Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

The Knight Ridder Equality Award

Allen S. Hammond


Technology: the application of scientific knowl­edge for practical purposes, especially in indus­try – machinery and equipment developed from scientific knowledge.1

Equality: the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.2

The most spirited debate during our delibera­tions about the selection of Laureates in the equality category concerned how the panelists viewed efforts to achieve technological equality.  Is it enough to as­sure that access to a technology becomes more equal? Or, should attempts to achieve technological equality include something more? Should we take into account whether the technology is more readily accessible by a larger number of potential beneficiaries? Certainly our judging rubric contemplates that we will assign a higher value to widespread impact.3 But this guide­line, though helpful, proved insufficient to fully an­swer the questions raised.

Should we consider whether the technology in question provides a platform upon which a com­munity, town, country, or hemisphere might gain bet­ter access to future technologies? For instance, be­tween two applicants, one that extends access to elec­tricity and light technology to regions of the world and one that facilitates reliable online translations between individuals speaking different languages on the Internet, which should be given priority? The first could provide immediate access to needed energy and light technology in an environmentally sound man­ner.  The second could facilitate the ability of those online to speak to one another regardless of their dif­fering native languages. Both are imminently worthy as they address critical access needs. But, in compar­ing the two, which addresses the more critical need?

In its recent United Nations Developmental Programmes (UNDP) document, the United Nations addressed just this issue when it noted that while the world’s access to newer information, pharmaceutical, and agriculture technologies is substantially disparate, its access to older technologies such as electricity are substantially lacking as well.4 Indeed it is argued that “there is no single change in living conditions which is more beneficial than the arrival of electricity––yet 1.7 billion people on our planet are without it.”5

Nevertheless, there is great alarm and con­cern about the widening chasm between the world’s information rich and poor.

United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General Kofi Annan recently said that the Internet is used only by five percent of the world’s population. Some 85 percent of all users and 90 percent of the hosts are in developed countries. Research by University of Maryland professor Ernest J. Wilson III indicates that in 2000, 98 percent of Latin Americans, 99.5 percent of Africans, and about 98 percent of Asians were not connected to the Internet. And the gap is widening. Ac­cess is growing by 23 percent annually in the “have” countries (those mostly in the North­ern Hemisphere, and Australia and New Zealand), but is only growing by 18 percent annually in the “have-not” countries (mostly in the Southern Hemisphere).6

How then do we resolve the potential conflict among applications to advance access to such worthy and critically needed technologies? The first proposal addresses the provision of an older technology that provides the necessary platform [electricity generation] for the introduction of future technologies [computers]. The second requires the existence of the electric­ity necessary to power the computers and access to the networks to which the computers must be attached in order to provide access to the Internet. Only then does the issue of online translation become a matter of equal­ity.  While the recognition of either applicant could result in greater equality of access to technologies be­lieved necessary but currently unavailable to much of the world, one could have a more immediate impact at a more fundamental level and provide the basis for future access. The second, while it would potentially impact more people, can only do so if the first is suc­cessful.

Ultimately, after much debate, this year’s panel made its decision about what it considered technologi­cal equality to entail. In future years, this question is likely to confront other panels as well. For the fore­seeable future, there are likely to be substantial dis­parities in access to both newer and older more estab­lished technologies. There are likely to be older tech­nologies upon which the availability of the newer tech­nologies will rely.  And, it is likely that in some cases, the older technology will be more widely dispersed than the newer one and yet great disparities in access will remain.

The Applications

This year, there were clusters of applications around particular themes, including uses of technol­ogy to:

a. build or continue Web site development/ community enabling projects;

b. develop or maintain computer tele-centers;

c. establish/maintain computer redistribution [one with recycling and refurbishing] programs;

d. build online database development/ management systems;

e. teach computer/information technology skills; and

f. incorporate or identify assistive technology responsive to the needs of the disabled.

While the vast majority of applications iden­tified serious problems that they proposed to address, many did not propose to employ a new technology, apply an existing technology in a new way, or ex­tend technology to a new population. Some appli­cations, while addressing issues of equality at the local, regional or national level, did not appear as likely to have near-term potential for global applica­tions or to be easily replicated at the global level. Finally, a few applications did not present new or novel applications of technology, but rather focused on the use of established technology as a platform for the provision of a service secondary to the technology’s basic functionality.

