ICT4HD. Eric Brewer: Contributions of Technical Research on ICT4D

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #80, May 2010


Notes from the I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development, at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and held in Fuenlabrada, Spain, on May 13th and 14th, 2010. More notes on this event: ict4hd10.

Eric Brewer: Contributions of Technical Research on ICT4D

Traditional development has a very top-down approach, with international agencies funding projects, often with sting and debt attached, difficult to manage (e.g. corruption) and usually with little role for high technology. This just does not fit ICT4D projects’ necessities and way of proceeding.

Cellphones’ evolution was very different: driven by bottom-up demand, because of the ease of use (voice), a dire need for communications (work, remittances…).

Remittances to Africa are circa US$40B and imply much more money than the one involved in aid. This should give an idea about the power of microloans. The Grameen Bank is owned entirely by the poor and has loaned more than US$3.9B. It is mainly used for very short run (up to 6 months) loans, aimed for instance at buying a goat that will pay back the loan with its milk, or paying for seeds that will pay back the loan once harvested. Loans are chained one to the next one and create an important funding and cash flow.

Grameen Telecom allows people to buy phones and rent them to their neighbours. The project covers 50,000-68,000 villages and 60M. The most important thing is that it scales and that the owner (the ‘phone lady’) is indeed interested in the maintenance of the equipment and the sustainability of the system.

Another example: I.T.Mountain.BPO for medical transcription: voice in, text out for medical issues.

The real digital divide is between urban and rural areas: for instance, the mobile phone is an urban phenomenon, as many rural areas have no cellular coverage.

We need to bring connectivity to rural areas, and here is where WiFi comes to the rescue.

Rural connectivity

It has already been demonstrated that the problem is not distance, but line of sight: you can send a signal as far as you can (literally) see. We need to find natural towers (e.g. mountains, hills) to be able to see further.

Aravind Eye Hospital Network: doctors stay at the hospital, patients stay at their homes. 4-5Mb/s per link, video-conferencing — high quality and video are important because the interview really matter —, e-mail, training. Achieved 6,000 consultations/month, over 160,000 patients so far, centers are cash-flow positive, over 30,000 patients have recovered sight, growing to 50 centres covering 2.5M people and possibility to replicate in other cities.

Smart phones

Computers that, nevertheless, are small, portable, have self-contained power, easy to use, culturally accepted…

SmartPhone diagnostic device that, connected to the audio jack (and phones are good at converting analogue signals into digital ones), can provide measurements on heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, blood oxygen, ECG, fetal heart rate or even blood pressure. The result is a much much cheaper and easy to use diagnostic device. The phone can either convert the raw data into readings of forward them through the GSM network.

CellScope: Cellphone Microscope = (phone) camera + big lens. Its use can be to diagnose malaria after a blood sample is put under the cellscope.

m-Learning: teach English via smartphones and by using educational games. Games have to be based on traditional local games to provide the learner with a familiar and thus understandable context.

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Fernando Balducci: we definitely have to avoid the confusion between tele-diagnosis and self-diagnosis, which is a hazard we might run into when such tools become more and more present in end-users’ hands.

Javier Simó: concurrence or cooperation? A: concurrence, but informed concurrence. Every place is different, so solutions cannot be replicated in a strictly straightforward way. And for being informed, a certain degree of cooperation is required.

Q: what about call centres? A: a call center requires connectivity, low power, simple infrastructures. So call centres can be a good way to start to create employment in rural areas. But we should be beyond that (including going beyond software development centres).

David Chávez: smartphone or cloud computing? A: it is very likely that computing power of the phone will increase at a faster path than mobile broadband will. Thus why latest developments have gone into the direction of making the phone perform more work than instead sending to and fro data to “computing centres” to perform these tasks.

Vanessa Frías: how is assessment performed in smartphones? A: within the traditional education system, this kind of assessment is very difficult, as it often implies interaction, synchronous meetings, etc. This is why vocational programmes generally work better than for-credit educational programmes. Indeed, there are other security- and privacy-related issues that are still difficult to handle in m-learning.

I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development (2010)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2010) “ICT4HD. Eric Brewer: Contributions of Technical Research on ICT4D” In ICTlogy, #80, May 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=3375

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