October 5, 2002 - Sarai Net: Korea RPCV Edward Cherlin talks about the Simputer, the first computer designed for poor and even illiterate people

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Korea: Peace Corps Korea : The Peace Corps in Korea: October 5, 2002 - Sarai Net: Korea RPCV Edward Cherlin talks about the Simputer, the first computer designed for poor and even illiterate people

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Korea RPCV Edward Cherlin talks about the Simputer, the first computer designed for poor and even illiterate people

Korea RPCV Edward Cherlin talks about the Simputer, the first computer designed for poor and even illiterate people

On October 29 the first computer designed for poor and even illiterate people will be launched to worldwide acclaim, judging by pre-release coverage. Some observers are just interested in a handheld computer for less than $300 with free software. The imminent arrival of a shareable computer that can read Web pages aloud in several of the languages of India inspires others to visions of accelerated education, health, economic, social, and political deveropment all over the world, and the gradual erasing of the Digital Divide. Some also see it as the biggest peace initiative ever in the longer term.

The original developers of the Simputer are in Bangalore, the high tech center of India. They have licensed the design to Picopeta and to Encore Software, which has Simputers in production in Singapore. A variety of government and NGO test projects have occured using pre-production models. We have a fair idea of what sort of projects will be launched, when, and in what countries over the next year or two. I'm working on one here in Silicon Valley to provide information services to India. Later on, we expect to see an explosion of applications not yet thought of. MIT has ordered a thousand units for itself and for several Indian Universities to work on devising such uses.

Simputer projects have been proposed throughout Asia, Africa, and the rest of the developing world. I wrote a proposal for a Simputer session at a conference to be held early next year in Sierra Leone on applications of IT to reconstruction after their devastating civil war. There are possibilities in information gathering and in delivery of services to victims, child soldiers, and others. Even in developed countries there are applications such as computer access for the homeless, literacy, and more.

There are objections, of course.

o Many people do not understand the cost model, based on sharing Simputers among hundreds of people, each of whom has an inexpensive smart card for personal storage. The cost per person in this case is less than $5.00 with a hundred users, and we expect to get it down to $2.00 each in two years--maybe three, but we're optimists. The Grameen Bank has demonstrated that one individual with a cell phone in a village can make a living by renting it out, thereby increasing economic opportunities for many others. The parallel with Simputers is obvious.

o Many people do not see computers and the Internet as a priority for the sick, the starving, the homeless, and the powerless. We see it as the point of maximum leverage to allow several billion people to access information, communicate with each other and the rest of the world, and deal with their own problems. We also see it as vital to the other organizations that do focus directly on health, food, shelter, education, and community development.

My connection with Simputers is as a volunteer. I promote development of Linux software for Internationalization (often abbreviated as I18n) in general and for Indian and other Asian languages in particular. There were partial solutions for each language using old character set technology that only supports one or at most two writing systems at a time properly. The new technology uses Unicode, the recent global character standard, which covers more than thirty writing systems and thousands of languages. I do this as Linux Unicode HOWTO maintainer, as a member of most of the groups carrying out the development projects, as a fund raiser, and as a writer.

My own interest in languages started in Hebrew school, then in high school where we had a remarkable Russian Jew teaching Russian, Greek, and Hebrew. I went to South Korea in the Peace Corps, then to Japan, where I became a Buddhist. Last year I joined the Slavyanka Russian Chorus in San Francisco, and sang a bit of Vechernyi Zvon on your show. I have worked on Web content in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Georgian, Armenian, and Yiddish.

If you would like to do a show on the Simputer, you can contact the key people through the following links.




Here are a few clippings


starting with Mike Langberg in the SJ Mercury News. A short article with out-of-date information on the Simputer appeared in the October Scientific American.

-- Edward Cherlin


"A knot!" cried Alice. "Oh, do let me help to undo it." Alice in Wonderland

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Story Source: Sarai Net

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Korea; COS - India; Simputer; Computers



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