M.I.T. - Media Lab

M. Resnick, A. Pentland

Health Special Interest Group

J. Paradiso, R. Picard,
S. Manalis, A. Pentland

unWired, Unwiring the World

Background: The Rules Have Changed:

When we think of how developing countries can improve their situation we implicitly make many assumptions about how the world works. For instance, most of us unconsciously assume that distance makes communication more difficult, that jobs require going to an office or factory, and that sophisticated technology is expensive. When we compare life in a remote mountain village and life in downtown Manhattan, it seems self-evident that the urban resident will find it easier to obtain internet, fax, and telephone services, sophisticated medical tests, and electronic commerce opportunities. After all, the ability to obtain world-class services and opportunity is why people put up with the stress and expense associated with urban centers.

But these seemingly eternal truths about city versus village are quickly changing. Using digital satellite links and local wireless internet it is can now be cheaper to have first-class communications in the rural village than in Manhattan. Similarly, the tools of digital life --- the computer, the videoconference, the cell phone --- which used to require special rooms and expensive support, are now collapsing into tiny devices that are cheap enough to be carried in the pockets of schoolchildren.

Medical monitoring and diagnosis is also being turned on its head. Once the domain of experts in grand hospitals, sophisticated biomedical sensors are now being packaged as consumer home health aids. This new generation of health aids will make many of the most sophisticated medical tests available to anyone anywhere, and when judiciously combined with telemedicine can provide first-class medical advice and diagnosis anywhere on earth.

Finally, the rise of electronic commerce --- not just businesses on the Web, but the ability to provide business services via telephone, fax, and internet --- means that people in remote locations can now participate as equals in the global economy. Already monks in monasteries, residents of remote islands, and people in sparsely populated regions are finding employment as providers of `back room’ business services such as clerical work, typing, transcription, and document quality control. The work comes to them via digital communication channels, and they can provide less expensive services because of their lower costs.

During the last decade the MIT Media Laboratory has been leading the development of these new technologies, working hand-in-hand with more than 200 industrial partners. We see that for the first time in history there is a real opportunity for people everywhere to have first-class access to education, medicine, business, and the arts, and that this access can be paid for by providing decent, digitally-enabled jobs to the residents of these remote communities. During the last several years, therefore, the Media Laboratory has been looking for partners to help us realize this dream.

J.M. Figueres, A. Cruz,
J. Barrios, A. Pentland

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