how we can best use them in the service of philanthropy.

For starters, instead of blimps we have drones and the possibilities have expanded. While now being used for everything from protecting African rhinos against poachers to analyzing people migration patterns, in the near future we will not scatter tracts from a hovering blimp haphazardly. We can direct messages with laser-like focus to predetermined targets.

Using facial analysis algorithms (FAA), we can accurately read the most subtle expressions signaling happiness, loneliness, sadness and meaninglessness. Affectiva and Emotient have analyzed millions of expressions allowing us to use drone-based webcams for identifying with amazing accuracy individuals —and even families—most likely open to the gospel and we will custom tailor the messages responding in real time to that telltale emotion. Pandora and Spotify-like applications can test and direct music selections to whole populations based on taste, doctrine, average age and ethnicity.

Big Savings

When adapted, body cams built by Taser and used by police departments around the world can accurately analyze vital sign indicators (VSI) and other statistics just from a video image of a face. With live-feed body cams, we can monitor 24/7 the activity of ministry workers and their interaction with everyone in the course of their day. Not only that, but when outfitted with miniature GPS units those cams serve as tracking devices to identify and quantify time spent on non-work related activities. Long lunches become shorter. Sleep time is briefer. Leisurely strolls become more purposeful and goal directed. With ever-increasing video sophistication, site visits can be reduced or eliminated completely. The savings in time and money will be remarkable.

As well, ministries no longer need to make expensive and time wasting visits to foundation offices. All that can be handled by video, vital sign sensors and facial scanners to determine when numbers are inflated or grantees are insincere or uncomfortable. And everything goes into a central file that connects and sorts information gathered by all foundations and sophisticated donors. Computers will chat with other computers to update all the collected data for real time access. Jeremy Rifkin wrote several years ago, “Today, we have 14 billion sensors connecting devices. Sensors monitoring our food crops, smart vehicles, warehouses, smart roads. By 2021, we’ll have maybe 100 trillion sensors – every machine is talking to every other machine.”

Studies have shown that different areas of the brain “light up” when engaged in particular activities. By now, the results are conclusive that giving actually stimulates the same area of the brain that responds to joy, happiness and satisfaction. Charity lights up the brain center controlling pleasure in the same way as pleasurable music, addictive drugs, and the bond between mothers and their children. Not only can these activities be monitored but they can be triggered electronically. As well, certain colors, images and sounds stimulate these areas as donor development scientists discovered many years ago through pioneer research. We now know we can individually customize donor stimulation through media, electronic games, the internet and, especially, Facebook for older adults. Organizations can identify those activities and causes that light up the brains of the foundation staff and concentrate their efforts there. More importantly, they can flex as rapidly as needed. Interests and passions of boards and donors can change without advance notice and organizations need to be prepared and adaptive.

Right Side of  History

These same brain science findings have shown us that other activities less stimulating – like filling out reports and general administrative work – create a dim glow in buried parts of the brain stem. We can now map how much time our grantees spend filling out forms and reports by the amount of dim glow time (DGT) their monitors report. Thankfully for them, Google created a special “auto-fill” function that through redundancy anticipates the questions each foundation asks and automatically fills in the right amount of detail and descriptions of results achieved. Better yet, ChatGPT will generate customized grant proposals and foundation responses. 

With mobile banking applications, the foundation staff from thousands of miles away can immediately modify or even terminate the grant and switch to another organization with better patterns. Studies have shown that all the vital signs increase moments after receiving electronic notification of the grant being terminated.

Our best minds are working on this, and there is no telling what is just over the horizon. Pop-up and project-oriented nonprofits and businesses funded by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to eliminate disease, poverty and injustice will proliferate as GoFundMe replaces endowments and expensive development staff. Billions of people will be able to take classes on their cellphones with universal education overcoming senseless strife, greed and income disparity. We will be, at last, on the right side of history. The Internet of Things will reduce the cost of almost everything to zero. Everyone and everything will be connected and optimized. All will be well.

Oh, happy day.

Art by Jeff Bartels

Get The Round Table in your Inbox

Every now and again we send out a collection of our writings, links to our webcasts, and reminders about events. Subscribe to stay in touch.

the Gathering