Technology for Developing Regions



Eric Brewer, University California, Berkeley

Date and Time

February 11, 2010 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Wallenberg Theater

FSI Contact

Kathleen Barcos

The historic focus of development has rightfully been on macroeconomics and good governance, but technology has an increasingly large role to play.  In this talk, I review several novel technologies that we have deployed in India and Africa, and discuss the challenges and opportunities of this new subfield of EECS research.  Working with the Aravind Eye Hospital, we currently supporting doctor/patient videoconferencing in 30 rural villages; more than 25,000 people have had their blindness cured due to these exams.

Dr. Brewer focuses on all aspects of Internet-based systems, including technology, strategy, and government.  As a researcher, he has led projects on scalable servers, search engines, network infrastructure, sensor networks, and security. His current focus is (high) technology for developing regions, with projects in India, Ghana, and Uganda among others, and including communications, health care, education, and e-government.

In 1996, he co-founded Inktomi Corporation with a Berkeley grad student based on their research prototype, and helped lead it onto the NASDAQ 100 before it was bought by Yahoo! in March 2003.

In 2000, he founded the Federal Search Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization focused on improving consumer access to government information. Working with President Clinton, Dr. Brewer helped to create, the official portal of the Federal government, which launched in September 2000.

He was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering for leading the development of scalable servers (early cloud computing), and also received the ACM Mark Weiser award for 2009.  He received an MS and Ph.D. in EECS from the MIT, and a BS in EECS from UC Berkeley. He was named a "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum, by the Industry Standard as the "most influential person on the architecture of the Internet", by InfoWorld as one of their top ten innovators, by Technology Review as one of the top 100 most influential people for the 21st century (the "TR100"), and by Forbes as one of their 12 "e-mavericks", for which he appeared on the cover.

Summary of the Seminar
Eric Brewer is Professor of Computer Science at the University of California Berkeley where he leads the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) research group.

Dr. Brewer spoke about the role for technology in effective development strategies at the base of the pyramid.

The history of development to date has been characterized by large agencies funding big projects with strings attached, usually in the form of debt or demands for political allegiance. These kinds of projects are hampered by their scale and the requirement to work with corrupt governments. They typically include little role for new technology as projects move slowly and lack the expertise to facilitate this.

Outside the sphere of traditional development, technology is having a major impact on economic prosperity. The mobile phone revolution, driven by bottom up demand, provides enormous advantages to any worker operating in a large radius. A taxi driver given a mobile phone, for example, will increase his revenue by 60% on average. Other bottom-up businesses have seen major success. The Village Phone scheme, which runs as a franchise model with capital coming from microfinance, now covers the majority of Bangladeshi villages. A village phone lady will make on average two times the income she would have done from farming.

However, the mobile phone remains a largely urban phenomenon since cellular networks require a certain density of users before they can economically justify the installation of a base station. The availability of an internet connection is crucial for the viability of businesses and services in rural areas.  WiFi-based Long Distance networks (WiLDNet) are emerging as a potential low-cost alternative to traditional connectivity solutions for rural regions. Unlike mesh networks, which use omni-directional antennas to cater to short ranges, WiLD networks are comprised of point-to-point wireless links that use directional antennas with line of sight over long distances.

Eric's Berkeley research team has partnered with Aravind Eye Hospital in Theni in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu to use this technology to address the problem of blindness in the region, 70% of which is treatable. The long-distance wireless network they have installed is allowing eye specialists to interview and examine patients in five remote clinics via high-quality video conferencing. 25,000 patients have recovered sight using this system and it is set to expand to 50 centers covering 2.5 million people.

Eric's team has also worked on software that addresses local educational needs in developing regions. In poorly resourced schools, students will often be sharing a mouse and computer screen with a group of others. Metamouse gives each student their own mouse to use; when answering questions all users must agree on a location before progressing. This encourages collaboration between students and has had impressive results in boys in particular, with a 50% improvement in scoring compared to each user having their own PC.


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Eric Brewer
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Eric Brewer

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