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Searching Google, Where Internet Access is Scarce 130

Posted by timothy
from the guessing-isn't-quite-a-substitute dept.
Internet searching means that finding information mundane, obscure, or fantastically useful is just a few keystrokes away — but not if you're without a connection to the Internet (or can't read), both the norm for many of the world's poor. itwbennett writes "Rose Shuman developed a contraption for this under-served population called Question Box that is essentially a one-step-removed Internet search: 'A villager presses a call button on a physical intercom device, located in their village, which connects them to a trained operator in a nearby town who's sitting in front of a computer attached to the Internet. A question is asked. While the questioner holds, the operator looks up the answer on the Internet and reads it back. All questions and answers are logged. For the villager there is no keyboard to deal with. No complex technology. No literacy issues.' This week, Jon Gosier, of Appfrica, launched a web site called World Wants to Know that displays the QuestionBox questions being asked in real time. As Jon put it, it's allowing 'searching where Google can't.' And providing remarkable insight into the real information needs of off-the-grid populations."
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Searching Google, Where Internet Access is Scarce

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  • If the connection between the intercom and the operator is good enough for voice, that is good enough of a bit rate for googling things. Then just putting a computer there will make things much more efficient. (you won't have to hire a operator, for one thing)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I guess you missed the part about these people being illiterate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rm999 (775449)

        I can search google using just voice detection on my iPhone (and it works remarkably well). Then, the iPhone can read everything back to me. If a blind person can use an iPhone to search Google, an illiterate person can too. If an illiterate person can use an iPhone, they should be able to use a desktop computer.

        I'm not sure how good Google's Hindi voice detection is, but I'm just saying it is theoretically possible.

        • by siloko (1133863)

          but I'm just saying it is theoretically possible.

          The whole point of the exercise is that it is not just theoretically possible it is actually being done on the ground. Handing out iPhones to folk in the bush isn't gonna happen soon whereas this experiment is up and running and not only providing a useful resource to those outside the technical revolution but also providing an insight into their concerns and interests . . .

          • by rm999 (775449)

            It's not just theoretically possible, voice recognition/speech synthesizing technology is very mature, and has been for years. It can run on cheap hardware with decent accuracy.

            Anyway, this exercise appears highly impractical to me - remember that it is not actually being done on a wide scale yet, so it is still somewhat theoretical.

            • Um, I thought part of the point here was that the Question Box is servicing areas otherwise totally off-grid ... which would kinda make having an iPhone an expensive exercise in futility (hint -- the back of the bush tends not to have much cell phone service, even here in North America [I have choppy reception at best]).

              iPhones aside, and answering your specific point about voice recognition, any VR-based Googling system would still require the users to be literate in how best to phrase their Google quer

              • by rm999 (775449)

                Please go through the thread you are replying to. The original poster pointed out that the phone/radio service being used for communication could be used to transmit data. I pointed out that the iPhone can do something well, so a cheap computer should also be able to do it. This has nothing to do with sending iPhones to remote villages in India and hoping they somehow find a cell signal.

                And Google is pretty decent at parsing real world questions. For specialized common queries, bookmarks could be set up (fo

                • I pointed out that the iPhone can do something well, so a cheap computer should also be able to do it. This has nothing to do with sending iPhones to remote villages in India and hoping they somehow find a cell signal.

                  Fair enough, and my comment was out of turn, really.

                  And Google is pretty decent at parsing real world questions. For specialized common queries, bookmarks could be set up (for example, push this button with a cricket player on it if you want to know the results of today's cricket matches).

                  Th

        • by woodchip (611770)
          You really think a blind person can use an iphone? the iphone has to be the least blind-friendly phone in the existence of the human race. I guess your voice-search might be useful for the blind if it was the only app on the iphone and the iphone was set to boot straight into that app.
      • And they are also poor, so how will they pay for the phone call?

        And the first question they ask the operator: "Is there food and/or water and/or shelter available where you are?"

        • by tsa (15680)

          Not everyone in Africa is starving and homeless. In fact, most people there do have a roof above their heads, and food.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Swizec (978239)

      If the connection between the intercom and the operator is good enough for voice, that is good enough of a bit rate for googling things. Then just putting a computer there will make things much more efficient. (you won't have to hire a operator, for one thing)

      And it still won't solve the other requirement, which is making it useful to people who can't read, let alone use a computer.

