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Amidst the VoIP action

Posted on Saturday, Jun 18th 2005

Acquisitions, partnerships, new product announcements – the week has been rife with activity in VoIP and Video-over-IP. Yahoo acquires DialPad. Skype announces vSkype. Needless to say, there will be more activity, as Microsoft and Google ramp up further in the upcoming months. Skype goes to Google?

Michael Dertouzos, former Director of MIT’s Lab for Computer Science (LCS) wrote a book not long before he died: The Unfinished Revolution on the premise of human-centric computing. “Imagine a new breed of counseling exchanges between the rich people of the West, who are often troubled by depression, divorce, and family problems, and the poor people of the East, who seem to counterbalance lack of money with strong family ties and inner peace.”

Julie Landry at Newschools Venture Fund recently sent me this excerpt : “Somit Basak’s tutoring style is hardly unusual. The engineering graduate spices up lessons with games, offers rewards for excellent performance, and tries to keep his students’ interest by linking the math formulas they struggle with to real-life examples they can relate to. Unlike most tutors, however, Mr. Basak lives thousands of miles away from his students – he is a New Delhi resident who goes to work at 6 a.m. so that he can chat with American students doing their homework around dinnertime.

Americans have slowly grown accustomed to the idea that the people who answer their customer-service and computer-help calls may be on the other side of the globe. Now, some students may find their tutor works there, too. While the industry is still relatively tiny, India’s abundance of math and engineering graduates – willing to teach from a distance for far less money than their American counterparts – has made the country an attractive resource for some US tutoring firms.” (Christian Science Monitor)

Take it a step further. VoIP, Video-OIP enables urban doctors treat rural patients in Ashok Jhunjhunwala’s experiments: “Sixty-year old Palaniammal, a resident of Melur, a village 600 kilometres from Chennai, seems like the most unlikely candidate to be endorsing the benefits of information technology. Barely literate, she has hardly stepped out of her village in her lifetime and is as alien to the concept of IT as it can get.

Yet Palaniammal has become an example of how information technology can help lives in rural India. Palaniammal suffered from a problem in her eyes, which could not be cured by the local doctor. Though unable to muster the trip to the town hospital, Palaniammal, however, made it to a Web kiosk down the road in her village. There, pictures of her eyes were clicked with a Webcam and mailed to the reputed Aravind eye hospital in Chennai.

Subsequent to a video-conferencing between the patient in Melur and the doctor in Chennai, and with the help of supporting photographs, the ailment was diagnosed and treatment prescribed. Since then more than 1000 patients in small villages across Chennai have been diagnosed and treated using Web kiosks. Bringing the information technology and its benefits to rural India is one of the biggest challenges for advocates of wider usage of IT in India. About 700 million people live in India’s villages and they have at times no access to education or telephones. But one group, led by Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a professor at the department of electrical engineering in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, is showing how it can be done.”

Three use-cases driving killer-apps of VoIP and Video-OIP. The World Bank and United Nations: next summit with Semel, Schmidt, Yang, Page, Brin, and … Gates, of course!

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