Negroponte has been talking about the $100 computer for revolutionizing education in poor countries — it seems that finally he has a prototype for $150.Â See NYT article.
â€œI think itâ€™s wonderful that the machines can be put in the hands of children and parents, and it will have an impact on their lives if they have access to electricity,â€? Larry Cuban, a Stanford University education professor, said in an interview. â€œHowever, if part of their rationale is that it will revolutionize education in various countries, I donâ€™t think it will happen, and they are naÃ¯ve and innocent about the reality of formal schooling.â€?
The debate is certain to enter a new phase when the machines go into full-scale production by Taiwan-based Quanta Computer, the worldâ€™s second-largest laptop maker. (The manufacturer, unlike the project itself, will make a profit.) Overnight, even though it will not be available to consumers, the laptop could become the best-selling portable computer in the world.
Â In his two decades as director of the Media Laboratory, Mr. Negroponte often faced criticism because the institutionâ€™s impressive demonstrations of technology only occasionally led to commercial applications.
In this case, even if few leaders of poor countries are convinced and they buy these computers, it will be interesting to see how they are used.Â Most countries buying these computers are not English speaking and have no exposure to the thinking that goes in the design of all the programs that are used in current computers.Â How can such devices be used and their effectiveness is today a topic for discussion but if this project really takes off, we will have an example of what really happens.
In any case, it is an interesting experiment.Â I am a big sceptic of such efforts to focus on cost to benefit poor people — I think what is needed is a redesign of these devices to make them language independent — not easy cosnidering current content and technology — and with more natural interfaces.Â Cost is not as important as the functionality.Â Hopefully, enough attention has been give to adding functionality for the ‘target market’ rather than just bringing down the cost.Â Of course, one may also ask a question — is $150 really an inexpensive computer in 2008 — when it will be really available?