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Connecting People

If villagers in India or Africa can soon watch television and video, make phone calls, send voice mail and access all the information they want on the Internet -- all from just one inexpensive appliance from the comfort of their home -- the credit should go chiefly to Raj Reddy.

For many years, Reddy, who was born in Katoor near Chennai, has remained at the forefront of making the appliance called PCtvt, a mix of computer hardware and software that offers the functionalities of a computer, television, video, telephone and other media. "This will not only help bridge the digital divide, it will have a far reaching impact on every sphere of society," Reddy, Herbert A Simon University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, once told this newspaper.

The concept of a computer, television, video and phone, all rolled into one appliance,
in his words
'80 percent of the children in India and maybe 20 percent of the people in the United States are being left behind. These are students who are equally bright, but for all kinds of environmental reasons never receive the same opportunities. The question I am asking is how will we find and nurture them and bring them up to speed?'
Photo: Raj Reddy
has existed for a long time. About 15 years ago, making such an appliance would have cost approximately $20,000. But with the rapid advancement in technology, it has started getting closer to reality, at an affordable price.

The renowned researcher in artificial intelligence, robotics and human-computer interaction, who is working on the project in conjunction with the Indian Institutes of Information Technology Hyderabad and Bangalore and the University of California Berkeley, along with computer manufacturers and chipmakers including Microsoft and Intel, is striving hard to keep the price of PCtvt in India low -- within Rs 10,000 (about $180). His dream is to connect, through the PCtvt, semi-literate or even illiterate people. He wants to give them access to information -- educational as well as for entertainment.

Reddy, who completed his undergraduate studies from the College of Engineering in Guindy, Chennai, in 1958 began his academic career as an assistant professor at Stanford in 1966. He joined the Carnegie Mellon faculty as an associate professor of Computer Science in 1969, became a full Professor in 1973, University Professor in 1984, and was named Simon University Professor in 1992. Serving as founding Director of the Robotics Institute from 1979 to 1991, he held the position of Dean of School of Computer Science at CMU from 1991 to 1999.

Honours have followed him with regularity, while his research interests -- including the study of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence -- continue to border on the cutting-edge of technology. He was the first student to receive his doctoral degree under the guidance of Turing Award winner and Artificial Intelligence pioneer, John McCarthy at Stanford.

That he has long been recognized as a pioneer himself is a tribute to his life's work.