The Case for Technology for Developing Regions
Eric Brewer from Berkeley argued that technology can make a difference for the 3-4 billion that have a purchasing power of less than $2 a day. As an example, river blindness is being eradicated by determining best time and space for spraying larvicide against the blackfly that carries the desease. This is made possible through a sensors network, satellites and forecasting software. Primary education is another area where positive impact is possible.
Eric made the point that being poor is expensive: if you don’t have access to drinking water, then you need to buy it in small plastic bottles, which costs way more. That means that the money is already being spent anyway. The Grameen bank in Bangladesh for micro-loans is one example of succesful change: they recover 98.75% of the loans and 46,5% of the borrowers have crossed the poverty line. Grameen Telecom has given 95.000 loans of $200 to buy mobile phones for phone ladies. Their income typically doubles and the system now reaches 50.000 of 68.000 villages in Bangladesh: this is 60 million users! The ladies maintain the system, because they depend on it for her income.
Other self-sustaining examples include the Aravind Eye Hospital that does $10 cataract surgery for a profit! They had 2 million patients in 2004, with 200,000 surgeries. Or the 4500 ICT agriculture kiosks in India that reward higher-quality crops.
The TIER project on Technology and Infrastructure for Developing Regions illustrates how PhD. research can contribute to overcoming real problems for real people in a real way. TIER deals with sometimes quite technical issues to improve telecom operations based on wifi, power instability, intermittent networking, speech recognition for dealing with literacy issues (including a low power chip that implements it). Other challenges include sensors, packaging, low-cost towers, power systems, displays. There are more details in the June 2005 issue of IEEE Computer.
This was a great presentation on relevant research: I am very concerned about the impact we can create through the research we do on the use of technology for learning and it was brilliant to get a presentation that is also driven by the same concern to make a difference!