My [future] tool: Uliza

I heard the phrase “digital divide” for the first time about six months ago. As someone just sticking their toe in to the larger debate around ICTs, net neutrality, and zero-rating products, it’s been a slightly overwhelming dive down the rabbit hole to say the least. It has also lead me to the tool I’ll be introducing today: Uliza.

What is it?

Uliza, which means “ask” in Swahili, is a telephone service that leverages existing technologies in voice recognition, cloud-computing, and translation to provide access to information for the 4.5 billion people who are off-net or illiterate in a major internet language. It is currently being developed for market in East Africa by a team of graduate students at The Fletcher School, MIT, and UC Berkeley.

How does it work?

Anyone with a phone can call a toll-free number, ask a question in their own language, and receive an answer through an automated service, at no cost.

Caller experience:Uliza caller process Back-end experience:Uliza backend process

Why does it matter?

With only 5% of the world’s languages available on the internet, representing linguistic diversity online continues to be a major challenge. Uliza is one product in growing suite of tools which seek to bridge the information divide between networked and un-networked communities. The original three-person team behind Uliza — who collectively have more than a decade’s worth of experience working in East Africa — chose to roll out Uliza in Kenya due to the high adoption of mobile technology, even among low-income population, growing telecom industry, and a need to scale Swahili-language resources.