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Sponsored by Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA February 8-10, 2005 Lifeline: A Knowledge Network Spanning the Rural Digital Divide Workshop on Knowledge Networks FAO Headquarters Rome, Italy Feb. 8-10, 2005

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lifeline a knowledge network spanning the rural digital divide

Sponsored by

Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, ItalyCarnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA

February 8-10, 2005

Lifeline:A Knowledge Network Spanning the Rural Digital Divide

Workshop on Knowledge Networks

FAO Headquarters

Rome, Italy

Feb. 8-10, 2005


the vision
The Vision

Reduce hunger and food insecurity

…by providing direct access to knowledge and know-how to the people who need it, i.e., farmers in villages

  • Create a global infrastructurethat connects end-users with existing knowledge and experts
    • Providing access to essential knowledge
      • Eliminate gatekeepers to knowledge
        • Reduce asymmetric information
      • Create efficiency and transparency in the supply chain
        • Improve farmer’s share in the value chain
      • Make information intrinsically available
        • Social empowerment and accountability

Access  Data  Information  Knowledge  Action Opportunities

february 2005 workshop consultative workshop
February 2005 Workshop: Consultative Workshop
  • Format: Bring together experts from academia, industry, and FAO to study the feasibility of creating a global infrastructure for directly linking end-users to experts
    • How would it work (stakeholders and design)?
    • What would it take (effort and expenditure)?
    • Will it be sustainable?
  • Workshop Goal: Create a plan of action to realize the Lifeline knowledge network
    • Design a system architecture for Lifeline
    • Determine a roadmap for deploying Lifeline
      • R&D required
      • Indicators for success
      • Pilot projects/trials proposals, extending to global deployment
knowledge networks stakeholders and their needs
Knowledge Networks Stakeholders and their Needs
  • Rural Communities – individuals and representatives
    • Learn about and get better prices for inputs (fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, etc.) and outputs (agro-products)
    • Reduce transaction costs significantly
    • Reduce damages from catastrophic conditions (weather, pests, etc.)
  • Rural Service Providers – public and private
    • Increase supplier and consumer bases
    • Improve supply-chain management
  • Governments
    • Create rural information networks whose value and utility extends beyond agriculture
      • Data collection
      • Information dissemination, etc.
bill of rights for the information society
“Bill of Rights” for the Information Society

Getting the right information to the right people, in the right timeframe, in the right language, with the right granularity

- Jaime Carbonnel (c. 1998)

  • Farmers typically unable to tap into even Google-like sources of information
    • Often illiterate or functionally illiterate
    • Lack connectivity, especially data connectivity
    • Rarely have relevant information accessible
      • Internet and existing databases/portals give too much raw (and unverified) information
achieving the bill of rights
Achieving the “Bill of Rights”
  • Right Information
    • Rural users ask Lifeline network any question they want
  • Right People
    • Sharing relevant information with all potentially impacted people, not just those who ask questions
  • Right Language
    • Spoken language interaction in all languages
    • “Knowledge Officers” for collecting, transcribing, translating, analyzing, creating, indexing, and disseminating information
  • Right Timeframe
    • Response within minutes if answer exists in the database or within a few hours to days if it requires expert input
  • Right Granularity
    • Synthesize an actionable summary from multiple documents as an “encyclopedia on demand”

Bill of Rights can only be exercised if Lifeline network is accessible and affordable

example applications of lifeline network
Example Applications of Lifeline Network

Multi-level Information Flow - An archetypal scenario

  • Hierarchical structure spanning districts, regions, countries, etc.
  • Outside experts interact with higher level Knowledge Officers
  • Builds up an ever-increasing multimedia database
    • Can provide static (e.g., best-practices) as well as dynamic (e.g., weather, prices, etc.) information
  • Innovative mechanisms and processes for information digitization, exchange, analysis, and dissemination
  • Must also strengthen local/neighboring and peer-to-peer interactions
    • Farmers themselves are often the best source of locally relevant knowledge

