Researchers At Microsoft In India Work To Connect Everyone

Two young, computer science researchers at Microsoft Research India are taking on a very ambitious project. They want to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban areas in India so that people in remote villages can access information using IRV.

There are approximately 900 million people in India using mobile phones, but only around 120 million of them use their phones to access the internet. One of the problems is that many of the people in the remote areas are unable to understand and send short messages from their cell phones.

IRV, or Interactive Voice Response, systems have been around for a couple of decades. They allow computers to interact directly with telephone callers through pre-recorded voice prompts and menus. What's new with the project, called "IRV Junction", that researchers Bill Thies and Aditya Vashista are working on, is that it will allow remote users who post voice messages to be accessed by users anywhere who have smartphones of laptops, creating a two-way communication path.

The project would allow the creations of forums similar to Facebook or Twitter on which users in the remote areas could communicate, and get messages to other areas around the world without making international calls.

IVR Junction, which is a free and open-source software, is currently being used across governments in three countries across two continents, most notably in conflict zone Somaliland in Africa.