TechTalk: Technological revolution, one child at a time

Written by Amanda Loch on . Posted in Writing

India, Brazil, Nigeria, Thailand. These are just a few of the countries that may have a technological revolution on the horizon. In areas where there is no indoor plumbing or electricity, school children may soon be receiving their own personal notebook computers.

The One Laptop Per Child initiative, brainchild of MIT faculty member Nicholas Negroponte, aims to supply millions of laptops to children in developing countries for a mere $100 each by early 2007.

The proposed laptops (manufactured by Taiwanese company Quanta Computer Inc.) are nothing like the systems seen on campus everyday. In order to offer them for $100, the laptops have no hard-drive and use a Linux-based operating system. Rugged and colorful, the computers feature a hand crank for charging the battery and dual-mode display for black and white or colored viewing. They have 500MHz processors, 128MB of DRAM, 500MB of Flash memory and 4 USB ports.

However, even though they aren’t the dual- or quad-core processors we see in the marketplace today, these systems can do everything but store large amounts of data. They even have wireless cards, which, out of the box, allow children to set up mesh networks with each other, eventually allowing them to access the Internet.

So why not used recycled desktop machines, and does each child really need their own? According to Negropronte, desktops would take longer to refurbish, not to mention the amount of power they would require and the shipping problems that would arise.

As for the children each receiving their own, Negropronte believes it is beneficial for the children to learn to be responsible for the system. They liken the computers to a pencil, reminding us that as such a critical learning tool, children should have their own.

Even though the initiative is aimed at kids, these laptops will no doubt have an impact on the entire community. Negropronte recalled on the program’s website, “In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home.”

As soon as the first 5 million are purchased, production will begin. Negroponte hopes to begin shipping the machines by early next year. Then, the purchasing governments will hand out the laptops like textbooks.

The magnitude of this initiative will be nothing short of astronomical. Although the results may not be immediate, this will change developing cultures forever, bringing the world to these children, and these children to the world. The ability to update teaching materials quickly and network with other students will be nothing short of revolutionary for children who sleep under cardboard roofs at night.

Although it will be a challenge, the eventual connection to the World Wide Web will be the true turning point for many countries. In a few short years, you may be chatting with someone from Ethiopia, or putting someone from Indonesia in your Top 8. Infinitely expanding the world for children in impoverished nations, the One Laptop Per Child initiative will bring us all closer together.

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Amanda Loch

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