The chairman and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab
recently launched the $ 100 laptop to the world's media. Is it necessary?
MIT roled out a non-profit association, called One Laptop Per Child, to design,
manufacture and distribute laptops that will be provided to various governments at
cost price and issued to children by participating schools on a basis of one laptop
per child. These machines will be rugged, Linux-based and so energy-efficient that
hand cranking alone can generate sufficient power for operation.
The internet connectivity question is addressed in a few different ways, including
the use of Wi-Fi, WiMax, 3G and satellites, as well as fiber, coaxial cable and plain
old telephony. Competition, deregulation and the fact that the developing world is
now the only new telecommunications market, will all possibly contribute to wider
reaching availability, greater bandwidth and, most importantly in these countries,
lower connectivity costs.
The solution offered is a $ 100 laptop: a durable, versatile machine at a price the
developing world can afford. The fact that this has been achieved is actually a
remarkable achievement, the very notion of which until very recently was shunned
by industry leaders as impossible.
The strongest argument in favor of this cheap laptop idea rests on the laurel that
the greatest assets of a people are its children, and so the highest social priority is
on the education of these children. Through disease, natural disasters, war and
poverty, education features as the primary solution to the problem.
Most educators would argue that effective learning stems from a fundamental level
of personal curiosity about a subject, and in a sense the ability to self-teach. The
key point here is not so much what each child knows so far, it is rather the
perspective that they can bring to bear on a problem. It is well known from case
studies that network learning, augmented by technology, computers and Internet
connectivity, bears heavy fruit in academic terms.
The economics of a $ 100 laptop base around the following: Around half the
purchase price of a new laptop is taken up by the cost of sales, marketing,
distribution, and of course the ever shameless profit-margin. By sidestepping the
entire retail market and distributing directly to Governments in the absence of
profit-driven aims a huge chunk of the price per model is evaporated.
Physically the most expensive aspect would be the display. The use of an MIT
technology called E-Ink that offers the potential to be as low as 10 cents per square
inch and offer daylight readable clear resolution is promising. The processor,
memory and power can be stripped down, as the functionality of the machine need
not be so advanced beyond surfing, email and word processing all as open-source,
slimmed down software that takes up little computing resources.
It's now without doubt that the $ 100 laptop will happen. As to whether it's a good
Idea? Everything about says yes, although the sociologists have yet to gather theirs
argument on this one it looks.