Friday, October 4, 2002


Simputer stands for "simple, inexpensive, multilingual computer." It was designed to meet the needs of rural villagers in countries such as India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Indonesia. Many of these potential users are illiterate and have never even seen a computer before. Loaded with some elementary software, the Simputer will sell for about $250 (or $300 for a model with a color screen). That's a sizable chunk of the yearly per capita income in many developing nations. But the Simputer's proponents argue that a single device could enable an entire village to access the Internet, perform transactions, keep track of agricultural prices and educate its children. Says Shreyas Patel, a consultant to Encore who has been setting up pilot tests of the Simputer in East Africa: " This will bring computing power to isolated communities. It can have an enormous impact. But how will illiterate people be able to use the Simputer if they can't read the directions on the screen? There are two answers. One is the simplicity of the device's interface: because each display page shows only a few possible commands, even illiterate users should be able to learn by trial and error the purpose of the icons and buttons on each page. The second answer is software that can turn text into speech. The Simputer holds a database of phonemes-- basic linguistic sounds-- and from these it can generate an audio representation of any word as long as it is spelled phonetically and in characters from the Roman alphabet. (from Scientific American)

Forgive my scepticism, but I'd be amazed if this took off. Presumably some market researchers thought this was a good idea, but I can't help but wonder if the cultural infrastructure actually exists. While I can see interests in global markets being very real, the thought of people in remote Andean communities using the Internet to teach their children seems far less likely. This reminds me of some of the development work I saw growing up - Westerners just assumed that the locals would want to live like we do. Projects were completed, and never used again.


Post a Comment

<< Home

CC Copyright 2001-2009 by Anne Galloway. Some rights reserved. Powered by Blogger and hosted by Dreamhost.