As we all know, in this Information Age,
information is money" like "time is money".
The largest source of information is the Internet. Hence, it is important that everyone can access the Internet easily and economically. It is needless to mention the importance of the Internet for economic & social development, education and more. Internet is becoming an important and essential part of everybody's life. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of population can access the Internet today resulting a large Digital Divide.
We argue that existing approaches to bridge the Digital Divide are good but not sufficient to completely bridge the Digital Divide. The existing approaches of bridging the Digital Divide can be broadly classified into two groups:
(a) by providing computers or low cost simple computers or computer like devices to people who do not have one
(b) by providing personal devices like PDA and cell phone with screen.
As of latest market data, there are about 550 million connected computers as opposed to over 4 billion (over 3 billion wireless and over one billion wire-line phones). Thus, computers represent only 14% of telephone population on the average worldwide. This ratio is even worse in the developing countries. Improving this ratio to the desired number, especially, in developing world would take long time. Additionally, certain population (like elderly, blind, visually impaired people and people unfamiliar with computers) would have difficulty in learning how to use a computer and Internet. Many can not easily learn how to use a computer and Internet. The drop out rate from computer training schools worldwide is over 30%. Even some people who are reasonably familiar with computers are having difficulty in keeping up with the requirement to learn new things like how to deal with pop-ups, viruses, spam filters, registry edits and the like.
Personal devices like a cell phone with screen or PDA are great devices to communicate via voice or text with small contents. But these are not good devices to do computing or to access the Internet. The key reasons are:
• difficult user interface because of small screen and small keypad. In fact, these devices are getting smaller, in general, whereas our eyes and fingers are not.
• The content is limited as one would need to re-write the content in another language like WML (Wireless Markup Language) in case of cell phone viewing; or the content needs to be scrolled in case of a PDA.
• Visual access make such devices difficult in an eyes busy-hands busy situation like while driving.
Today about 15% of the cell phone have screen and ready for Internet access. It will take number of years before all cell phone will have screen-based access and some computing power. Even if they all have computing power and screen based Internet access, many people will not be able to use them because of the reasons mentioned above. And many would not be able to afford.
Thus, existing approaches will minimize the gap but are not sufficient to truly bridge the Digital Divide. On the other hand Voice Internet and Voice Computer (major products of InternetSpeech) can truly bridge the Digital Divide to anyone who has some type of telephone – wire-line phone, wireless phone, PDA and the like. Voice Internet and Voice Computer do not need a computer. Users basically make a phone call and an automated attendant allows the caller to access the Internet and enjoy surfing, searching, email, e-commerce and other features. Users basically talk and listen to the Internet. In other words, the telephone becomes the browser. In Voice Computer, a user calls a phone number (like the Voice Internet) and an automated attendant allows user to access and edit files, directories in a virtual computer. Simply stated, the telephone becomes the computer. Voice Internet and Voice Computer can provide the benefits of the Internet and computers to over 3 billion people who have access to some type of phone. Voice Internet overcomes the difficulties mentioned above with existing approaches :
- no need to buy a special device (thus allowing easy access to many more people)
- no need to deal with small screen or small key pad as users basically talk and listen
- much easier to learn as learning how to use a phone is much simpler than learning how to use a computer or personal device
- no need to re-write the content in another language. There are over 2.5 billions of websites on the Internet. Re-writing all of them would cost over trillion dollars and hence not practical.
- No need for a person to know how to read or write as users basically talk and listen.
The other key challenge that Voice Internet overcomes is the “rendering” problem. The Internet was designed with visual access in a large display device in mind. Thus, all the information is laid out that attracts our eyes but not ears. Rendering or converting such information into short, precise, easily navigable, meaningful and pleasant to listen to content is a very hard problem that Voice Internet has overcome. These key features of rendering are very important as when listening, one does not have time to listen to everything on a page, would like to move around easily and quickly and make sure that content heard is the content that was desired.
An Automated Attendant (also called an Intelligent Agent, IA) is used to perform the “rendering” function. IA performs rendering by
(a) automatically generating important information of the page, called, “Page Highlights”, presenting them in a small amount of information at a time that one can easily follow
(b) finding appropriate as well as only relevant content on a linked page selected by a Page Highlight, assembling the relevant contents from a linked page, and presenting them
(c) and providing easy navigation.
Rendering allows users to easily navigate within and between pages using simple voice commands or key pad entry. The Intelligent Agent is capable of learning user preferences, to continually improve ease of access over time.
Rendering is achieved by using algorithms similar to the algorithms used by sighted users. The key steps of rendering are done using the information available in the visual web page itself and employing appropriate algorithms to use all such information including text contents, color, font size, links, paragraph, and amount of texts and meaning of the words. Some language processing algorithms are also used to further refine the rendering, navigation and filling of on-line forms (Form Filling). This is similar to how the brain of a normal sighted person renders information from a visual page by looking into the font size, boldness, color, content density, link, meaning of titles/labels, and then selecting a topic, going to the desired page and then reading only the relevant information on the desired page. Form filling is done by presenting forms as Form Page Highlights and also creating appropriate questions, taking the text/voice inputs from the user and then filling and submitting the form.
Thus, a user can seamlessly access any content on the Internet, interact with any forms and complete transactions like shopping, banking etc. using a simple phone and his/her own voice. Another key feature is that contents can be translated in real time into another language, providing audio access to, for example, English-language web pages for those with limited English language skills, thus bridging the Language Divide.
