Friday, September 30, 2005

One Ben Franklin Laptop

MIT Media Lab recently launched a campaign to develop a $100 laptop with the goal being to make technology affordable and obtainable for children in the developing world.

What could 100 bucks buy you? A lot, if MIT researchers have their way.

The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop that will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data. These rugged laptops will be WiFi- and cell phone-enabled, and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are: 500MHz, 1GB, 1 Megapixel.

They plan to cut down on costs by using cheaper LCD screens and trimming down the software and storage space on the machines. Their goal is to provide a laptop for every student, hence the name of the non-profit organization created to oversee the project, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).

I really hope they are succesful. When I spent time in Tanzania and Costa Rica, it was wonderful to see so many school children at the internet cafes there, using the internet to connect with people around the world and learn computer skills that make them much better prepared for higher paying jobs in a digital workplace. However, these cafes were crowded, often featuring old technology that was unreliable - not to mention that they charge by the hour. Giving students the power to use a computer at home and in class on a daily basis would instantly impact education on a global level - not to mention the ability to connect children all over the world. Who knows how many of the world's problems might be solved by merely fostering dialogue between children of different nations, ethnicities and religions at an early age.

MIT's plan is extremely ambitious - with the goal to build 100 million laptops within two years. This is one of the most potentially impactful non-profit initiatives in the world's history - and it is extremely exciting to think about the possibilities of this program succeeding and essentially leveling the playing field between the developed and developing world.

Could the digital divide be erased in one sweeping movement?

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