While information technologies have transformed our way of life in rich countries, in developing regions there remain many barriers to adopting new technologies, including high costs, unreliable power and network infrastructures, and lack of real or perceived benefits. Consequently, technology ownership and usage in resource-poor environments is often limited to a small number of near-and-dear devices, which may include a television, video player, or mobile phone. Devices that are unfamiliar are unlikely to be used.
In this talk, I will describe three projects that seek to adapt or apply familiar technologies to advance new goals in socio-economic development:
- A new platform for citizen journalism that enables tribal communities to record and share audio newscasts over a mobile phone,
- A new platform for interactive educational content using ordinary TVs and DVD players, and
- A new system for monitoring and improving healthcare delivery by using off-the-shelf biometric technologies.
While all projects are in their early stages, they have each been deployed in India; I will relate our experiences gained and highlight recurring themes at the intersection of technology and development.
Bill Thies is a researcher at Microsoft Research India, where he is a member of the Technologies for Emerging Markets Group. His research focuses on creating appropriate information and communication technologies to promote socio-economic development, as well as the description and automation of biology protocols on platforms such as microfluidic chips. Bill was trained as a computer scientist and received all of his degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, completing his Ph.D. in 2009. His graduate research focused on programming languages and compilers for parallel computing.