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