Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Stanford Spotlights Computing for Socio-Economic Development

Autumn Seminar Series – Thursday, Oct. 16
6:00pm - 7:00pm – Wallenberg Hall, Room 124, Stanford University
Computing for Socio-Economic Development Kentaro Toyama
With Support from CHIMe Lab, Asha for Education (Stanford Chapter)
Engineers for Sustainable World, IEEE, HCI Research, and Stanford India Association

On the same planet where there are 1.4 billion Internet users, a far less fortunate 1.4 billion people survive below the World Bank's extreme poverty line. Computing technology has transformed the lives of the wealthiest people on the planet, but it remains out of reach and irrelevant for the poorest. How do you design user interfaces for an illiterate migrant worker? Can you keep five rural schoolchildren from fighting over one PC? What value is technology to a farmer earning a dollar a day?

Questions like this will be raised in a sample of research work from the Technology for Emerging Markets group ( at Microsoft Research India, in Bangalore. We are a multidisciplinary research group consisting of anthropologists, economists, designers, and computer scientists who together seek new applications of computing technology for the world's least privileged communities in domains such as agriculture, education, healthcare, and microfinance. The constraints are severe, with poor education, terrible infrastructure, and a shortage of funds making even the best-designed systems challenging to implement. Nevertheless, we believe this is a challenge worth undertaking, and one that can make a difference as long as we retain equal measures of skepticism about the brash claims of technology and optimism about its true potential.

Kentaro Toyama ( is assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India, in Bangalore, where he supports the daily operation and overall management of the research lab. He also leads a group that conducts research to identify applications of computing technology in emerging markets and for international development, and is co-founder of the IEEE/ACM Int'l Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development. From 1997 to 2004, he was at Microsoft Research in Redmond, where he did research in multimedia and computer vision and worked to transfer new technology to Microsoft product groups. In 2002, he took personal leave from Microsoft to teach mathematics at Ashesi University, a private liberal arts college in Ghana. Kentaro graduated from Harvard with a bachelors degree in physics and from Yale with a PhD in computer science.


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