27 March 2007

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

Charles Kane, the CFO of the One Laptop Per Child project, will be coming to my current place of employment to speak about the OLPC project and the XO laptop device. It seems like a great project and I certainly hope it is wildly successful. With any luck, I'll be able to bring-up the following issues for clarification:

  1. By leaving the distribution of the laptops to the nations that purchase them, it seems that there is a tremendous amount of room for inappropriate behavior or even flagrant misuse on the part of the ordering nation. Aside from the various Memoranda of Understanding being issued, what mechanisms are in-place to encourage positive behaviors and follow-through on whatever agreed upon terms exist between the OLPC project and the host nation? What prevents a nation from accepting the laptops and then distributing them within the government as opposed to the intended children?

  2. It seems that there is potentially an inherent bootstrapping problem: many of the nations purchasing laptops for their children simply do not have the necessary infrastructure in-place to support this program. Areas within the nations often lack completely or at least have inadequate access to electricity, education, health care, etc. I know that the devices can be recharged via a hand crank and that the UI and activities are designed to promote self-learning but doesn't the vision of the program seem a little myopic when one takes into account that there may not be much individual incentive to learn and to use the devices when one does not have access to clean drinking water or a reliable food supply but live under an oppressive government or with constant civil unrest?

Glad I read a bit more before asking about a possible 1-for-2 program with wealthier countries purchasing two XOs while donating one to a more needy country. Color me silly.

As a final note, Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital, founder of the MIT Media Lab and the OLPC project gives a great talk at the always inspiring TED gatherings.

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