An illiterate farmer goes to a Village Knowledge Officer (with a computer connected to a multimedia database) and asks a question in his or her local language

The KO retrieves answer from local Multilingual database within minutes 80 - 90% of the time

For the remaining 10 - 20% of the time the KO puts up the question to a higher level office and gets an answer back, typically

in less than 24 hrs

100s of domain experts populate the databases, both as part of their jobs and as volunteers (say, 2 questions per week)

knowledge officers and domain experts
Knowledge officers and Domain Experts


Knowledge Management

& Coordination (global)


Knowledge Management

& Coordination (national level)

Expertise of Knowledge Officers


Verification of Query-Answer Relevance

And RFP to domain experts


Translation, Information Retrieval


AV data collection,

Transliteration and Transcription

Information Retrieval

Domain experts:

Volunteer to

answer at least 2 questions a week

(or part of job responsibility)

roles of knowledge officers
Roles of Knowledge Officers






3,000 people

Transcription (and possibly


300,000 people

Translation and

Information Retrieval

30M people

Verification &

RFP from Experts

0.3B people

Knowledge Management

& Coordination

3 Billion people

Knowledge Analysis and Inference

Records question of the end-user in audio-video format. Enters text transcription of the question.

Searches local language

database for answer

Need not be knowledgeable in English.

Enters translation of questions.

Searches multilingual database for answer

Sends answer after translation to lower level

If question not among FAQs or automated system, sends to higher level

Picks questions of critical nature and validates the answer provided at lower level

If critical or unanswered question, puts up request to experts even if not paid for

by end-user

Same as next level up, but with the range of analyses broadened to the region/subcontinent level

Brings experts to where their knowledge is needed.

Mobilization of resources towards their need.

Identifies and triggers initiatives to control “epidemic”-like problems

(All numbers shown are for rural, developing country populations = beneficiaries)

design assumptions
Design Assumptions
  • End-users interact at Village Knowledge Centers
    • Equipped with a networked computer and basic A/V equipment
    • Staffed by a Knowledge Officer
      • Humans are intrinsic to Knowledge Networks

(raw information  knowledge!)

  • Domain experts provide answers to previously unanswered questions
  • Many answers converted into an “encyclopedia-on-demand” video documentary at higher-level centers centers and dubbed into local languages
  • Lifeline Network also available for direct access browsing by literate and networked users
sample workflow
Sample Workflow

Collect 10 cents

Record the question:

Up to 1 min video

Read statistics of FAQs and answers from experts to


Transcribe into

local language

Search local


Read text format


Load Questions

& answers

Generate reports;

Reorganize data

to create reliable answers

to Critical

or Frequently asked


Mobilizes resources towards

their need.

Identifies and triggers

Initiatives to control

“epidemic-like” problems




Give answer

to User

Look for QoCN*




Inform user: may cost more

if personalized processing




Is critical



Search multilingual

database for answer


Send question

to higher level



of KO2







Give translated

answer to KO1





Request Domain

Expert for answer


Send question

to higher level




and Global KO

District KO

Village KO



number of knowledge officers
Number of Knowledge Officers






1,000 people

400,000 people

20,000,000 people

0.5B people

3B people

  • Assume One Level-1 Knowledge Officer per village (cluster)
  • 1 Min of video allowed per question.
  • = ~ 5 min. of prep/processing time by KO1
  • = ~12 Questions per hour
  • Only 15% are unanswerable, and forwarded to KO2
  • Requisite higher order KOs required to answer the questions at each step of the hierarchy
  • Assumes 85-90% hit rates (being able to answer the question without sending the question up
  • Assumes 5 – 10 minutes per question total time
  • Repeats at each hierarchy
  • Factors in seasonality, working hours, etc.
  • Information stored as a combination of text, graphics, audio, and video
  • Corresponds to tens of thousands of TeraBytes (TB) of storage per year