The Laureates

The five Laureates chosen proposed a new technology, applied an existing technology in novel ways, or extended technology to populations that had not previously enjoyed access. In addition, while clearly addressing serious issues of equality, the tech­nological applications of all the Laureates have the potential for near-term, global application and are easily replicated. The five Laureates are Neil Scott, Archimedes at Stanford, Light Up the World Foun­dation, the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), Transclick and Vcom3D.

Neil Scott, Archimedes at Stanford, Stanford, California

Archimedes at Stanford, led by Dr. Neil Scott is comprised of a multi-disciplinary group of researchers and product developers who seek to ad­vance universal access to information by optimizing the user experience with computer-based technology. The project’s goal is to empower all people, includ­ing those currently disenfranchised, to use technol­ogy and access information in ways that are most natural for them. The project’s platform and soft­ware technology interprets a user’s spoken input and subtle cues such as hand or facial gestures to deter­mine the user’s intent and provides a stand-alone stan­dard interface for computer-based appliances. This removes the necessity for users to learn a set of specific commands to operate information appliances. As a result, it circumvents non-intuitive problems experienced by many users.7

Light Up The World Foundation (LUTW), Alberta, Canada

Currently, in excess of two billion people (ap­proximately one third of the world’s population) around the world have no electricity. 8 Instead, they rely on less healthy and polluting kerosene lamps, candles, wood fires and dung for light at nightfall.9 Since most of these poor live in rural regions of the developing world, it is unlikely that electrical service grids will be extended to them any time soon. And an extension of fossil fuel to these areas would cause fur­ther environmental devastation given the growing cri­sis of greenhouse gas emissions.

The non-profit Light Up The World Founda­tion (LUTW) is dedicated to providing affordable ul-tra-efficient lighting to poor rural villagers with little hope of being connected to the electrical grid. LUTW provides these remote villages with unconventional electrical lighting systems, using high brightness white light emitting diodes (WLEDs), that yield four to six hours of light per evening.10 One watt of power can light ten WLEDs, and nine WLEDs are used per lamp. Thus it is possible to illuminate a rural village with less energy than is used by a single 100-Watt bulb.  In addition, the WLED has a lifespan in excess of 40 years.11

Electrical power is acquired from a variety of generating technologies including solar panels, wind turbines, pedal generators, hydro turbines, and water mills. Pedaling for 30 minutes can charge five batter­ies and produce 20 hours of lighting. Power is stored in rechargeable 12-volt lead acid batteries, such as those used in motorcycles. LUTW has lit up more than 700 homes in Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and other develop­ing countries.12

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), Washington, D.C.

The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a non­profit organization with projects in numerous coun­tries including Brazil, China, and South Africa. SELF’s mission is to light the world without polluting it. To achieve a sustainable , less polluting form of rural elec­trification, SELF created a fundamentally different model premised on small-scale, on-site solar power generation. Photovoltaic systems have added utility because they are quiet, require no fuel, and do not require a sophisticated set of skills to maintain them.13

Transclick, Inc., New York, New York.

Transclick is a for profit corporation seek­ing to alleviate the online language barrier precipi­tated by the fact that 78% of all web sites are still in English even though 92% of the world’s population speaks a language other than English. This discrep­ancy will be exacerbated as more than an estimated 100 million non-English speakers come online in the next five years, resulting in English-based online com­munication declining from an estimated 43% of online traffic to 25% by the year 2006.

As users around the globe have begun to wrestle to understand pages in languages other than their own, the demand for machine translation has increased. And companies establishing Web sites are increasingly cognizant of the need for online machine translation as they acknowledge the need to maintain multiple sites in different countries and serve custom­ers in different languages. For instance, in 1999, thirty-three of the largest firms in the United States main­tained multilingual Web sites; by the year 2000, the number had increased to fifty-seven firms out of the largest one hundred. A recent study conducted by Aberdeen Group, “found that, on average, users spend up to twice as long at a site, and are four times more likely to buy something from it, if it is presented to them in their own language.”14 In another study by IDC, it was reported that “only 5% of the 50 top Web sites responded appropriately to e-mail queries in a foreign language; most simply asked for the mes­sage to be re-sent in English.”15 These findings em­phasize the need and value of online machine transla­tions such as those provided by the technology proposed by transclick.

