A Voice-Driven Web for the Developing World

A farmer in Gujarat, India accesses agricultural information on the Web via a cell phone.

A farmer in Gujarat, India accesses agricultural information on the Web via a cell phone.

Those of us who take the Internet for granted would have a hard time imagining what life would be like if we were forced to return to a time when there was no e-mail, no Web access. But the so-called “digital divide” — the gap between groups of people for whom there is easy Internet availability and those who have very limited or no access at all — still remains a problem in this technological age.

Especially for businesses in developing and undeveloped countries where personal computers are a luxury… and illiterate clientele might not know how to use one even if they were available.

We recently learned of a project that IBM India has undertaken that it calls “Spoken Web.” It’s a network designed to use phones, not computers, to bring information on the Internet to under-served populations who apparently have plenty of cell phones, but no PCs.

We think you’ll find the story — which was just posted on the ACM Web site — quite fascinating.

Andy Grove, the former chair of Intel, has said that by the mid-2000s “all companies will be Internet companies or they won’t be companies at all.” In countries where the Internet and other technologies are less/not accessible, “uneducated people and societies that are not benefiting from the information age cannot be competitive in the global economy.”

Apparently IBM’s strategy is to see to it that everyone has at least a crack at benefiting.

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