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A Computer for the world's 4 billion illiterate and poor people


January 20, 2004

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The PCtvt concept being developed at Carnegie Mellon University is aiming to deliver a combined PC, TV, Video and Telephone at a cost of under US$250 by 2007. The radically simple design for illiterate users aims for a ONE minute learning time. If the goal can be achieved, and the project sufficiently supported, it has the potential to significantly empower illiterate people everywhere by giving greater importance to voice and video communication rather than reading & writing. The cost of ownership of the computer has been designed to be as low as possible so it can be used as a communal resource in poor villages.

The vision of the project is to "conquer the digital divide and empower the poor and illiterate to benefit from the IT revolution" and the creation of such a device could finally offer a viable education system to the large proportion of our planet that providence has neglected. Education is the most effective and sustainable way of improving circumstances in many areas of the world.

"Entertainment, communication and education must be made affordable and accessible to the 4 billion people living below the poverty line," according to the team.

The Multifunction Information Appliance envisioned is called the PCtvt and will encompass the functionality of TV, a personal video recorder (PVR), Video Phone, IP Phone and PC.

The Pctvt is designed for communal use and for most people in a village, entertainment and communication were deemed to be of greater importance than PC functionality.

The resultant unit is a sophisticated mix of hardware and software using open source applications to deliver TV, Video, Telephone and other media - both synchronously and asynchronously. That is telephone, video conferencing and instant text messaging (synchronously), and voicemail, video mail and email.

The device will be robust and extremely user friendly such that any user who can operate a TV can operate PCtvt. Now herein lies the biggest barrier - most of the people below the poverty line are illiterate.

The project team has found that an illiterate person needs a more powerful PC than your average computer user because it needs full multimedia capabilities to enable videoconferencing and voice mail, as an illiterate cannot use text mail.

Similarly, the text-based Help function is replaced by Video Help and the keyboard by a thumb pad with an icon-based interface.

The PC is designed to enable a communal ownership and at a price of US$250, the project believes the computer could be accessible for up to the vast majority of the global population.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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