4 days of hetcic travelling. 2 days in Bhopal, to look at how IT can play a role in rural India and eGovernance, and then 2 days in Bangalore, part of which was spent participating in an open-source conference organised by MAIT.
The Bhopal trip was very interesting and a good learning experience. I am convinced more than ever that we can and should technology as a utility to the people, so as to provide a platform for improving quality of life in the villages. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was seeing school students working in foursomes on computers in Amoda village, and seeing them interact with technology as if they were born to use it.
Imagine if every village can have 4-5 computers as part of a telecentre (or a tele-info-entertainment centre), which bridges the digital divide in terms of information, knowledge and services. Will post a presentation I had made on the blog shortly. The underlying vision remains the same: “A connected computer accessible for every employee and family”.
To make technology a mass-market utility will require a number of innovations. The two biggest challenges (besides ofcourse the cost) are power and connectivity. On power, one could look at pedal power or solar energy or even adapting the power supply of the computer to directly take in 12 volts. Connectivity is also a problem – phoe lies are not necessarily there, and even if present, sometimes don’t work too well. We need solutions like WiFi used as a wide area network, with amplifiers allowing it to be used over larger distances. Need some creative thinking here.
At the MAIT conference, I was on a panel, wherein I made the following points on what government and industry can do. The government should:
– reduce duties and taxes to make computers more affordable. Specifically, all sub-Rs 10,000 computers should be exempt from all levies.
– not mention by brand what hardware or software they need. The focus should be what they want done.
– consider setting up telecentres in every Indian village, to take computing to the villages across India.
– focus on intelligent, real-time governance.
The industry should:
– focus on the next users at the bottom of pyramid. See what disruptive innovations we can to solve problems like cost of computing, and the power and connectivity issues mentioned above.
– build out an ecosystem using engineering college students for open-source projects, creating a talent pool which can then become a resource for enterprises when they join the workforce.
– become practioners with open-source software, rather than just talking about it. See if some projects can be initiated in our companies, consider using Linux desktops, and use OpenOffice on Linux (rather than MS-Office) for presentations at open-source conferences!