One of the coolest things about being at a tech firm is that you get to see some really cool speakers. On Friday, I had the honor of seeing Nicholas Negroponte – inventor and visionary of the $100 Laptop designed for underprivileged children in predominantly third world countries. It’s tough to blog about something or someone that is so inspiring but I’ll attempt to do justice to him by giving you a synopsis of what was discussed and what I got out of it.
The one laptop per child program (dubbed as the $100 Laptop) was formulated in January of 2005 when Negroponte pitched it at the World Economic Forum. People by no means were enthralled by this vision as even tech CEO’s like Jobs, Gates, etc. indicated that this was “science fiction.” Almost a year and a half later – we find that this vision is becoming more and more of a reality – as many countries have signed on to become a part of the program – example Nigeria – who purchased 1 million units to distribute across their school systems.
So what does this laptop look like?
This is a photo of one of the earlier prototypes out there. Currently – there are many different types of alterations of this but the idea is the same – a very rugged look with a crank to be able to power on by an average person. Negroponte indicated that a malnourished child can crank out around 2W-4W of power in 1-2 minutes of work. Basically they will be able to power up the laptop using human energy – something that is extremely rudimentary but functional.
Here is an updated picture of what this can look like:
The Mesh Network
The focus of this laptop is to show P2P interaction. The way this computer would be structured is that they can place a certain server in the schools with over 200 GB’s of server storage. Once you have that set up – then every computer in the area acts as node to the next computer. In layman’s terms, each computer acts as separate router connection and only needs to connect to another computer in closest proximity. For instance – no access point is necessary since I can just connect to someone who is close by rather than the origin of the connection.
This is a very powerful tool so that students will be able to have an always on concept and can see everyone on the mesh network. This doesn’t necessarily need to be able to connect to the internet – since the emphasis on this project is to unify students in the classroom versus unifying students with the world.
Will this work?
The key question that is on everyone’s mind is the following : will this work? There are a lot of social implications at play here when you break it down. In the session that I was at – Negroponte indicated he is set to get the governments compliance rather than using private channels. He finds it necessary to have full support from governments – especially when dealing with maintenance and security. Obviously he has gotten resistance from many governments, predominantly India and China.
I think we’ll see a launch of a good number of computers in the first year and see some positive results. The question is how do we measure a success rate in a project like this. Granted, simply placing the computers in low income areas is a step in the right direction but how do we measure the productivity. Gathering metrics would be a very difficult thing.
Additionally – how long will this last – what will happen when the laptop stops working – what age will they stop receiving laptops. This may be considered very mundane issues but I sense that these are the issues that may plague them in the future.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an amazing concept and truly a visionary can concieve of this. I just hope that we can see how technology can change our lives and our worlds, no matter the cast or creed.
Just my $.02