Final exam question about how infotech can help oppressed poor people
July 13, 2018 5:42 AM   Subscribe

Years ago, on the web, I came across a test question that a college professor posed to their students, sort of asking them what information ought to go onto an ebook reader/mobile device that oppressed peasants could use to make their own lives better, but subtextually demonstrating that this problem is very very hard. I can't find it now -- anyone got a link?

I remember it being the last question in a final exam, and going something like this:
You are a poor farmer in [country -- maybe Democratic Republic of the Congo or North Korea]. Your husband died in a famine last year and your son has been conscripted. You have a small child who has stopped crying out from hunger and you believe she is going to die soon. The soldiers just came through and stole the last of the seed grain you were saving to plant next season. You have no idea what to do.

Suddenly a box floats down from the sky. You go to it and open up the box. You find a device inside that says, in your language, that it is a computer that gives you an encyclopedia and other tools.

How do you use this new device, with your neighbors, to feed your child, plant crops, and expel the soldiers from your homeland?
I don't remember whether the device was just a read-only encyclopedia or also had some other software or hardware on it, e.g., whether your other neighbors were also getting them and you could use it to communicate with them.

The subtext of the question was: hey, this kind of thing is HARD, and might be insoluble, and to design solutions here requires learning a ton of history, psychology, sociology, geography, botany, and other disciplines. And probably some people would come up with a solution a little bit like the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.
posted by brainwane to Education 16 users marked this as a favorite
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