STAFF REPORT IBD: A silly telephone game that became a viral phenomenon in Pakistan has demonstrated some serious potential for teaching poorly educated people about automated voice services and provided a new tool for them to learn about jobs, researchers at LUMS said.

The game, called Polly, is simplicity itself: a caller records a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a males voice to a female voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk.

Polly may not sound like a research project, but Roni Rosenfeld, a professor in Carnegie Mellons Language Technologies Institute, said it is pioneering the use of entertainment to reach illiterate and low-literate people and introduce them to the potential of telephone-based services.

With Polly, Rosenfeld, Raza and Umar Saif, an associate professor of computer science at LUMS, have shown that if the 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.

“Even though most people in Pakistan have access to a phone, many dont understand the technology behind an automated telephone-based service,” said Agha Ali Raza, a Ph.D. student in language technology.

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