On the same planet where there are 1.2 billion Internet users, a far less fortunate 1.2 billion people survive on less than $1 a day. The same technology that has transformed our lives—the lives of the wealthiest people on the planet—also remains out of reach and irrelevant for the poorest. How do you design user interfaces for an illiterate migrant worker? Can you keep five rural schoolchildren from fighting over one PC? What value is technology to a farmer earning $1 a day?
Questions like this will be raised as Kentaro Toyama presents a sample of work from the Technology for Emerging Markets group at Microsoft Research India, in Bangalore. They are a multidisciplinary research group consisting of anthropologists, economists, designers, and computer scientists who together seek new applications of computing technology for the world’s least privileged communities. The constraints are severe, with poor education, terrible infrastructure, and a shortage of funds making even the best-designed systems and technologies challenging to implement. Nevertheless, they believe this is a challenge worth undertaking, and one that can make a difference as long as we retain equal measures of skepticism about the brash claims of technology and optimism about its true potential.
Kentaro Toyama is assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India, in Bangalore, where he supports the daily operation and overall management of the research lab. He also leads a group that conducts research to identify applications of computing technology in emerging markets and for international development (Technology for Emerging Markets research group). From 1997 to 2004, he was at Microsoft Research in Redmond, where he did research in multimedia and computer vision and worked to transfer new technology to Microsoft product groups. In 2002, he took personal leave from Microsoft to teach mathematics at Ashesi University, a private liberal arts college in Ghana. Kentaro graduated from Harvard with a bachelors degree in physics and from Yale with a PhD in computer science.