Phone game teaches Pakistanis to use automated job services

April 18, 2013 at 4:42 PM
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PITTSBURGH, April 18 (UPI) -- A telephone game has put illiterate Pakistanis in touch with potential employers by educating them on the use of automated voice services, researchers say.

The game known as Polly, which became a viral phenomenon in Pakistan, has demonstrated potential for teaching poorly educated people about automated voice services and provided a new tool for them to learn about jobs, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences reported.

In Polly, a caller can record a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a male's voice to a female voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk, the researchers said. The caller can then forward the message to one or more friends, who in turn can forward it along or reply to it.

Polly is pioneering the use of entertainment to reach illiterate and low-literate people and introduce them to the potential of telephone-based services, Carnegie researcher Roni Rosenfeld said.

Most people in Pakistan have access to a phone but many don't understand the technology behind an automated telephone-based service, Carnegie doctoral student Agha Ali Raza, a native Pakistan, said.

"They expect to talk to a person on the other end of the line," he explained. "When they hear, 'Press 1 to do this,' or 'Press 2 to do that,' they don't press anything; they just start talking."

Polly has shown if training is fun, people will not only learn how to use phone-based services but will eagerly spread the word and even show each other how to use it, the researchers said.

As of mid-April the Polly project has handled almost 2.5 million calls, they said.

In addition to delivering funny messages, Polly has begun to include job listings.

"We found that users took to the job information in large numbers and that many of them started calling Polly specifically for that service -- exactly the result we had hoped for," Rosenfeld said.

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