      Just how DO you teach a (practically) stone-age tribesman to use a computer?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by siloko (1133863)

        And it still won't solve the other requirement, which is making it useful to people who can't read

        or the electricity or the cooling or the reliability or the wtf is this or the pr0n over narrowband frustrations which inevitably will follow. I see this innovation as a good idea and the final sentence is the clincher for me - it is interesting to see what they search for - how our species has diverged through the random inequalities of resource provision . . .

        • by rohan972 (880586)

          it is interesting to see what they search for - how our species has diverged through the random inequalities of resource provision

          or if the inequalities of resource provision are partially caused by the things people search for. Come to think of it, if it were possible it would be interesting to get an search pattern in relation to income within western countries. I would presume search terms similar to "course enrolment" would represent a higher income bracket than search terms like "Paris Hilton", but it would be interesting to see a comprehensive study.

          Possibly, if someone was to adopt the search patterns of the wealthier, and f

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153)

        Just how DO you teach a (practically) stone-age tribesman to use a computer?

        You teach his kids (or better yet, let them teach themselves [youtube.com]), and let them help him out. Hell, that's the way it happened in North America for the most part. My parents are relatively computer-savvy, but not nearly as much as their children. And my grandparents can't even program an answering machine. When they need something technical, they seek help from the younger generations.

      • by intx13 (808988) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:27PM (#28663363) Homepage

        Just how DO you teach a (practically) stone-age tribesman to use a computer?

        Stone age tribesman? Take a look at the questions they're asking: who is on top on football, popular NBA players, info on the Obamas, quality of life in different regions of Uganda, the causes of sexual health problems, transmission of diseases, etc. They live in an underdeveloped country, but that doesn't mean they're underdeveloped people.

        If a service like this could be sustained long-term and made accessible to more people, I think this could be a great tool. In particular, the questions about conflicting religions and sexual health are striking - there's a lot of ignorance about health, religion, and science in Africa... but that ignorance is a reflection of the state of region, not the willfull behavior of the people. Access to the Internet can provide an "out" for those that want to learn but have limited options in their village.

        • Stone age tribesman? Take a look at the questions they're asking...

          I am. I'm seeing the same thing AC [slashdot.org] is seeing.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by Swizec (978239)
          They live in tribes and use stone-age technology. That makes them stoneage tribesmen, no matter the cause. It doesn't matter why they live in such conditions, but if nobody would recognise them as such, nobody would help them improve their technological savvy.
          • by jgrahn (181062) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:00PM (#28663627)

            They live in tribes and use stone-age technology. That makes them stoneage tribesmen, no matter the cause. It doesn't matter why they live in such conditions, but if nobody would recognise them as such, nobody would help them improve their technological savvy.

            Stone-age? I'm guessing they have at least the same stuff my grandfather had before he bought the Massey-Ferguson and got rid of the horse in 1956. That's approximately 3,000 years after the stone age ended around here ...

            • by Swizec (978239)
              That's an interesting question actually. When does a culture stop being stone-age? When colonizers share some of their technology, or when they can actually get to it on their own or through international trade agreements?

              Far as I know, a lot of africa still uses spears and houses made out of excrement ... and there's an odd beat-up car here and there that looks like it's been forgotten by a rich plantation owner in the 1950's.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by quanticle (843097)

                The question is made more difficult by the fact that Stone-Age is not being used in the strict archaeological sense, but as a shorthand to describe any civilization where the level of technology available to the average person is more than a certain number of years behind ours. I would be willing to be that these "stone-age tribesmen" have access to smithing knowledge, which would instantly disqualify them from the strict definition of "stone-age".

              • When does a culture stop being stone-age?

                A culture's stone age [wikipedia.org] ends once it gains technology to shape metal. Then it proceeds to an iron age [wikipedia.org], which lasts until literacy becomes widespread. Some cultures in areas with copper and tin ores have a bronze age [wikipedia.org] between the stone age and the iron age; others skip it.

          • They live in tribes and use stone-age technology.

            Stone-age technology such as intercoms?

            And everybody lives in tribes, some people's tribes are just hundreds of millions strong. We are pack animals.

        • I agree. I bet most people down there are, even if not as much educated, still more intelligent, as many people here.

