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IBM India Research Lab honored with National Award for Technological Innovation.

The Award

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in India recently presented its National Award for Technological Innovation to the IBM India Research Lab for Project Spoken Web. The award recognizes the year's best applied research aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities — in this case, the Spoken Web project's immense potential for doing just that. It is the highest award of its kind in India.

The Technology

For those of us with computers and Internet access, the World Wide Web has provided unfettered access to information, opened new business and employment opportunities, transformed the way we communicate, helped eliminate geographical barriers and paved the way for global collaboration and integration. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than five billion people1 (or 75 percent of the world's population) still do not have computers or connectivity to the Internet.

What they do have is mobile phones! In India alone, the use of mobile phones has skyrocketed — the number of mobile phone users is over 360 million and services providers are adding millions of customers every month.

Noting this massive penetration, researchers at the India Research Lab decided to bring the Web to the people. Their project, the Spoken Web, helps people who are physically challenged or visually impaired reap the benefits of the World Wide Web through their mobile or landline phones. People who have little or no literacy, a constituency of 900 million people worldwide (35 percent of whom live in India2), also profit significantly from the project because it uses the spoken word instead of text as its means of interface.

The Spoken Web creates a system that is comparable to the World Wide Web using speech technology and the telephone. Spoken Web helps people create voice sites using their telephones. The user gets a unique phone number which is equivalent to a URL and when other users access this voice site they get to hear whatever content has been uploaded there.

In an 8-month pilot in a village in rural India, IBM offered publishing of content under four broad categories: agriculture, healthcare, education, and professional services. More than 6,500 people accessed the voice site over 114,000 times.

Enabling people who have disabilities and others to have access and share information, perform business transactions, or create social networks using their just their voices and their telephones opens a whole new world for so many. It's no wonder the government of India gave its highest technology award to the IBM team working on the Spoken Web.



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