Voice Internet is an enabling technology. The core technology can be used to develop many new products and services including MicroBrowser (to allow any website content to be automatically and effectively displayed on any cell phone or PDA screen at ease) without the need to re-write the web content in another language, Voice Computer (to allow a user to store, edit and manipulate files etc. on a server via phone call), netTalk (allowing VoIP call using no broadband phone or no broadband connection) and more.
What’s next after the Digital and Language Divides are Bridged from Connectivity Standpoint? Let’s assume that together with conventional methods of using computers, PDAs, cell phones, and the proposed method of Voice Internet, the Digital and Language Divides are really bridged from connection standpoint. Now what? Well, the benefit of getting into the Internet needs to be utilized properly to really help meet basic needs including food, shelter, education, communication, health, business and economy. That in turn will help minimize the gap between rich and poor. To really bridge the Digital Divide, we would need to address the other key factors: utilize the access to information to knowledge, use knowledge to drive innovation & entrepreneurship to finally drive the development. Education is a key component to develop knowledge from the information. It is also a key component for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Many of the difficulties that hinder economic development in the developing countries can be eased with Internet based education and business. Education with focus on entrepreneurship and innovation can jump start the economy of these countries. For example, countries moving up the food chain in manufacturing (like China) has to outsource lower level tasks to other countries, like Vietnam. Many other countries can copy this process without too much efforts. Similarly, India is trying to moving up the food chain in software and service related businesses. Many developing countries can do the same. China and India are two good examples that played the game in the right way and hence in fact became a friend of the countries controlling the world. The same is also true for Japan, Israel. It is started to happen in Russia, Brazil and some east European countries.
With real contribution through knowledge power and cheaper labor managed by knowledge power, almost any 3rd world countries can attract investors to invest. Yes, investors will also take good part of the profit but that’s normal. If with investor’s money other countries can flourish, so can many other developing countries. The goal should be to continue to move up the food chain by continuing innovation and entrepreneurship. Manpower should be considered as a real resource rather than as a social burden.
Of course, some people would not be able to learn, go to school (very poor people). For them also there is good news. They can be taught through ICT and Internet to do something better than what they are doing now. Basically educate and transform their brains into a huge resource. One key goal here is to teach them what Internet is, how it can help them, especially how they can do some business with the Internet (e.g. they can create some important portals, blogs, courses etc) and teach others and make money. Or they can do an e-commerce portal, make ICT as part of many businesses, become smart in getting outsourced projects etc.
Education needs to be reformed to meet local, regional and global needs. Education needs to be practical, focused and goals oriented, like driving the economy. Thus, there needs to be emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Educational reform should focus on both short term and long term needs. It should also focus on both formal and informal (like vocational institutes, training centers of various types) education. Almost all countries have education in their top priority and planning to make sure that everyone can get education. However, extending education to everyone using conventional means may be difficult and impractical. For example, many rural areas in many developing countries do not have schools. Building schools covering all such areas would be expensive and may take long time. A quicker way to provide education in such areas would be through e-Learning or distance learning, especially with Voice Internet as many people living in such areas have phone access. This can further be enhanced by establishing Internet Café’s when possible.
In this endeavor, many organizations including Governments, NGOs, UN, Foundations, Research Institutions, Corporations, Service providers, Civil Societies would need to work together. Many corporations (for example, CISCO, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and Google) have various philanthropic programs to help bridge the Digital Divide. Inclusion of Voice Internet and Voice Computer in these programs would help expedite the bridging process. There are various other organizations (for example Social Business based companies) who are closely working to help bridge the Digital Divide as a part of their core business. Various other companies have core businesses to help the poor and eradicate poverty. A good example is Grameen Bank and micro-credit inspired businesses. As the Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank concept, well stated in his 2006 Nobel Lecture, “Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives”. Thus, it is a natural choice and also very important to work together with all such organizations and companies to achieve our goal to minimize gaps between have and have-nots.
What can we expect after truly bridging the Digital and Language Divides, reforming education with focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, and providing such education to many people who are on the side on “have-nots”, and then nurturing their education through good practical business model? Well, it should create a huge very useful skilled force that can not only help improve their own economy but also help improve the world economy. The rich can use newly developed highly skilled brains of the poor to get even richer by investing in this vast human resource. They may be poor from financial standpoint but not from intelligence standpoint. Their brains are as good as many good brains on the “have” side. Bridging the Digital Divide would provide these people more freedom, better economy and social status. More freedom will in turn make them more innovative. As Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen well stated “….more freedom results in more rationality which in turn results more innovation…”
Thus, poor people would be able to participate in and help to drive world economy. Of course we would need to set our expectations right. The already rich (both financially and brain-wise) people will keep on inventing new things and get richer and it might be difficult for the new comers to catch or overcome them in many aspects. But there is no limit to innovation. This is even becoming more important as we expect to reach some sort of “singularity” during next few decades, enabling many new innovation/technology driven business.
So, in turn, all will be benefited driving a new world of prosperity with much lower gap between rich and poor and with significantly increased world peace.
Our InternetSpeech seasoned Business, Technology and Global Policy Executives are ready to help our customers in any Country / Developing Region in fulfilling above mentioned objectives and their goals, and in turn InternetSpeech Global Vision.