          Because they have to. While we can just whine that life is to hard, and that we demand that someone wipes our ass. ^^

    • by ZackSchil (560462) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @04:50PM (#28663041)
      Not everyone can read. Not everyone can work a computer. A simple voice connection has a much lower barrier to entry. Plus, hiring one operator for several villages is a lot cheaper than sending out and maintaining several computers in areas where there might not even be power. A voice connection can run on a crank.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A voice connection can run on a crank.

        whereas it takes thousands of cranks to run slashdot.

    • by MWoody (222806) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @04:53PM (#28663079)

      1) The box requires less overall and less constant power.
      2) An analog communications channel is much less difficult to implement over possibly unreliable wires. Let the human brain handle the error correction (static).
      3) Much cheaper than installing and servicing a computer.
      4) Employs local people.
      5) Doesn't require the user to be literate.
      6) Doesn't require the user to know how to use a computer, what the Internet is, what google is, etc. Just ask your question and get an answer.

        etc etc etc

    • by tsj5j (1159013)
      Things may be different where you are, but there ARE places with people who are poor in rural areas. There ARE also people who are illiterate (can speak, can't read, fyi). Whilst (nearly) everyone who needs to search will have access to a telephone or at least a payphone, the same cannot be said of computers. And telephone companies aren't willing to configure an internet connection (even dialup, maybe?) for such low demand. This is a decent idea, but there must be sufficient publicity first. For those wh
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      just putting a computer there

      Computers cost a lot more than phones. There may be no room, no reliable power supply. No one to look after it. How long woud a PC last if unsupervised in a public place -- even if not stolen, it wold be trashed or unusable in a short time. And many parts of Africa have only mobile access, via shared mobile phones. Maybe as cheap smartphones become a commodity they can be used for this.

    • You're dealing with an upside down world there. Operators are cheap, computers are expensive. Add to this that something "good enough" for voice com isn't necessarily good enough for data com ("Hello *crackle* I'd like to *static*, could you look up fo*crackle, faint humming in the background for the next 10 seconds* me...") and you might see why this is actually a pretty good idea.

  • for who wants to be a millionaire.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... but I'd be willing to wager the 'poor people' referred to by the OP have far more pressing questions that a device such as this one is basically useless for, like "What the hell am I going to eat today?".

    In fairness, I'd say that this device is more of a novelty. From their website:

    "The users ask a wide range of questions, including cricket scores, paddy farming advice, codes to download songs on their mobiles, homework questions, University exam results, train schedules, commodity prices, and where to

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      Oddly, the people using the service may not think it is useless.

      Now, if you think the well-heeled feel gooders made up those questions, that's a different thing.

    • by tsalmark (1265778) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:06PM (#28663171) Homepage
      A number of those questions are pressing to these people. Paddy farming seems obvious to me. Train schedules, well, it is probably best to arrive at the train station on the right day, so as not to waste a week waiting for the train. knowing Commodity prices would also be fairly important for making farm decisions. I am generally suspicious of high tech going in places where it would be over kill, but I don;t think this is one of those times. This does seem like it is a good match of effort spent /value provided
      • And just as pressing are answers to questions like who killed who in Way of the Dragon! :-D Oh wait, that's a different service? Oops!
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can't see any practical use the a farmer would have for "paddy farming advice... train schedules, commodity prices, or personal loans"!

      If we've learned one thing in Africa, it's that dropping a bunch of 'better agricultural tools' into a remote village works for about a year until they break. The people need access to information so they can learn about the tools and develop their own. Imagine dropping a computer off at Grandma's house and saying "this should make your life MUCH easier" and then leavin

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @08:18PM (#28664473) Journal

      Honestly, while I think these 'feel-good' devices are a fantastic way for their creators and their well-heeled supporters to feel like 'they're making a difference', ultimately they're pretty much worthless in general practice.

      I used to feel the same way when reading about the proliferation of cell phones in rural areas in African countries. The last thing they need is those bloody expensive luxury items, right? But, as it turns out, cell phones provide a similar and highly useful type of service, and allows people in out of the way areas to get information on farming and diseases, food and crop prices at various markets. Already this is changing the way food is grown and sold.

      And what is so bad about finding out about train schedules? Who wants to waste 3 days waiting after missing a train? People moving crops or who are otherwise working hard to feed a family can't afford to waste those three days, probably less so than you or me. Personal loans? Unlike loans in the West, these will probably not go towards a down payment on an SUV or a swimming pool, but more likely will be spent on essential farming tools, or perhaps as seed capital for a small business. That's what this microcredit stuff is all about... I think it's great if a tool like this makes such efforts available to a wider audience.

