Riz Khan: Hello and welcome. My guest today has a bit of a problem. He’s created a computer at a blockbuster price. For less than $200 US dollars you get a laptop that’s Wi-Fi enabled, can be recharged by solar power, has a high-resolution screen, and able to withstand being dropped from up to 5 feet. Sounds perfect, right? The trouble is… In order to be a success it needs the huge global market. And that might just be possible through a new program called “Give One, Get One”.
From November 12th for two weeks when someone in the USA or Canada is willing to pay around 400$ for a “green machine”, as it’s called, one will be donated to a needy child in another country. It’s a novel idea that’s starting to pick up steam. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the “one laptop per child” project, has unveiled his low-cost computer and the World Summit on Information Society, held in Tunis in 2005. Although it was initially ridiculed, his supporters now say, it could become one of the largest laptop players in the United States.
Of course, what do you think of this approach to the digital divide? Don’t forget that we take your questions and comments. Just contact the numbers at the bottom of your screen. Nicholas Negroponte joins us now from Boston. Good to have you with us, sir.
Nicholas Negroponte: Happy to be here.
Riz Khan: I gonna start out by asking you where this idea first came from? You’d announced it in 2005. What made you think in the first place “one laptop per child”?
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, the idea actually goes back, I’m embarrassed to say, almost 40 years, where we’ve been working with children and learning. And in the 1990s we were very interested in connecting children around the world, particularly, the most remote and poorest children. And it was in early 2000, because of some work I’ve done in Cambodia, that I really sort of made a commitment to work on a one piece that I felt industry wouldn’t do, and that was a very low-cost laptop.
Riz Khan: Of course, you’ve put, essentially It was a very high-profile career at MIT, very much on hold, so to think, to pursue this with quite a passion.
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, my career at MIT helped a great deal, because I knew most of the people in industry, and MIT, being the birthplace of the idea, added a great deal of credibility of it. And, perhaps, more important than anything, we’ve made a decision two and a half years ago to be a non-profit organization. So, that the moral purpose for doing this was very clear. And that’s what attracted a lot of partners and a lot of countries.
Riz Khan: Now, we’ll look at the details of the laptop but, I think, as you pointed out a number of times, it’s not so much the issue that it’s a low cost laptop so much. It’s not about the laptop so much, as it’s about getting the laptop out to children.
Nicholas Negroponte: It’s very much about children and leveraging children. Children are really good at learning and teaching. In some cases we forget how good they are. And when people ask me: “how are we going to teach the teachers, to teach the children to use a laptop?” I wonder what planet they are on, because every adult that I know, if they want help using their laptop or their cell phone, they ask a child. Children are almost genetically capable of doing this. So, the point now is to take that skill and let them learn, and play with information, and work in school and out of school. So, the key is children’s learning.
Riz Khan: I think one of the key things probably is children less scared about breaking them, especially when you’ve designed something as user friendly for children. It probably helps a lot as well. I’ll get into the details in a moment, but I do have to put a couple of things you. I know you’ve been asked a number of times about, you know, “how such thing as a computer can be justified?” when developing countries have issues of food and water and so on up.
I’ll put two e-mail questions we’ve got for you, professor. Now, one came from Amr Shalaby in Egypt, who says: “What do you expect from this initiative. It seems that the truly poor, who live day-by-day have much bigger concerns than technology. What will a laptop do for them?” And the second e-mail is pretty much on the same line, if I could put this from Cologne in Germany. Carlos Parra Bosenberg says: “We all know that life’s quality comes when basic needs are fulfilled. So what do African, Latin American, or Indian’s poor children do with a computer when they don’t have either a dish of food, or enough education, or a simple glass of fresh and clean water?”
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, both of those questions would not even be asked, if you substituted the word “education” for “laptop”. So, when you look at it as a laptop project, and we’re giving a child a laptop like a gadget, like a cell phone, a Game Boy then, yes, the priorities are, perhaps, totally wrong. But if you think of it as a school in the box, a way for a child who doesn’t even come close to being able to go to school, because there isn’t a school, or, maybe, in some cases where the teachers aren’t as qualified maybe as you would like, and you’re really thirsty. We provide water.
