Can Silicon Valley innovate its way to a gun violence solution?

Following the tragedy in Newtown, a group of entrepreneurs led by Ron Conway resolved to use technology to help stem gun violence. Their debut effort is an incentive challenge to create smarter, safer firearms.

On the evening of December 14, 2012, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Pitkow attended a holiday party hosted by influential angel investor Ron Conway. That morning, the horrific events that left 26 dead had unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn. And as it happened, Conway's guest of honor at the party was former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of a shooting in which she sustained serious injuries.

"When Gabby walked in, everyone was surprised and amazed, and a quietness descended on the room," recollected Pitkow, noting that Conway called for a moment of silence. "It was in that moment that Ron and others realized that the tech community hadn't done anything to reduce gun violence."

Conway later called Pitkow, asking him to explore how the tech industry might help stem the problem . Pitkow had done similar work with THORN, a nonprofit founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to help prevent the sexual exploitation of children using technology. After Conway's call, Pitkow admits, he initially had reservations. But Conway is a hard man to say no to, and Pitkow now directs the Smart Tech Foundation, an organization that aims to foster innovation to reduce gun violence.

"After circling with hundreds of experts, polling people online, and getting feedback, I realized there probably was something we could do," Pitkow said. "We identified four areas, the first one being smarter, safer firearms, the second one being big data, the third being brain and mental health, the fourth being community health and public safety."

The foundation plans to hold challenges, similar to the X-Prize contests, each focusing on these four areas. The first one -- the Smart Tech Firearms Challenge -- begins in 2014 and is likely to attract interest from startups and fledgling entrepreneurs alike. Several Silicon Valley investors have already pledged a combined $1 million in prize money.

Watch the CNET News video to find out how technology could make an impact on gun violence, from guns that recognize the user to a gunfire detection system that instantly notifies police.

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About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.

     

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