Nicholas Negroponte wants to give every school child in the developing world a laptop computer. He has established a non-profit organization to design and produce $100 laptops for sale to governments in quantities of no less than 1 million machines on the condition that they are given to school children.
Negroponte feels the solution to any large world problem – peace, poverty, the environment, etc. – involves education, and he sees this as an education project that happens to use computers as a tool. The project is grounded in the studies of Seymour Papert, a pioneer in computing for children and the inventor of the Logo programming language. Negroponte and Papert have worked with computers in schools in developing nations since 1988.
He believes the $100 price can be reached through large manufacturing volume, eliminating marketing and distribution expense and profit, and appropriate engineering. Memory and processor speed requirements will be kept down by using Linux and small-footprint applications. A small display will also cut costs, but it will offer two modes: high-resolution black and white at less than 1 watt and low-resolution color at fewer than 2 watts. The black and white mode is designed for reading e-books, and the laptops will come preloaded with textbooks. Negroponte sees the e-texts as a "Trojan horse." Education ministers will justify purchase of the laptops as a low-cost method of textbook distribution.
This is a controversial proposal. Critics from Intel and Microsoft argue that Internet connectivity is critical and training and support are more important than low cost hardware. Negroponte is undeterred, and has orders from the governments of China, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand, and Nigeria.
This talk was from the Participation Revolution session at Pop!Tech. The other speakers in this session were Yochai Benkler and Bart Decrem. The question and answer period can be heard at the end of Bart Decrem's talk.
Nicholas Negroponte is the Wiesner Professor of Media Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founding chairman of MIT's Media Laboratory.
Nicholas studied at MIT and has been an MIT faculty member since 1966. He was the founder of MIT's pioneering Architecture Machine Group, a combination lab and think tank responsible for many radically new approaches to the human-computer interface. In 1995, he published The New York Times bestseller Being Digital, which has been translated into over 40 languages.
In the private sector, Nicholas serves on the board of directors for Motorola, Inc., and as a special general partner in a venture capital firm focusing on technologies for information and entertainment. He was a founder of WiReD magazine and has been an "angel investor" for over 40 start-ups, including three in China. Nicholas helped to establish, and serves as chairman of the 2B1 Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing computer access to children in the most remote and poorest parts of the world. Most recently Nicholas has launched a new program to develop a $100 laptop, a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children.
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