This is, in fact, an inoculation against ignorance. This is not a laptop. And so, I think it’s the primary need, and it costs. Yes, a 100$ is high, but spread that over five years, understand that we can connect children for less than 10 cents per month to the Internet, and that you now have a connected laptop. And if that is an education vehicle, which I believe it is, then you’re addressing a primary need even when there isn’t a school, even if it’s so primitive that, maybe, somebody’s teaching under a tree. This is really the solution to get very immediate results leveraging the children themselves.
Riz Khan: An interesting question we’ve got and, I guess, it comes from some of the concerns of the West that children spend so much time in front of computers, but this one came in from Vancouver in Canada from Carlos Idelone, who says: “I think children need food, shelter, and a safe, stable social community around them. I think machinery like computers are unnecessary and can be unhealthy for children, tending to make them insular.”
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, this is a pretty standard point of view, and I think what it ignores is the fact that children who are online are, in fact, more engaged, and offline are more interesting and interested. There is, yes, a case with games, where a child may play too much of a game, and that’s partly because the software that is otherwise available is pretty boring. So, I think one has to look at this, first of all, as part of a whole life. And it’s not just, you know, a computer addiction.
But also I’ve never heard anybody whose child plays the piano 10 hours a day complain. The child shouldn’t do anything 10 hours a day. Just # being a child doing lots of things. But what we want is that for the waking hours of a child to have something like this, where the child can seamlessly use it for music, for reading books, for playing games, for interacting, most importantly actually, for interacting with other children and other people around the world.
Riz Khan: Now, tell me professor about the laptop itself. What’s being put in, what’s being left out, and the logic behind it. Let’s get our viewers who don’t know about it #informed.
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, very quickly. There are two ways to make an inexpensive laptop. You can take cheap components, cheap design, cheap labor, and make a cheap laptop. We chose a different route. We take a very large scale integration, very large numbers, very high-tech, and, eventually, very advanced manufacturing, where you pour chemicals at one end and out come iPods or something. And we’ve tried to take something with really cool design. Kids would want it. I could throw this across the room and it would survive.
And what we tried to do, since we had the rare opportunity of doing it from the beginning, in other words, from bottoms up, we didn’t have cost down something, is to build something that had features your laptop doesn’t have. First of all, it’s very child friendly. Amongst other things it converts into a games machine. So, you can use it as a games machine, you can use it as an electronic book. It’s very important, for example, to be able to use it out in the sunlight as well as at night, in your house, or anywhere, under a tree. And so, it works in the sunlight as perfectly clear in the sunlight as well as at nighttime. And try using your cell phone in the sunlight.
And the other thing it does is that it does a lot of video and audio. And, perhaps more important than any of its features, is very low power, which means you can hand crank it. I don’t have the crank here with me, but this can be run at a place that has no electricity. That’s absolutely critical. You can’t do that with other laptops.
And last, but not least, is that these little ears that kind of look cute, and people sort of smile when they go up, are really very good antenna. So that, if there are 30 or 40 laptops in a region, in a village, in a neighboring village, they can all talk to each other. So, all you have to do is connect one child and other thousand kids nearby are all connected. And that’s very important because you could drop a satellite dish into one remote place and then the kids themselves make the network to connect all the other kids.
Riz Khan: That’s just a huge jump, a sort of leap frogging over the infrastructure issues that they face in remote areas. But it’s very interesting, professor. We have an e-mail question that came from Doha, Qatar. And Neera Bhatt says: “The teacher child relationship can and will benefit. With sufficient self-confidence, teachers can learn from children without the risk of unraveling the fabric of education and, quite the contrary, by improving it”. Now, I wonder, you know, I understand you, when you put out the laptop, you’re putting them out preloaded with educational software and also in different languages, or languages relevant to the region, to which they are going.
Nicholas Negroponte: Yes. Well, several things. Let’s talk a bit about the child sort of teacher relationship. Many people worry about it, say that, you know, the teachers are in control and then really they would lose that control. Well, I know many parents who ask their children for help and then tell me that the parent-child relationship actually benefits. It doesn’t deteriorate. There is an esteem that the child gets, and a pleasure the parent gets. And we hope that that transfers one-to-one to teacher-student. And when we go into a village, you work with the teachers first to give, as the person who asked the questions said so brightly, self-confidence, enough self-confidence to let the children teach them.
In terms of the second part of your question, we’re going to launch with nine different keyboards. For Arabic, Urdu, I mean, you go on and on. We even have a keyboard, which to my understanding didn’t have a standard before we launched, for Ethiopia. So, Americ has a keyboard, and there’s an Americ word processor, you know, an Americ interface for the laptop. So, we will go as local and do as many local languages… And the reason we can do that is the open-source community which is an extraordinary resource. So, we will make it as local as humanly possible all around the world.
