After by master of ceremonies, futurist Paul Saffo, noted that I was blogging at the AMD Global Vision Conference--to ensure that speakers didn’t say anything too controversial--Nicholas Negroponte took the stage to evangelize his One Laptop per Child non-profit, which got its first seed funding from AMD and the laptop uses a 500 MHz AMD processor. I covered Negroponte’s $100 laptop here in May.
Negroponte charted his history in trying to use technology to circumvent the challenges of educating children. “Education is a common denominator to making the world a better place,” he said. He is focused on primary education, the children for whom you could put a Playstation, Nintendo or Xbox in front of them and they'd throw away the manual and just start using it. “We need to build an education system that uses something that is seamless in a child’s life,” Negroponte said. Of the estimated one billion children in the world, 50 percent live in remote areas. “If a child is lucky, they go to school for two-and-a-half hours per day,” Negroponte said. “Teachers have a sixth grade education. They often don’t come in [to teach]. In one country, unnamed, one third of the teachers never show up.”
Negroponte showed the latest update of the $100 laptop (which will cost more than $100) and an image of a prototype power generator for the unit (above). Units will be available later this year for testing, and he hopes to deploy 5 to 10 million laptops in 2007 and 50 to 150 million in 2008. The anticipated price for the 2007 model is $138, going to down to $100 by the end of 2008 and getting to $50 in 2010, Negroponte said.
Most families in the countries target in the first wave don’t have the funds to pay for the laptops, but Negroponte said that governments will foot the bill. Governments are already spending hundreds of dollars per year per child on education. For about $1 per year in connection charges and $30 for the machine, prorated over five years, it’s miniscule compared to what they are spending today on education, Negroponte explained. He expects to sell laptops on eBay for $450, allow for a $350 tax deduction and using the surplus to buy machine for needy children.
He pointed to the state of Maine, which provide anecdotal evidence that a laptop for every child can work wonders. When the idea was proposed, about 80 percent of teachers were against it. A few years into the program, which was driven by then governor Angus King, not one teacher is against it, Negroponte said, and truancy has gone to zero, which is a stretch.
Negroponte also said he was feeling a lot of negative energy from competitive forces. He didn’t stay around long enough for me to ask him what companies or agencies are trying to mess with his plan to have a connected laptop for every child in the world within the next five years. You have to wonder why anyone would be against such a plan, but with hundreds of millions of laptops in play, even cheap ones, money and politics are always in play.