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Digital Inclusion

In the Context of the Global Digital Divide, Language and Gender Differences Need Attention

Liana Sowa

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Screenshot from the webinar

November 3, 2020 – The digital divides of language and gender are too often overlooked in considering matters associated with the digital divide, particularly globally, said panelists at a Wilson Center event on Friday.

“The biggest internet barrier to entry is translation,” said University of California at Berkey Professor Steven Weber, who is currently working on a paper to determine to what extent language is a digital barrier.

Weber, while acknowledging the benefits of language diversity, referenced the biblical Tower of Babel story, saying that when God confounded the people’s languages, he did so for the express purpose of creating transaction costs and economic friction.

Although we have many machine translation devices, the quality of translations across languages is not universal, Weber said. Some machine translation devices have excellent algorithms because they come from high-resource languages, which essentially are languages that are well-documented.

Machine learning systems drive this machine translation. Most are supervised machine learning systems that use training data sets labeled by human beings, or existing translations. This means that low-resource languages like Swahili or Urdu end up with poor algorithms because they lack documentation—in fact, Weber said, a five order of magnitude difference exists between the best and the worst algorithms.

Weber is concerned that language documentation and translation is going to map onto areas of privilege versus areas without privilege, creating a “flat world” for high resource driven languages and a greater barriers for low resource languages.

United Nations social affairs expert Sukaina Al-Nasrawi is concerned about the digital divide in Arab regions. She said the numbers show a significant difference in developing and using digital tech between developing and developed countries.

While Arab regions are performing comparatively better in the information communication technology development, she said they are still behind the world average in basically every category except mobile tech.

The digital gender divide is even worse. Worldwide, the gap is 31 percent and is the worst in the Arab region. The gender gap for mobile ownership is 9 percent and for mobile ownership with internet access its 21 percent.

Al-Nasrawi urged a focus on economic and political participation, and stressed that connectivity provides opportunities that can “steer the wheel of women’s empowerment,” even if only by changing attitudes.

Weber pointed out that throughout history whenever a new technology is introduced, the first few iterations do not always benefit people. He offered the railroad, which helped those living at crossroads and devastated the towns it passed by, and shipping containers, which benefitted people living in places like Los Angeles, but increased shipping expenses in places that were “on the grid.”

Though the Arab region may eventually be able to close all their digital divides, Al-Nasrawi said that if development continues at this pace the region will need more than 140 years to bridge this gap, “which is alarming.”

Zena Kebede, technical program manager of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, advocated for more innovation in the private sector and government partnerships to bridge this gap. He stressed that government involvement was key because in many countries they are usually the first stakeholders to invest in connectivity because others are unable to do so.

Melissa Griffith, non-resident research fellow at UC Berkeley and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies, moderated this event.

Digital Inclusion

Looming Income Inequality Demands a National Broadband Plan for the Next Decade, Says Benton Expert

Jericho Casper

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Photo of Sunne Wright McPeak from the webinar

November 3, 2020 – The digital divides of language and gender are too often overlooked in considering matters associated with the digital divide, particularly globally, said panelists at a Wilson Center event on Friday.

“The biggest internet barrier to entry is translation,” said University of California at Berkey Professor Steven Weber, who is currently working on a paper to determine to what extent language is a digital barrier.

Weber, while acknowledging the benefits of language diversity, referenced the biblical Tower of Babel story, saying that when God confounded the people’s languages, he did so for the express purpose of creating transaction costs and economic friction.

Although we have many machine translation devices, the quality of translations across languages is not universal, Weber said. Some machine translation devices have excellent algorithms because they come from high-resource languages, which essentially are languages that are well-documented.

Machine learning systems drive this machine translation. Most are supervised machine learning systems that use training data sets labeled by human beings, or existing translations. This means that low-resource languages like Swahili or Urdu end up with poor algorithms because they lack documentation—in fact, Weber said, a five order of magnitude difference exists between the best and the worst algorithms.

Weber is concerned that language documentation and translation is going to map onto areas of privilege versus areas without privilege, creating a “flat world” for high resource driven languages and a greater barriers for low resource languages.

United Nations social affairs expert Sukaina Al-Nasrawi is concerned about the digital divide in Arab regions. She said the numbers show a significant difference in developing and using digital tech between developing and developed countries.

While Arab regions are performing comparatively better in the information communication technology development, she said they are still behind the world average in basically every category except mobile tech.

The digital gender divide is even worse. Worldwide, the gap is 31 percent and is the worst in the Arab region. The gender gap for mobile ownership is 9 percent and for mobile ownership with internet access its 21 percent.

Al-Nasrawi urged a focus on economic and political participation, and stressed that connectivity provides opportunities that can “steer the wheel of women’s empowerment,” even if only by changing attitudes.

Weber pointed out that throughout history whenever a new technology is introduced, the first few iterations do not always benefit people. He offered the railroad, which helped those living at crossroads and devastated the towns it passed by, and shipping containers, which benefitted people living in places like Los Angeles, but increased shipping expenses in places that were “on the grid.”

Though the Arab region may eventually be able to close all their digital divides, Al-Nasrawi said that if development continues at this pace the region will need more than 140 years to bridge this gap, “which is alarming.”

Zena Kebede, technical program manager of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, advocated for more innovation in the private sector and government partnerships to bridge this gap. He stressed that government involvement was key because in many countries they are usually the first stakeholders to invest in connectivity because others are unable to do so.

