Mar 8, 2018

To reach the world’s poorest, Josh Blumenstock says to design for dumb phones

From Devex

Want to reach the world's poorest? Design for dumb phones

By Catherine Cheney

Last week, at an event on artificial intelligence for economic development, Josh Blumenstock, an assistant professor from the University of California, Berkeley, gave a talk entitled “Fighting Poverty with Data.”

Blumenstock talked about his work gathering mobile phone data from the cell phones of users in Rwanda and then turning that information, such as the number of calls made per day, SMS volume, and international contacts, into interpretable metrics.... He highlighted how mobile phone metadata can predict poverty, and the implications of that in terms of targeting aid, crisis response, and impact evaluation.

At one point, one of the engineers in the room asked Blumenstock how location data factored into his work. “The problem is that people aren’t using smartphones yet,” he replied, matter-of-factly. While it might come as a surprise to people who have not spent time in developing country contexts, the majority of the people Blumenstock works with have basic phones they use only for calling and texting....

“It's exciting to see all of the new smartphone-based applications being designed for low-income subscribers — many of which also seek to improve the quality of life of the user,” Blumenstock told Devex via email. “However, it will be several years before rates of smartphone penetration are sufficient to imagine that the average person will be able to access smartphone-only apps.”...



Joshua Blumenstock
Joshua Blumenstock

Last updated:

March 8, 2018