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“Digital Divide” at UN Summit


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Per-Kristian Halvorsen, HP vice president and director of the Solutions and Services Research Center, talks with visitors at the HP booth
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by Jamie Beckett

HP put a spotlight on its work creating technologies for emerging economies at a recent United Nations meeting aimed at bringing the Internet and telecommunications innovations to the world's poor.

During the Information and Telecommunications for Development (ICT4D) meeting, researchers from HP's two-year-old laboratory in India demonstrated a host of technologies aimed at expanding access to information and communication while HP executives outlined the company's commitment to creating information technology opportunities in and for developing nations. ICT4D was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in connection with the United Nations World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS).

The summit was the first of its kind to bring together Heads of State from around the world, directors of United Nations agencies, industry leaders, private organizations and media representatives to attack the problem of closing the gap between technology's "haves" and "have nots." Some 5,000 representatives from 60 nations attended.

"The opportunity to radically accelerate the use of and investment in information technology in the developing world is vast enough for all of us to benefit," Per-Kristian Halvorsen, HP vice president and director of the Solutions and Services Research center in HP Labs, said during a BBC-televised panel discussion. "The challenges create a new culture of research that values innovation focused on the combination of technology, local needs and sustainable economic models."

HP Labs India already has made progress in this area. The Bangalore-based laboratory is focused on dismantling the major barriers - language, communication and cost - that prevent access to information technology in developing countries.

Researchers from HP Labs India demonstrated some of their work to event participants, including such notables as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and other key UN leaders, representatives from the World Bank and dignitaries from several nations. Projects highlighted included:

  • A handwritten e-mail device: prototype of a low-cost, e-mail device that allows users to write e-mails without requiring them to be computer-literate or rely on an English-language keyboard. It can capture handwritten notes and convert them to e-mail messages.
  • Voice-based services: investigating voice-based services in local languages to enable access to information and transaction over the phones, which are more available than PCs and Internet connections in developing countries.
  • Handwritten data input: attacking the problem of unfamiliarity and awkwardness of the keyboard for data-entry, a significant barrier to wider adoption of PCs in many developing countries. HP Labs is developing handwriting-based interfaces that offer online recognition of handwritten Indian scripts.
  • Adult literacy testing: creating man-machine interfaces for the barely literate and developing a literacy-testing application to enhance the learning experience and calibrate the results of literacy-improvement programs.

Other HP participation at the summit, held late last year in Geneva, Switzerland, included:

    • Srinivasan Ramani, director of HP Labs India, spoke about innovating for emerging economies.
    • Francois Bornibus, general manager of HP Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa and vice president of the Enterprise System Group, discussed developing projects in central and eastern Europe.
    • Bess Stephens, vice president and director of HP Philanthropy and Education)described some of the successes and challenges of global citizenship in a collaborative environment.



Related links

» HP Labs India
» World Summit for the Information Society

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UN Secretary General Kofi Anan and Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, at HP's booth at the UN event

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