Melissa Griffith, non-resident research fellow at UC Berkeley and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies, moderated this event.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband and Education Policy Needs a Rethink in the Biden-Harris Administration, Say Panelists

Liana Sowa

Published

on

Screenshot from the webinar

November 3, 2020 – The digital divides of language and gender are too often overlooked in considering matters associated with the digital divide, particularly globally, said panelists at a Wilson Center event on Friday.

“The biggest internet barrier to entry is translation,” said University of California at Berkey Professor Steven Weber, who is currently working on a paper to determine to what extent language is a digital barrier.

Weber, while acknowledging the benefits of language diversity, referenced the biblical Tower of Babel story, saying that when God confounded the people’s languages, he did so for the express purpose of creating transaction costs and economic friction.

Although we have many machine translation devices, the quality of translations across languages is not universal, Weber said. Some machine translation devices have excellent algorithms because they come from high-resource languages, which essentially are languages that are well-documented.

Machine learning systems drive this machine translation. Most are supervised machine learning systems that use training data sets labeled by human beings, or existing translations. This means that low-resource languages like Swahili or Urdu end up with poor algorithms because they lack documentation—in fact, Weber said, a five order of magnitude difference exists between the best and the worst algorithms.

Weber is concerned that language documentation and translation is going to map onto areas of privilege versus areas without privilege, creating a “flat world” for high resource driven languages and a greater barriers for low resource languages.

United Nations social affairs expert Sukaina Al-Nasrawi is concerned about the digital divide in Arab regions. She said the numbers show a significant difference in developing and using digital tech between developing and developed countries.

While Arab regions are performing comparatively better in the information communication technology development, she said they are still behind the world average in basically every category except mobile tech.

The digital gender divide is even worse. Worldwide, the gap is 31 percent and is the worst in the Arab region. The gender gap for mobile ownership is 9 percent and for mobile ownership with internet access its 21 percent.

Al-Nasrawi urged a focus on economic and political participation, and stressed that connectivity provides opportunities that can “steer the wheel of women’s empowerment,” even if only by changing attitudes.

Weber pointed out that throughout history whenever a new technology is introduced, the first few iterations do not always benefit people. He offered the railroad, which helped those living at crossroads and devastated the towns it passed by, and shipping containers, which benefitted people living in places like Los Angeles, but increased shipping expenses in places that were “on the grid.”

Though the Arab region may eventually be able to close all their digital divides, Al-Nasrawi said that if development continues at this pace the region will need more than 140 years to bridge this gap, “which is alarming.”

Zena Kebede, technical program manager of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, advocated for more innovation in the private sector and government partnerships to bridge this gap. He stressed that government involvement was key because in many countries they are usually the first stakeholders to invest in connectivity because others are unable to do so.

Melissa Griffith, non-resident research fellow at UC Berkeley and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies, moderated this event.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee Approves Reports on Disaster Response and Workforce Training

Jericho Casper

Published

on

Screenshot from the BDAC meeting

November 3, 2020 – The digital divides of language and gender are too often overlooked in considering matters associated with the digital divide, particularly globally, said panelists at a Wilson Center event on Friday.

“The biggest internet barrier to entry is translation,” said University of California at Berkey Professor Steven Weber, who is currently working on a paper to determine to what extent language is a digital barrier.

Weber, while acknowledging the benefits of language diversity, referenced the biblical Tower of Babel story, saying that when God confounded the people’s languages, he did so for the express purpose of creating transaction costs and economic friction.

Although we have many machine translation devices, the quality of translations across languages is not universal, Weber said. Some machine translation devices have excellent algorithms because they come from high-resource languages, which essentially are languages that are well-documented.

Machine learning systems drive this machine translation. Most are supervised machine learning systems that use training data sets labeled by human beings, or existing translations. This means that low-resource languages like Swahili or Urdu end up with poor algorithms because they lack documentation—in fact, Weber said, a five order of magnitude difference exists between the best and the worst algorithms.

Weber is concerned that language documentation and translation is going to map onto areas of privilege versus areas without privilege, creating a “flat world” for high resource driven languages and a greater barriers for low resource languages.

United Nations social affairs expert Sukaina Al-Nasrawi is concerned about the digital divide in Arab regions. She said the numbers show a significant difference in developing and using digital tech between developing and developed countries.

While Arab regions are performing comparatively better in the information communication technology development, she said they are still behind the world average in basically every category except mobile tech.

The digital gender divide is even worse. Worldwide, the gap is 31 percent and is the worst in the Arab region. The gender gap for mobile ownership is 9 percent and for mobile ownership with internet access its 21 percent.

Al-Nasrawi urged a focus on economic and political participation, and stressed that connectivity provides opportunities that can “steer the wheel of women’s empowerment,” even if only by changing attitudes.

Weber pointed out that throughout history whenever a new technology is introduced, the first few iterations do not always benefit people. He offered the railroad, which helped those living at crossroads and devastated the towns it passed by, and shipping containers, which benefitted people living in places like Los Angeles, but increased shipping expenses in places that were “on the grid.”

Though the Arab region may eventually be able to close all their digital divides, Al-Nasrawi said that if development continues at this pace the region will need more than 140 years to bridge this gap, “which is alarming.”

Zena Kebede, technical program manager of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, advocated for more innovation in the private sector and government partnerships to bridge this gap. He stressed that government involvement was key because in many countries they are usually the first stakeholders to invest in connectivity because others are unable to do so.

Melissa Griffith, non-resident research fellow at UC Berkeley and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies, moderated this event.

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