In my last column, I had written about the power of the humble SMS (text message) in making small businesses efficient and how Twitter helped Egyptians organise themselves in a revolutionary protest.
I got insights on how IT can help grassroot work when I met Sunny Rao, the India managing director of Nuance Communications, a speech recognition software leader.
While he spoke of exciting things like "custom voice" - the ability to create a person's voice artificially, like those of celebrities, what made me sit up was the use of voice ID (identification) in rural areas.
Nuance is helping the government of Uttaranchal with "voice biometric" software to authenticate beneficiaries under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme. Similarly, it is running a pilot project to help microfinance agencies.
In this, a cellphone in the hands of an authorised agent becomes a tool that connects to a back-end network computer that catches the voice of a beneficiary of a loan or an NREGA payment and checks it the same way as a signature is tested against a recorded file.
Rao says fingerprint machines linked to networks can be costlier and moreover, finger prints of slogging workers in rural areas often get smudged on account of their rough work. In such cases, voice recognition can help identification while keeping costs low.
I was reminded of a Hindi film song: Naam ghum jaayega, chehra yeh badal jayega, meri awaaz hee pahchan hai.. (The name shall be lost, the face shall change, only my voice will be my identity).