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Sign Language by Cellphone

Software tricks will let the deaf sign over smart phones

2 min read

In the past, engineers working on technology to aid the deaf had focused primarily on hearing devices, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, but recently they’ve been getting into what’s known as deaf technology: applications designed to make the day-to-day lives of the deaf and hearing-impaired easier. Now engineers from the University of Washington, in Seattle, and Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., have taken a big step toward developing a mobile phone that allows real-time conversations in sign language.

Of course, many in the deaf community already use mobile phones to communicate via text messaging and e-mail, but deaf people almost always prefer sign language: It’s faster and more natural, just as speaking is easier than writing for most hearing people. Laptops are getting smaller and more portable, making video chats outside the home possible, but Wiâ¿¿Fi–enabled cellphones would provide even more freedom. When cellphones became capable of video sharing a few years ago, Eve Riskin, Sheila Hemami, and Richard Ladner, all newly minted IEEE Fellows, felt the time seemed right to develop a sign-language-capable phone. ”Today’s world is more connected by cellphones than by any other device,” says the University of Washington’s Ladner, whose parents were deaf.

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Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

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