Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fabulous educational project

This 64-year-old American intellectual and administrator, Nicholas Negroponte, of Greek origins, is a visionary, of the same kind as Apple's Steve Jobs. A former member of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and the kid brother of the "other" Negroponte [John, US Deputy Secretary of State], he is promoting an exciting international project known as One Laptop Per Child, which consists of designing a low-cost basic computer for children in developing nations. [Click here to view an interesting video on this subject.]

The machine, manufactured in Taiwan by Quanta Computer Inc, has a nice Martian look:

Initially planned to have a sales price of a hundred US dollars, the laptop will in fact be marketed at twice that price... which is still remarkably cheap. Up-to-date information on the project can be found at their website:

Not surprisingly, this kind of daring technological and educational project needs to gain momentum before it can be evaluated in meaningful terms. For the moment, only three nations have signed up to acquire machines: Peru, Uruguay and Mongolia. These initial orders amount to a "mere" 200 thousand machines, but it is to be hoped that enthusiasm for the laptop will escalate as soon as the bush telegraph [in default of the Internet] spreads the news that it's a great deal.

Anecdote. When I first heard of the grand project of Nicholas Negroponte [who, incidentally, helped me personally when I was in Boston, in the early '70s, preparing and shooting my TV documentaries on artificial intelligence and the brain], I was intrigued by the presence of a crank handle, making it possible to power up the computer in villages without electricity.

Cyclists are familiar with a device called the home trainer:

I imagined that it would be a great idea, in remote places, to install home trainers along with Negroponte's laptops. If that were done, then the organizers of the Tour de France would have a superb system for punishing cyclists full of illegal pharmaceutical products. Instead of fining them and banning them from pedaling, they could be sentenced to Club Med vacations in exotic villages that are about to discover computing. I reckon that a single sufficiently-doped cyclist, in the course of a few dozen sessions (the equivalent of stages in the Tour de France), could generate enough electricity to initiate an entire community into the joys of computing. And, if there were any power left over, it could be used to warm up an evening meal for the village folk.

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