Internet services like social media, online discussion forums, and crowdsourcing marketplaces have transformed how people participate in the information ecology and digital economy. These services empower mostly urban, affluent, and literate people, and improve their reach to information and instrumental needs. However, these services currently exclude billions of people worldwide who are too poor to afford Internet-enabled devices, too remote to access the Internet, or too low literate to navigate the mostly text-driven Internet.
In India and Pakistan alone, there are nearly 1.1 billion people offline. Although 70% of their populations have access to mobile phones, most people still use basic or feature phones, making it difficult to extend existing Internet services on these devices running custom operating systems. Even when people can afford smartphones and the Internet, literacy barriers prevent 26% of adults in India and 42% of adults in Pakistan from using text-based interfaces. Most South Asian languages and dialects are still unsupported by the advancements in natural language processing ruling out the use of voice interfaces like Siri and Alexa.
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