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Kentaro Toyama to speak at UMSI ICTD Speaker Series

The Amplification Theory of Digital Technologies - Kentaro Toyama

2245 North Quad, 1 PM : March 14, 2013


Would “One Laptop Per Child” really improve developing-world education, as insisted on by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte? Can “Technology be a major force to advance financial inclusion, which can help improve the lives of the poor,” as claimed by Bill Gates? Did the “Facebook-armed youth of Tunisia and Egypt rise to demonstrate the liberating power of social media,” as Roger Cohen wrote in The New York Times? 

In this talk, I consider these and other questions in light of the theory that technology amplifies underlying human forces. The theory is simple, even obvious, but its corollaries are far-reaching and often counterintuitive. Thus at school and in the office, our “productivity tools” seem to undermine our productivity. In international development, thousands of encouraging pilot projects with information technologies rarely go on to have large-scale benefits. And in the midst of unparalleled information and connectivity, American politics appears polarized beyond repair. The amplification theory explains these phenomena and points the way to effective use of digital technologies.


Kentaro Toyama is a researcher in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. He is working on two books: One making the case that technology amplifies underlying human forces; another arguing that the “intrinsic growth” of individuals and societies should be the primary focus of global development. In 2004, Kentaro co-founded Microsoft Research India, where he started an interdisciplinary research group to understand how electronic technology could support the socio-economic development of the world’s impoverished communities. Prior to his time in India, he did computer vision research at Microsoft Research in the United States and the UK, and taught mathematics at Ashesi University in Ghana. Toyama graduated from Yale with a PhD in Computer Science and from Harvard with a bachelors degree in Physics.