Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Third-World Laptop

The One Laptop Per Child project is ready to unveil a simplified, durable, rural-ready $150 laptop for kids in the developing world. Nicholas Negroponte, who has been pushing the project since his days as director of MIT's Media Lab, says governments of Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, and Thailand have made commitments to buy and distribute the machines to help educate their kids.

The project has been opposed by big computer companies and some educators on the grounds that poor countries lack the school infrastructures to make use of these computers.

I think giving laptops to kids in poor countries is a great idea. I know they don't have the schools to go with them – but then again, neither do we. I think the real value of this project will be in the million and one unexpected things that kids think of when given access to the world's information. My friend Neil Gershenfeld, another big brain at the Media Lab, has shown that putting simple, tough fabrication laboratories in the hands of kids in the developing world releases some of them to make amazing things. I am confident that giving them computers and the web will do the same thing.

I think the people who should really worry about this project are oppressive Third World governments who wish their people did not have access to the world's information and connections. Who knows, Libya might turn into a leading free society down the road, from a peaceful revolution led by kids with laptops.


Stushie said...

Sounds like a great idea, but how are these kids going to power the laptops? I don't see them having the finances to pay for the utilities or batteries. Are they going to be solar-powered and given free wireless access? I keep getting an image in my head of a kid with malnutrition, staring into space, on top of a garbage heap, with a useless laptop in his hand.

Gruntled said...

It does have a battery and a wireless card, and the countries are working on ways to increase wireless access. They are experimenting with several self-cranking mechanisms.

Brendan said...

The wireless connection to the Internet is one thing, but the real point is that laptops in reasonable proximity to each other will automatically create a wireless mesh to enable them to share data--without the need for Internet access. They'll also have compilers and tutorials installed, allowing the students to program their own PCs and share the software.

I've been following the project for a long time, and there's plenty of criticism out there, but I still can't find a way to be cynical about it. As long as they get the handcrank working.

Also, they'll be nice to have lying around after the apocalypse.