Thursday, November 17, 2005

Won't somebody think of (getting) the children (some laptops)?

There are some nice people out there trying to think of useful, and more importantly, feasible, ways of bootstrapping the third world up to a level of competing economically and participating in the global information revolution. I plan to talk about microloans and microcredit eventually, but this one "One laptop for every child" (from Engadget) is a good idea, I just hope it is workable.

The group is trying to make the laptops for under $100, and they are thinking about things like lack of power infrastructure (just wind the crank) and ruggedness (this one is encased in rubber). I still wonder if $100 is still quite a lot of money for the places this is targeted. The consensus on the Engadget comments is that these things will show up on eBay and be sold back to gadget hungry Americans. Would it be bad if I admitted that I would want one? Maybe they should be offered for sale in the US and each sale would subsidize a laptop for a child in the emerging economies.

I have high hopes that getting children in the third world access to the internet and all of the information and learning that can be reached using it would pay incredible dividends to the children and to the world as a whole. Imagine these kids having access to MIT's free courses at open courseware , or the learning networks they could form with each other, or the ideas we haven't even thought of that would grow from the mind of a child for whom computing and the internet is commonplace and just another tool to use or toy to play with.

Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter in their collaborations, Time's Eye and Sunstorm, have a minor backstory in which the main character remembers when they were a child and the UN mandated that every child in the world have a cell phone, and the societal changes this engendered. I think that is a good and immediately workable idea, even while the group above works on their laptop.

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