Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and Wired Magazine, has a mission - produce hand-cranked laptops priced around $100 for the world's children to use. And he's just about there, after just having demonstrated his prototype to the UN.
The computers run a flavor of Linux, provide 40 minutes of usage after 1 minute of hand cranking, and have built-in Wi-Fi, microphone, speaker, and programming tools. All for around $110 apiece.
WN: Is the goal literally to make computers available to every child that wants one in the world?
Negroponte: It's every child in the world whether they want one or not. They may not know they want one.
WN: Do you have any thoughts on what the long-term impact of giving all these kids a programming environment and an open-source ethic might be?
Negroponte: Those are two different questions. Giving the kids a programming environment of any sort, whether it's a tool like Squeak or Scratch or Logo to write programs in a childish way -- and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word, that is, playing with and building things -- is one of the best ways to learn. Particularly to learn about thinking and algorithms and problem solving and so forth.
And providing the tools for some people -- it's going to be a very limited subset (who will use them) -- to develop software that will be redistributed and versioned and so forth out into the world is also important. It's part of the whole open-source movement.
WN: You're going to be unleashing a whole new generation of open-source programmers, who otherwise would never, possibly, have gotten their hands on a computer.
Negroponte: I hope so. I hope we unleash half a billion of them.
It's refreshing to see such a good thing being focused upon. In addition to helping the "undeveloped" world get up to speed with technology, the computers can obviously help spread news, health updates and big dreams. Not to mention pornography.