Computer technology has made amazing strides during my lifetime. Back in the seventies, as an instructor at the Amphibious School in Little Creek, Virginia I was awed by the school's huge Univac computers tucked neatly away from prying eyes. These behemoths were deceptively short on capability. A good modern day laptop could do everything they did and more. In those days we used the computers to maintain simple databases and help us keep track of things such embarked equipment found on amphibious ships. In 1986, I bought my first computer, a Commodore 64. What a disappointment. I gave it away after a few months and decided you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Who would have thought that we would come such a long way in so short a time. The digital world presents us with endless possibilities and major pitfalls. In my humble opinion, the computer is as revolutionary as the printing press in terms of enhancing and disseminating human knowledge.
As has often happened throughout history, a Greek is once again helping to shape the future. His name is Nicholas Negroponte. He is a visionary, a prophet of change and a guru of the ever expanding digital world that we live in, whether we like it or not. He is spearheading the effort to build a $100 dollar laptop computer and put it in the hands of millions of children in the Third World who do not have access to all the educational advantages we take for granted. Negroponte, the son of a Greek shipowner and the brother of John Negroponte, the former US Director of National Intelligence, is the co-founder of the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The lab is working on a prototype of a $100 dollar laptop.
Negroponte laid out his original proposal at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and is in discussions with five countries Brazil, China, Thailand, Egypt and South Africa to distribute up to 15 million test systems to children. "This is the most important thing I have ever done in my life. Reception has been incredible. The idea is simple. It's an education project, not a laptop project. If we can make education better, particularly in primary and secondary schools, it will be a better world." The goal of the project is to make the low-cost PC idea a grassroots movement that will spread in popularity, like the Linux operating system or the Wikipedia free online encyclopedia. The idea is that governments will pay roughly $100 for the laptops and will distribute them for free to students.
The proposed design of the machines calls for a 500MHz processor, 1GB
of memory and an innovative dual-mode display that can be used in
full-color mode, or in a black-and-white sunlight-readable mode. The
display makes the laptop both an electronic book and a laptop.
Power for the new systems will be provided through either conventional electric current, batteries or by a windup crank attached to the side of the notebooks, since many countries targeted by the plan do not have power in remote areas.
In the epilogue of his book entitled "Being Digital" Negroponte writes the following:
"Today, when 20 percent of the world consumes 80 percent of its resources, when a quarter of us have an acceptable standard of living and three-quarters don't, how can this divide possibly come together? While the politicians struggle with the baggage of history, a new generation is emerging from the digital landscape free of many of the old prejudices. These kids are released from the limitation of geographic proximity as the sole basis of friendship, collaboration, play, and neighborhood. Digital technology can be a natural force drawing people into greater world harmony.
The harmonizing effect of being digital is already apparent has previously partitioned disciplines and enterprises find themselves collaborating, not competing. A previously missing common language emerges, allowing people to understand across boundaries. Kids at school today experience the opportunity to look at the same thing from many perspectives. A computer program, for example, can be seen simultaneously as a set of computer instructions or as concrete poetry formed by the indentations in the text of the program. What kids learn very quickly is that to know a program is to know it from many perspectives, not just one.
But more than anything, my optimism comes from the empowering nature of being digital. The access, the mobility, and the ability to effect change are what will make the future so different from the present. The information superhighway may be mostly hype today, but it is an understatement about tomorrow. It will exist beyond people's wildest predictions. As children appropriate a global information resource, and as they discover that only adults need learner's permits, we are bound to find new hope and dignity in places where very little existed before."
Read an interview with him here.