Riz Khan: We’ve got a call on the line from Paris. Anwar is joining us. Anwar, thank you for joining us. What would you like to ask?
Anwar: I’d like to ask Professor Negroponte. He has got a project for children to educate children by this new kind of laptop. How about their mothers? We believe that intelligent or good mother can raise her children in a very good way. So, does Mr. Negroponte have any projects in the future to educate mothers, so that they can raise their children in a better way?
Riz Khan: Okay.
Nicholas Negroponte: We have done quite a few pilot projects around the world. And one of the fundamental principles that we actually require governments who want to, you know, deal with us, is to promise that the child will own the laptop, so that the child can take it home. And the reason we do that, amongst others, there are many reasons, but, probably, the most important, is the influence it has on the family. And in Costa Rica, for example, when we started doing that and running experiment, we found that the mothers, and fathers, and the grandparents all became very engaged.
Now, we don’t have a particular program to bring it to mothers, but we have in our program built-in and deeply rooted that the children bring it home. In fact, if you have three kids at home, you’ll have three laptops. And so, it becomes very much something that is integrated in the family. And we believe, in cases that we can, if we can get this to not just be for the child, the child starts teaching the parents, and the mother, and you will see an enormous impact.
Riz Khan: Professor, tell me about the “Give One, Get One” program. I know there’s been, as we pointed out at the beginning, a bit of a skepticism about the project when you first started it, but it has obviously gained a great deal of momentum. Tell me how the “Give One, Get One” program will work and how it might boost your plans?
Nicholas Negroponte: Well, “Give One, Get One” is, if you will, almost an Internet approach to distribution, namely get the people to fund other people. And we were hesitant because we thought, maybe the way to do it is to get a few big countries to place big orders to get big numbers, get scale, and get the prices to go down. And it’s not that that approach has failed. There are big countries deliberating with big orders, and, in fact, just today Uruguay announced “one laptop per child”. Uruguay is not a big country, but it was a formal announcement. Peru is about to announce. But these things weren’t happening fast enough. And I was impatient, the manufacturer was impatient, so we said: “Let’s turn to the people! And let’s get the people of the United States and Canada at least, and maybe we’ll expand it to the whole world, but let’s get the people to buy one and give one.
So, the “Give One, Get One” program is a way that Americans, as you said in the beginning on November, 12, can buy one of these laptops for 399$, which is less than any laptop is on the market at the moment, get a really cool laptop but, most importantly, be giving a laptop to a child in Africa, or Asia, or South America. And just when we announced that last week, in one day we’ve got 50,000 responses. And the program hasn’t started yet, all the people were doing was giving us their e-mail addresses. And we’ll alert them when it’s done, but it has been so heart-warming. And I think we’ll see this as a way to trigger, you don’t need much snow to start an avalanche, and once this triggers it, then, we think, the bigger countries and other countries will follow. And also people will copy it, which is great. We don’t… It doesn’t have to be our laptop, you are welcome to copy this. Our purpose is to get laptops in the hands of kids in any way we can.
Riz Khan: Now, I’m not sure we have enough time to squeeze it in, but let’s get a quick comment from London, Emory Elliston has been on the line. Very quick, because we have only about 30 seconds.
Emory Elliston: Oh boy, I was gonna ask him about the impact of Web 2.0, and whether or not these things gonna have a browser, capable of supporting of some of the powerful and very free services that are available entirely inside the browser.
Riz Khan: Quick answer, please, Professor.
Nicholas Negroponte: Quick answer is yes. #Enspades, you know, it’s a Mozilla browser, and it will do absolutely everything.
Riz Khan: Professor Negroponte, thank you very much for joining us and good luck with the project!
Nicholas Negroponte: Thank you very much.
Riz Khan: Thank you sir. Thank you for being with us. I’ll be away for next week, but my friend and colleague #Anna Nuidu will be sitting here for me. He’ll be speaking with Canadian Iranian beauty queen #Nazzaninh Afgshin Jahm about a campaign to stop child executions in Iran. Don’t forget, if you have any thoughts about that, or pressing issues around the world, send your e-mails to riz@AlJazeera.net. We’ll see you next time. StreetTalk is next.