Saturday, November 17, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

By now, most people have heard of the OLPC, a.k.a. the XO Laptop, a.k.a. the $100 laptop. If you haven't, feel free to toddle on over to or, for a shorter synopsis, Wikipedia.

The goals are noble: giving poor kids in developing nations access to the some of the things that we now take for granted in more developed nations. Think of the OLPC as a relatively cheap care-package containing a full compliment of educational materials designed for individual and classroom use, a library of literature, a communications platform allowing them to communicate with peers via the internet, and other fun stuff like music composition software and games. The thing is nearly indestructible, can be manufactured reasonably simply (creating jobs within the country), and is largely user-serviceable inside and out.

The technology behind the thing is pretty cool too. It represents a re-thinking of what a computer is. Rather than measuring its performance based on clock speed or gigabytes of storage, its metrics for success are the number of things that you can do with it. Can you read its screen outside in the sun and the rain? Can you share any activity or project you are working on and collaborate with your peers? Can it find its way to the Internet on its own in sub-optimal conditions? Can it be dropped down a flight of stairs? Can it be taken apart by a child? Can its software be inspected and modified by a child?

The OLPC project is a non-profit project and they've accomplished amazing things so far. A lot of brainy people at MIT and elsewhere have clearly put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and creativity into the design. Now they are at the stage where they are trying to get over the initial production hurdles. Governments of developing nations don't want to be the first to put down money for a run of the things until they can see whether they'll be successful.

To kickstart the production, the OLPC project has launched a "give one, get one" program to finance the the first round of production. For the next few days, US and Canadian residents can buy one laptop for a poor kid in a developing nation, and one laptop for their own kid (or themselves) for $400--$200 of which is tax-deductible.

If you've got the $400 to spend, I recommend you do it. Thanks to my sister, Heather, I've placed my order. I don't know if the project will ultimately be successful, but I'd like to think that it's shown enough promise so far to warrant ponying up some money to see the project continue. I think I'll also be trying to spend some time developing content for it.

If you're on the fence about the project, check out David Pogue's review of the OLPC in the NY Times. Actually, I probably should have just linked to his review. He explains it much better and more succinctly than I can. That's why he's the tech columnist for the NY Times and I'm not. Also check out his video of the OLPC in action.

Sorry if this all has sounded like a commercial. I've been meaning to write about it for a long time, but haven't gotten around to it. Even if you can't afford the $400 right now to purchase a unit, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with it. I hope this is the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Luddite and a geezer, my first reaction is negative. On reflection I think you are correct that this is a wonderful and worthy idea. I can think of no better way to rid the world of its ignorance and, sometimes wilful, stupidity than to make information more widely available. Perhaps with more information Jihadis will become humanists, young earth "scientists" will come to understand and accept potassium argone dating, and global warming doubters will recognise the evidence. Probably not but it will certainly make their positions more uncomfortable.