ICT4D Professional Profile: Kentaro Toyama

You might remember him as the ICT4D Jester, but Kentaro Toyama is much more than a blogger. He is a development studies researcher currently working in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley [1]. He received a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Yale and an A.B. in Physics from Harvard [2]. From there he started working from Microsoft as a computer scientist doing research, computer vision and image processing [3]. From there he entered his first job in the ICT4D sector by founding a lab in India, where Microsoft was attempting to tap into people in India with science and engineering talent [4].  In addition to running this lab, he created an ICT4D research group, which was investigating ways to use technology to alleviate poverty [3]. 

During his time in India Toyama spent time traveling and visiting almost 50 different telecenters, which were the poster children of ICT4D at the time. Almost all of these centers closed soon after they opened. Of course, this is for some of the reasons we have discussed, but what Toyama believes is the fundamental problem is that “ICT4D assumes the very results it seeks to achieve” [2].  It does not matter how appropriate or creatively designed the technology is, because it “is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute” [2]. Another issue that he writes about often is prioritization [5].  Investment in technology competes with investments in other areas such as education, sanitation or transportation. When taking into account the opportunity cost, is technology really the best way to spend this money? He also feels technology is widening the digital divide through differential access, differential motivation and finally differential capacity.

When Toyama fist began working in the ICT4D sector he really thought technology on its own could contribute something great. This is why he decided to pursue ICT4D in the first place, but since then he has learned that it really depends on the human forces behind the technology [7]. This is what all of us interested in ICT4D need to KNOW; “Computers, guns, factories, and democracy are powerful tools, but the forces that determine how they’re used ultimately are human” [4]. 

[1] Toyama, Kentaro. “Profile.” Kentaro Toyama. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. link here. 

[2] Ibid

[3] Toyama, Kentaro. “The Myth of Scale.” Speech. TEDxTokyo. Tokyo. 15 May 2010. YouTube. 15 May 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. link here.

[4] Toyama, Kentaro. “Can Technology End Poverty?” Boston Review. Nov.-Dec. 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. link here.

[5] Toyama, Kentaro. “Guest Post: The Lessons of the Kony Campaign.” Humanosphere. 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2012. link here.

[6] Toyama, Kentaro. Personal interview. 12 April, 2012.

[7] Toyama, Kentaro. Personal interview. 12 April, 2012.



About hmfraser

Student of Environmental Studies and International Development View all posts by hmfraser

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