      Providing tools and seeds rarely helps and often destroys local markets. That is the real "feel good" stuff. There are many of such fancy and widely applauded aid programmes... please go see what became of similar programmes that were implemented 10 years ago. Broken pumps, broken tractors that cannot be repaired locally, once immaculate white school buildings, still waiting for those first teachers and those first books, pencils and blackboards to arrive. That's what you will find.

      Real aid is helping people to help themselves. Access to information might seem unimportant to developing nations but it has already been proven to be a game changer right down to local villagers. Don't expect them to ask only earth-shatteringly insightful questions through this thing either, and certainly do not berate them for using it for entertainment purposes as well. These are people like you and me, not some hunger-crazed wretches scratching in the dirt for food with no time for anything else. Moyo said it best when she said: "If you see an African on TV, it's either a fly-ridden victim of famine or war, or.... it's Nelson Mandela". That is the image that we need to lose... sadly it is precisely that image which fuels the industry called "aid"

      • by nsayer (86181)

        Unlike loans in the West, these will probably not go towards a down payment on an SUV or a swimming pool, but more likely will be spent on essential farming tools, or perhaps as seed capital for a small business.

        So, it's easy to pooh-pooh the 1st world's spending habits, but you don't have to go too far back in time to see that that sort of spending has benefits too.

        Not too long ago, Congress passed a luxury tax on expensive boats (among other things). That tax put 25,000 people out of work [boattest.com]. That tax was eventually repealed once the plight of the marine industry and its workers came to the attention of Congress.

        There are exactly 3 things you can do with money:

        1. Spend it. In which case, the goods and services you b

    • by rohan972 (880586)

      .. but I'd be willing to wager the 'poor people' referred to by the OP have far more pressing questions that a device such as this one is basically useless for, like "What the hell am I going to eat today?".

      How about, how am I going to eat in 3 months, next year. Some of the poorest people are subsistence farmers, they "budget" by the year, not the day, planting crops in the growing season, harvesting in season, allocating a portion of the harvest for personal consumption, a portion for re-planting, what's left is available for sale. Such people would tend to be considerably more forward thinking than many western wage earners who only think as far as next weeks paycheque.

      "The users ask a wide range of questions, including cricket scores, paddy farming advice, codes to download songs on their mobiles, homework questions, University exam results, train schedules, commodity prices, and where to get a personal loan."

      Can you spot any searches there that

  • by maharg (182366) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @04:52PM (#28663069) Homepage Journal

    I suppose we could call this 'speaker net'.

  • by tonyr60 (32153) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:15PM (#28663253)

    My parents and partner use this sort of service all the time, I am the one at the end of the voice communication network. Kids also use it when lazy.

    • My parents and partner use this sort of service all the time, I am the one at the end of the voice communication network. Kids also use it when lazy.

      So you are saying they use the intercom to the basement?

  • useful everywhere (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    back when i spent some time living in Lawrence, KS the local Uni (KU) had a 24/7 help desk line. it was entirely useful if not entirely necessary, and much appreciated when other avenues of information gathering failed or were not available.

  • Villagers used to come to him, give a small offering, ask a question, and get some advice.

    Now the villagers go to the box that the government provided. This is a direct attack on his power.

    Want to bet that these boxes will be blamed for next year's poor harvest?

    No matter how primitive, people fight like hell to have a monopoly on information and power. More developed nations play the same game at a different level.

    • Maybe, but the village elder doesn't have any better access to the train schedule than the other villagers, or to information about which nearby market town is currently offering a higher price for millet. This service clearly outclasses him for questions of this type. If he is at all smart, he won't try to compete on this basis. He'll restrict himself to the topics on which he is better than google, say advice about how to approach your girlfriend's parents or what you should plant in which field.

    • by lokedhs (672255)
      What if you gave the box to the elder? That way he'd still be relaying the information?
    • What do you want to bet that the elder has that magical talking box in his hut now and speaks to the ancients that way instead of dancing for trance?

      Just to stay in your "primitive savages" parallel. Ya know, even Africa managed to get out of the times that we happen to see on National Geographics every now and then...

  • Goatse (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Person: "Operator, what is Goatse?"
    Operator: "Please hold"

    *4 seconds later*

    Operator: "AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH"

  • I believe they also take phone requests.