Vcom3D, Inc., Orlando, Florida

Vcom3D creates software products to meet the needs of the growing e-learning market. Current Vcom3D products include accessibility software for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, providing char­acters communicating in American Sign Language.16 Vcom3D’s software converts annotated English text into real-time, 3-D graphic representations of sign lan­guage. Teachers and computer technology experts have praised the software for its usefulness in adapting the virtual 3D technology used in video games for educa­tional purposes. Vcom3D’s software is used in schools serving deaf students around the U.S.17 The software helps to equalize the opportunities of deaf children to learn language and develop concepts. As has been stated in testimony before Congress:

“Both hearing and deaf children are fully ca­pable of creating and using language even be­fore their first birthday. However, unlike hear­ing children, who are surrounded by speech, children with hearing loss, especially the 90 percent born to hearing parents, frequently miss opportunities to learn language and develop ideas about the world. As a consequence, the acquisition of language skills is often delayed for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. For many, reading and writing English are frustrat­ing experiences. This lack of written English language skills excludes many deaf learners from independent study, including partici­pation in online learning environments and other digital media, resulting in missed oppor­tunities to develop key technology, communi­cation, collaboration, and knowledge building skills alongside their hearing peers. Adding cap­tions which are English text does not provide access to these individuals.”18

While much of the current educational software teaches through the use of voice communication, Vcom3D’s technology has been hailed as one of the first compelling uses of computer animation technol­ogy to benefit learners with hearing loss who some­times struggle with conventional voice-based educa­tion systems.19   Clearly Vcom3D’s technology ad­dresses a compelling need, thereby facilitating greater equality.


The applications for this year’s award cov­ered a wide range of technologies for uses in improv­ing equality through online communities and data­bases, improved technology access and education, and technology assistance for disadvantaged groups. While all the applications addressed important prob­lems, the Laureates demonstrated innovation and im­pact through developing a new technology or apply­ing an existing technology in a new way or for a new population. •

The Panel

Allen S. Hammond, Chair, Professor of Law, and Director, BroadBand Institute of California, Santa Clara University

Christine Bachen, Associate Professor of Communi­cation, Santa Clara University

Hans-Peter Dommel, Assistant Professor of Com­puter Engineering, Santa Clara University

Brian Fitzgerald, Head, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Sue Kwon, Business and Technology Reporter, KPIX Television (San Francisco)

Steve Puthuff, Chairman, Sybersay Communica­tions, and Chairman and CEO, ICE Interactive Corporation

Notes and References

1 The New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford Uni­versity Press, 2000), 1742.

2 Ibid, 573.

3 We are required to judge based on the significance and seriousness of the problem or challenge addressed by the technology [Problem Identification]. In addi­tion we must assess the level of contribution [Evidence of Contribution].

4 “[It] will be an uphill battle to ensure that access to technology is more democratic and that it benefits the poor, according to the UNDP document.  Technologi­cal breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals and agriculture and the development of the Internet are currently con­centrated in just a few countries. They represent ef­forts that are nearly always geared toward dealing with problems that are unrelated to the world’s poor coun­tries. For example, “only 10 percent of global health research focuses on the illnesses that constitute 90 per­cent of the global disease burden.” And while 54.3 percent of the population of the United States has ac­cess to the Internet, in the rest of the world, where, for example, it could represent an important tool for dis­tance learning, just 6.7 percent of the population has access, according to the Human Development Report 2001.

There are even older technologies that have not yet reached the poor. Electricity distribution services, which have existed for more than 100 years, continue to be beyond the reach of one-third of the world’s popula­tion. Furthermore, there are two billion people who do not have access to essential low-cost medicines, includ­ing penicillin.” Diego Cevallos, “Development: Tech­nology Could Combat––or Worsen––Poverty,” Inter Press Service, (July 10, 2001).

5 “The only people who think that the provision of elec­tricity is not a priority in poverty alleviation are those who have never been without it. In fact, there is no single change in living conditions which is more beneficial than the arrival of electricity––yet 1.7 billion people on our planet are without it. Renewable technologies, in par­ticular, offer huge opportunities to reduce that figure. We have to think small as well as big. For many mil­lions in Africa, linkage to a grid will be a possibility but local generation using the most appropriate available technologies is equally important… Access to energy un­derpins the three pillars of sustainable development: eco­nomic growth, social development and environmental protection.” United Kingdom Energy Minister, Brian Wilson.  “Energy Has Crucial Role in Poverty Battle Wilson Tells Africa Energy Forum,” Hermes Database, (Department of Trade and Industry, July 1, 2002).

