The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. To achieve this goal, a new, non-profit association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), has been created. The initiative was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte, Lab chairman and co-founder, at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005.
I have been a fan of the Media Lab since I was 12 years old, and I am happy they are coming with such an ambitious project. I see this is the realization of a dream for Nicholas Negroponte, Seymour Papert and for Alan Kay. I hope they will have a great success.
What Negroponte says about taking the fat out of the system is right: "Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways." I hope the project will get massive support and will trigger a race for sleekness across the software industry.
Probably because of the lack of deep technical detail in the announcements I have read so far, there a few concerns in my mind:
- Hardware expandability: They say the laptop is not going to have much storage space. I hope it will be easy to expand storage with off-the-shelf hardware. The USB ports are a good start.
- Software extensibility: They speak about a P2P mesh developed by the Media Lab. They also say the computer is not going to be available to individuals. They will run Linux, and while Linux is widely available, there is a binary compatibility problem among different versions of Linux. I wonder how easy it will be to target the computer for software writers.
- Software platform lock-in: You can easily see what the commercial companies sponsoring the initiative, including Red Hat and Google, are looking for with this project: A big PR campaign, and a huge captive user base. I wish the software story were more open. Don’t take me wrong. I want this project to be feasible. I just don’t like the idea of any government paying hundreds of million of dollars to force those brands through children throats all around the world. It smells as something either fascist or corrupt or both things at the same time. It would be the same if Bill Gates funded the program. This concern gets addressed if there is choice.
- One-way globalization: I happen not to fully understand the globalization phenomena, although I have heard assertions from many people that think they do. The fact is globalization sometimes seems to be a one-way path. In poor countries, it usually takes more from people than what it gives to them, most likely because they are less prepared for the exposition. A computer, even if it is the most powerful thinking tool of all times, can also be used as a broadcast, one-way device. What originated as one of the most massive empowerment initiatives of all times could end up being the final stab for local cultures and become a powerful tool of oppression. Anyway, I know the minds behind the project would rather cut their hands than do that damage.