    • by cathector (972646)

      indeed. just 1-800-2-cha-cha from a cell phone and leave a voice message with your question. any question. you usually get an answer in like two minutes or so. i believe it's powered by farming the voice-to-text-converted Qs out to extremely bored folks who then search google. i think you eventually can earn a bit of money if your answers are consistently 'good'. i like to ask things like "how do i weigh my own boob" or "who's the fairest of them all" or "who's cooler, cathector or cmdr taco" or "how do i d

  • by rueger (210566) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @05:54PM (#28663593) Homepage
    In most Canadian cities you can just call your local public library [www.vpl.ca] with a simple question and they'll look it up for you.

    Yeah, libraries are so pre-digital.
  • Your answer will be read after you listen to this short advertisement. You know it's just a matter of time.
  • "OK then operator, my friend was telling me about this electronic goats thingy-mah-whatsit, I believe he called them EGoats.. or.. Goats-E. Yeah that's it, could you describe to me what one of these Goats-e's look like please?"
  • This could be fun, imagine for a moment:
    person: what is the meaning of life?
    operator: 42
    person Takes the word of operator as gospal, due to the lack of a certain book, concequently spewing false beliefs around a village. Who is going to stop the information from being read out of context?
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) * on Saturday July 11, 2009 @06:50PM (#28663975)
    Looking at the questions they're asking, there's obviously a problem here the people asking the questions have no idea what the internet is like, so they don't know what to ask or how to ask it. They don't have the concept of what kind of information you can get off the internet or how you go about finding and vetting it.

    For example,

    2295. what are the best varieties of beans to plant

    This is the sort of thing that, traditionally, first-world countries have bureaus of agriculture, county extension services, and agriculture departments at local learning institutions that help farmers with this tricky question. You need information on varieties suited to specific soil, climate and resistant to local pests and diseases and drought, and the question isn't going to gain useful results without more specificity- ie, "best" for what. The advice that comes up in Google offers information primarily aimed at amateur summer gardeners in northern climates trying to grow tasty summer vegetables, rather than equatorial hardy macro-nutrient providing staples. It takes some serious google-fu to arrive at results that are probably useful to this questioner, and you don't get them by entering his question verbatim. When I started Googling things like "bean equatorial resistant hybrid -cocoa -coffee" I started getting some interesting results, but it would still take a while to sort through that stuff and come up with real information on what beans are best-bets wherever he lives. I can't imagine him ending up with useful information off of this Google phone line though. It takes an experienced researcher to find this stuff on Google.

    For this sort of thing, the best thing you could probably do with Google is figure out who he should actually be talking to. That is, I Googled "helping african farmers," which led me to Farm Africa. [farmafrica.org.uk] There's probably someone working for them who he could talk to who could really help him out.

    This is just one example I went in depth on, but most of the questions are of this nature. For the questions that can be answered easily online, it seems like nine out of ten, the answer is on Wikipedia. I think these people are envisioning the internet as being much more organized, authoritative, and encyclopedic than it is. They have very practical questions, as might be expected from rural, undeveloped areas, and Google is not well designed to provide them with answers to many of them. I wonder to what extent these operators might have already been trained, or might be additionally trained, to hook these people up with non-Google provided information. From what I'm seeing, a huge number of questions could be answered much more effectively if there were any way to provide these people with access to briefly speak to a doctor (or at least a nurse or someone who can answer basic health questions) or an agricultural specialist.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by WAG24601G (719991)

      I began wondering about this same problem as several questions were distinctly medical (and sounded pretty urgent!). The good news is that QuestionBox is trying to recruit medical professionals to assist with these calls (can't find the link now, but it was on the QuestionBox website).

      I'm sure there are plenty of $topic_of_interest geeks out there who would love to volunteer a bit of their time in this sort of capacity, and being telephone-based it's a highly distributable service. Of course, nothing beat

      • That idea isn't the worst, to be honest. I could well see "agriculture day" and "economy day" and whatnot, where the relevant experts take your questions.

        Make a talk radio show out of it and finance it with ads and you're set.

    • by watergeus (877271)

      I think the idea is wonderful.
      And you could be an excellent consultant.

    • by Phroggy (441)

      Google isn't designed to answer questions, it's designed to find web sites. People get this confused, because quite often when you search for a question, Google will find a page that contains the answer, but as you've demonstrated, for a lot of question types that's not going to be the case.