6 Wally W. Conhaim. “The Global Digital Divide Infor­mation,” (Today, 18:7 July 1, 2001) Section 7, 1.

7 “The problem with too many information appliances is that using them is anything but intuitive. Learning how to use them takes too long, their actual use is too complex, and, for elderly and disabled people, it’s often impossible. What is unique about [Project Archimedes’] accessibility platform is that it can empower everyone, regardless of individual needs, abilities, and prefer­ences, to conveniently benefit from not only those ap­pliances currently in our homes, schools, offices, and public places but also those under development and as yet to be imagined.” “Dejima and Stanford Uni­versity Make Interacting With Computers as Easy as Talking to People,” Business Wire (March 19, 2002).

8 Of the two billion people without electricity, it is es­timated that as many as a billion of them have the means to pay for power.  Many of them spend $5 to $10 a month on kerosene, almost exclusively for lights. Solar power, of course, has many more uses, and by amortizing the start-up costs over perhaps five years, the total cash outlay is about the same. David Lipshultz, “Solar Power Is Reaching Where Wires Can’t,” The New York Times (September 9, 2001) Section 3, page 4, column 1.

9  Pamela Kufahl. “Electric Payoff in the Third World,” Utility Business, (October 2001), 10.

10 Calgary Technologies Inc. “Calgary Companies Help Bridge the Digital Divide at Home and Abroad,” Canadian Corporate Newswire, (June 20, 2002).

11 Ibid

12 Ibid

13 [while] the initial costs for the solar systems are high, running a minimum of $500 a household for solar pan­els and batteries. Governments or local utilities often help subsidize the systems. Non-profit groups such as Solar Electric Light Fund… also fund photovoltaic projects. The International Finance Corp. has invested $30 million in solar projects for developing countries.

Once installation costs are taken care of, the monthly costs for the photovoltaic systems are competitive with other off-grid power, running about 18 cents a kilo-watt-hour. For households that spend between $5 and $10 a month for kerosene to run batteries that may light one light bulb, the photovoltaic systems can of­ten power up to 250 watts, enough for several light bulbs and electrical appliances. Pamela Kufahl. “Elec­tric Payoff in the Third World,” Utility Business, (Oc­tober 2001) 10.

14 “Tongues of the Web,” The Economist Technology Quarterly (March 16, 2002) U.S. Edition.

15 Ibid

16 “Full-body figures translate textual input into sign language. The user can control figure orientation, speed of motion, and character selection. As they interact with the user, these characters express emotions through facial expressions and related gestures. Prod­ucts illustrate words in sign language, and also present words in the context of complete sentences, signed online or on CD-ROMs by one of a selection of ani­mated characters. Vcom3D products have been awarded the prestigious Golden Lasso ‘Best Overall’ and ‘Best in Education’ awards in the Web3D RoundUP held at Siggraph, the premier computer graphics conference.” “Vcom3D, Inc. to Present at Florida Innovation 2001,” PR Newswire (October 8, 2001).

17 Statement of Carol J. Wideman President & CEO Vcom3D, Inc. before the House Science Committee Subcommittee on Research on Innovation in Informa­tion Technology, Beyond Faster Computers and Higher Bandwidth, Innovation in Information Technology, Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Tes­timony, (July 31, 2001).

18 Ibid

19 “Hearing Loss: Animated 3-D Boosts Deaf Educa­tion,” Health & Medicine Week, (March 19, 2001),10.

About the Author

  Allen Hammond

Allen S. Hammond is Professor of Law at Santa Clara University’s School of Law. He is also Director of the recently developed BroadBand In­stitute of California. Professor Hammond is a graduate of Grinnell Col­lege (B.A. 1972), the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania (M.A. 1977), and the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania School of Law (J.D. 1975). He has held a variety ofpositions in the private and public sec­tors, including Attorney and Program Manager at the National Telecommuni­cations and Information Administration; General Counsel for WJLA-TV; Consult­ant and Lecturer at Howard University; Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Syracuse University; Senior Attorney, Media Access Project; Senior Attorney at MCI Communications Corporation/ Satellite Business Systems; and Asso­ciate General Counsel at MCI Commu­nications Corporation. He has published extensively on media regulation and in­formation technology topics.

Printer-friendly format