Can someone who doesn’t even know how to read or write use a computer? Microsoft Corp. is probing that question at a research lab in India.
Microsoft seeking ways to help illiterate. That is promising.
And then this…
Working with a local advocacy group, Microsoft has developed a prototype of a system that would connect illiterate domestic workers in India with families seeking their services. The system uses pictures, video and voice commands to tell women what jobs are available, how much the jobs pay and where they are.
Read the full report.
I have mixed feelings about this one, most of them not so good. I am very excited about the possibilities that such systems could open up – bringing those with less access (illiterate or otherwise) closer to information in some way. echoupal does that now (although that is not a project aimed at the illiterate).
Here are some of my reasons for the not-so-good feelings :
Willingness to learn
The fantastic hole-in-the-wall experiment has shown that it is indeed possible for someone who does not know how to read or write to use a computer. But they in this experiment are children, they are naturally curious about the world around them, they are willing to experiment and to make fools of themselves in the process.
Human interaction v/s machine gobbledygook
But why domestic workers? In a country like India, the word-of-mouth system works best – I need a maid, I tell the watchman in my building, he tells others and the next morning three women are at the door-step. I do not have a fixed idea about how much I will pay for the job, not a series of tasks that I can put up on a computer.
Is there a need?
And in most places, there is a decent, well-balanced demand-supply system in place, unlike perhaps the larger employment market. Given that, I do not understand why either a potential employer or employee will need to or want to use such a system.
What is the benefit?
echoupal benefits the farmer by eliminating the middleman, the farmer has updated knowledge about prices and market trends and makes beter money for his produce. In case of domestic workers, there are no middlepeople(?)
Where does the twain meet?
The researchers say they are now trying to figure out how to implement the system, since most women who do domestic work don’t own computers. One option is to put up a kiosk in a community center, Toyama said. Er, most women, meaning some of them do? And what about those wishing to employ them – do they all own computers? If not, do they also go to a kiosk? How does communication work if both sender-receiver are not on a shared platform – any kind of platform?
I think the concept is interesting and powerful, but fraught with all the questions and that leapfroggers tend to evoke in those watching. As a confimed leapfrogger-cheerer, I’d be very happy to read somewhere the answers to these questions. In the meanwhile, here is a blasphemous suggestion – can time at Microsoft research be perhaps put to better use?