Number of officers needed at different levels

business model
Business Model
  • Model viability based on
    • Per question costs ~ 20 cents (net)
      • Can be <10 cents depending on assumptions such as hit (success) rate, ability to synergize infrastructure, etc.
      • Marginal costs are much lower
    • 6 questions per capita (rural, developing country) per year, or 0.6 questions per family per week
    • 1 million rural Knowledge Centers established
      • Less than one per village
  • Includes all the remote hardware, including telecom systems
    • Network could be utilized for other development needs as well!
  • Would be adding billions to the rural economy, but only costing a little over $1/year per person
scaling options
Scaling Options
  • Distributed deployment - grows over time
    • Begin with “low hanging fruit”
      • Selection by geographic coverage
      • Selection by socio-economic coverage
      • Selection by infrastructure availability (telecom, power, etc.)
      • Can begin with one village per district first
    • Initial deployment will have limited answers in the database
      • Will impact economics during “teething period”
  • Actual villages vary in size (distribution)
    • “How many unconnected villages are there?”
      • What’s a village?
      • How many are there, of what size?
      • What connectivity is or isn’t available?
    • Assume min. 3,000 people (or other threshold) required to have a Knowledge Center
      • Lose a small percentage of the population but a large number of villages – work in clusters of villages instead
issues hardware system
Issues: Hardware/System
  • Lack of user literacy let alone e-literacy!
  • Robustness: Repairs/warranty/operating conditions and physical security
    • Even a simple water pump lies idle in parts of the world due to lack of parts/maintenance
  • Telecom availability
    • Bandwidth is key to multimedia applications
    • Even affects system (database) design
  • Electricity availability
    • Else requires standalone power (expensive)
  • Do the technology solutions (language, interface, expert systems, multimedia searchable databases, etc.) exist?
    • Will take several years to build up appropriate vocabularies, syntax models, etc.
      • Seeking perfection should not delay good enough
    • What database(s) structure is optimal and multimedia searchable?
      • Distributed? Unstructured?
issues business and policy
Issues: Business and Policy
  • Financial Viability
    • Average numbers may be misleading
      • Some big farmers (or agribusiness) contribute most to the output
  • How do we determine user and operating priorities?
    • Willingness to pay?
    • Timeliness?
    • Importance – as per whom?
  • Intellectual Property issues
  • Risk of amplification of existing divides
issues trust
Issues: “Trust”
  • What is a “wrong” answer?
    • How do we know or find out if it was wrong?
      • Subjective answers are harder to monitor than objective (“numbers”) ones
    • What is done about it?
    • Issues of liability and recourse
  • Danger of monopolies, misinformation, etc.
    • How to oversee the KOs?
  • How do we train the KOs?
  • How to sensitize and “train” end-users?
    • Incomplete or incorrect questions will lead to similarly problematic answers
    • System must become incorporated into user decision-making
more than just internet connectivity
More Than Just Internet Connectivity
  • This is infrastructure plus information
    • “Bill of Rights”
  • Potential additional uses of Lifeline network
    • Other development agencies and institutions
      • E.g., Health Internetwork (WHO) today
        • Doesn’t include access
        • Doesn’t cater to the rural poor
    • Public and private users
    • FAO should not wait for them (or the “market”)
market mechanisms don t always work
Market Mechanisms Don’t Always Work
  • Some infrastructure requires governmental push
    • E.g., Rural Electrification or the National Highway System in the US
    • Developing countries need concerted (global) effort
  • Rich get richer in a global economy
    • Lifeline network levels the playing field
  • Population still growing in developing countries with less land available and increasing deterioration of soil productivity

The longer we wait, the harder the challenge

conclusions and actions
Conclusions and Actions
  • At an annual cost of ~$1/rural capita, creating a Lifeline knowledge network is an optimal use of global capital
  • Stakeholders and countries must agree on a deployment plan
    • R&D
    • Pilots and demonstration (100 deployments)
    • Selected regions and geographies (10,000 deployments)
    • Increasing densities (100,000 deployments)
    • Global (1,000,000 deployments)
    • Minimum penetration target (% by year 20_ _):

“20 by '10, 50 by '15, 100 by '20”