      But of course, that's why this sort of experiment is good: by logging all the questions, we can see how people want to use a service like this, and can see that providing access to people who are knowledgeable about ag

    • There is actually a service for this in Sweden, where a company has made it possible for anyone to send a text message to a certain number, where an "expert" (read: trained Googler) answers everything in his/her answer (also by SMS). I have not looked up if there's any audible operator available for the same task, but there certainly would be if the larger market asked for it.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The operator is not just googling the answer. They now how to route specific kinds of questions. They have knowledge databases tailored for local needs. You can look for details on questionbox's homepage.

  • I know this is just a project in its infancy, and given [allafrica.com] the recent intimacy [globalization-africa.org] of Uganda-Chinese relations [china.org.cn], would a Googlebox built in by Chinese contractor be able to look up topics like Democracy or demonstration? Question Box has powerful potential; i wonder how vulnerable the box answers are to coercion, and whether deployment will be hindered by increasing foreign influence.

  • Searching Google, Where Internet Access is Scarce

    If Google's having trouble getting internet access, I wonder how Yahoo's holding up...

  • That's weird, considering they're an internet services company...
  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted @ s l a s h d ot.org> on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:11PM (#28664895)

    People are not even remotely as dumb as this paints them!

    One experiment shows that nicely: Someone set up a tablet PC with an Internet connection on a wall of an Indian slum, some years ago.
    After some weeks, they were browsing the web, watching videos on Youtube, etc.

    Interestingly, being that supportive of stupidity is more a "civilized world" thing.
    If you're stupid in some hard place like a slum, in the middle of Africa, or on the mountains of South America, you won't get far. But this does not mean that people will not get far. It means that they expect themselves to come up with a solution, because they have to.

    While here when we fail, we get a support here, a help there, and an assistance to wipe our asses. And naturally we begin to also expect it. I know so many people who just state that they are dumb. Because then someone else helps them, and life is easy. This is efficient *for them*, so why not?

    But in these remote areas, I recommend just putting a very sturdy computer with Internet access in a room, so that it can not break or get dirty that quick, and then let people play with it. Let them try it out.
    I'd bet money that before your know it, they will know how to use that thing, and get out of it what they want.
    You will watch things, like a kid playing with it all day long, and the parents and friends then asking if the kid could find something for them. Etc.

    I have trust in humanity, because of one simple fact: When life is hard, we excel in coming up with solutions that help us survive. And we hold that skill up very high, in so many movies, games, stories, etc, etc, etc.

  • "Desk Set [wikipedia.org]," with Hepburn and Tracy. I suspect it's no different in 2009: trained reference experts answer the questions, and Google is just their new stack of reference books. Somewhere Hepburn and Tracy are smiling.
  • This won't work. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by w0mprat (1317953) on Saturday July 11, 2009 @10:44PM (#28664981)
    Seriously though, if some villager wanted the latest tweet from Stephen Fry read to them verbatim, then this would be great.

    In the real world, a villager with no first hand knowledge of what the internet is and what it can do, will ask a question assuming it's going to be like some kind of oracle...
    Villager: "So, how do I fix blight on my crops, and my cattle are sick too, what's wrong with them?"
    [operator puts this into google now]
    Operator: erm ... google has news articel blight is threatening tomato crops in rhode island .. i found a list of five top crops for a pacific northwest vegetable garden ... oh here we go: high-grain fee may produce illness prone cattle... yeah... um... you want me to read the abstract to you?"
    Villager: *confused* "Um i'll just ask the witchdocter instead then..."
    Operator: "yeah ... sorry"
    • That's why you need "smart" operators that can turn a question from a villager who has no idea how the internet works into an internet compatible question that will yield meaning- and useful answers. And that's also why just putting a computer in every village will eventually lead to what you just wrote.

      The operators would have to have some training and would have to know how the internet works. They would have to know a few relevant webpages for the questions at hand. Just typing blindly into the google se

  • Do you remember a decade and a half past, when you had to unfold a map for directions, tune in at 9 o'clock for the news and open the Yellow Pages for a phone number? Do you remember when you had to travel to the library and read a book to settle a debate about whether Genghis Khan reigned in the 12th or 13th century? The tools we have at our disposal today are incredibly powerful. We take them for granted. Imagine living in a place where, forget the internet, there is no 9 o'clock news. And the librar
  • Seeing no one else has, I should link to how our forebears managed [fury.com] at the time of Mad Men.

  • "Hello operator, I heard Megan Fox had a nipple slip..."

  • I suspect the #1 question will wind up being, "What are you wearing?"

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