The $100 Laptop

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The $100 Laptop

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Laptops in Cambodia

Implications

The future is already here; it's just unevenly distributed. The impact of one laptop per child, enabled by the $100 laptop, is to distribute the future to a much wider audience. Negroponte said that some have questioned why the MIT Media Lab, whose task is to invent the future, is involved with the execution of this project, which involves not only emerging technologies but also manufacturing, supply chain and getting the price down. At the MIT Emerging Technologies Conference he replied that the $100 Laptop and the One Laptop per Child project is "inventing the future in the sense that if 500 or 800 million kids now have this kind of access then you will be helping invention itself."

Education

The foremost impact is as a multiplier for education. Negroponte wrote, "Education: one laptop per child. Whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty, the solution always includes education. We need to depend more on peer-to-peer and self-driven learning. The laptop is one important means of doing that."

The immediate value proposition is to replace the current cost of paper textbooks, and most education ministries can justify the expense on that value alone. The value goes much further, however, as thousands of books can be provided at only a tiny incremental cost (i.e., first digitizing them if they are not already in electronic form). The 32 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica now cost $1400; after buying $100 laptops schools can provide that much text and far more to every student at practically zero cost. Children whose mesh networks include internet access can get any information available on the Internet; Negroponte points to Wikipedia, which he describes as the "by far the best encyclopedia on the planet," as an example of the resources which become possible when many individuals can contribute to and gain from common pools of knowledge.

But the value goes beyond just ebooks and Internet text. The laptops will run interactive educational software, and will provide the tools to allow students to create materials and resources for themselves, from writing assignments with the Microsoft Word compatible office software to creating media and software themselves.

Internet Access

Internet access is very unevenly distributed as of September 2005. Access in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean ranges from 2.7% to 12.9%, compared with 37.4% to 68.1% in Europe, Oceania and North America. If OLPC achieves half of its goal and a fraction of the recipients can reach the internet (a point on which Negroponte is optimistic) the $100 laptop by itself would increase the number of internet users by 20%.

WORLD INTERNET USAGE AND POPULATION STATISTICS
Regions
Population (2005 Est.)
Population % of World
Internet Usage, Latest Data
Usage Growth 2000-2005
% Population (Penetration)
World Users %
Africa
896,721,874
14.00%
23,867,500
428.70%
2.70%
2.50%
Asia
3,622,994,130
56.40%
327,066,713
186.10%
9.00%
34.20%
Europe
731,018,523
11.40%
273,262,955
165.10%
37.40%
28.50%
Middle East
260,814,179
4.10%
21,422,500
305.40%
8.20%
2.20%
North America
328,387,059
5.10%
223,779,183
107.00%
68.10%
23.40%
Latin America & Caribbean
546,723,509
8.50%
70,699,084
291.31%
12.90%
7.40%
Oceania/Australia
33,443,448
0.50%
17,655,737
131.70%
52.80%
1.80%
WORLD TOTAL
6,420,102,722
100.00%
957,753,672
165.30%
14.90%
100.00%
NOTES: (1) Internet Usage and World Population Statistics were updated on September 30, 2005.
(2) Information reproduced with permission from www.internetworldstats.com.


Communication

Peer to peer applications, instant messaging, email and VOIP all become easy and practical software elements of the $100 laptop platform, because it runs Linux, uses open standards network protocols and has the keyboard and screen sizes needed to support text applications well. Children who may have no access to postal services will be able to communicate in real time with peers in their community and, if they have internet access, with family who may be spread across the continent.

e-Government

The goals of the e-Government movement, as defined by the World Bank, are:

  • Better Service Delivery to Citizens
  • Improved Services for Business
  • Transparency & Anticorruption
  • Empowerment through Information
  • Efficient Government Purchasing

Bringing networked laptops into the homes of their citizens vastly expands the options for governments committed to those goals.

Family welfare

Networked computers brought home will empower families with vital information to improve their financial welfare and physical health. A farmer in India, for instance, had long suffered from the single inefficient and low paying market in his town. Upon getting internet access, he researched his crop. Local farmers banded together to monitor prices at markets in the region, and a new and much more efficient purchasing business began operations. Now this farmer goes to the Chicago Board of Trade web site every morning to assess price trends for his crop and optimize the timing of his sales. He knows which regional market is offering the best price and is regularly able to extract a much higher value from the sale of his crops for his family. The inefficient market operators in turn are pressured to improve their operations or lose their suppliers.

Business

World Economic PyramidLess than 2% of the world's population has an annual income greater than $20,000, and two-thirds of the world's population has per capita income of less than $1500. In The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C. K. Prahalad writes, "What is needed is a better approach to help the poor, an approach that involves partnering with them to innovate and achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where the poor are actively engaged and, at the same time, the companies providing products and services to them are profitable." He writes that the bottom of the pyramid market, contrary to Western expectations, is connected, and accepts advanced technology readily. The poor of Bangladesh spend an estimated 7% of their income on connectivity. Micro-entrepreneurs in India use village PC kiosks to research the prices of loans from banks; fishermen look up the best place to bring catch at the end of the day.

Businesses which want to market to two-thirds of the world's population will find the $100 laptops as a powerful link to make themselves known to and to interact with these potential customers. "Free and transparent private-sector competition, unlike local village and shanty-town monopolies controlled by local slum lords, can transform the 'poor' into consumers." Prahalad diagrams the "commercial infrastructure at the bottom of the pyramid" as shown below. Networked laptops in the homes build up this infrastructure by providing communications links, enhancing access to credit, educating consumers and facilitating bottom-up innovation and targeted development. Web communications reduce business transactions costs, especially important for small transactions.

Commercial Infrastructure at the BOP

Waste, loss and diversion

There are potential downsides to the program. Some do not believe that computers are useful in education and thus believe that a project like this is a waste of resources. Others expect that $100 laptops will be broken quickly or that they will be sold by the government and educational bureaucracy, students, or their families. Finally, some believe that children will be diverted from education by the darker side of the internet and that criminals will use the widespread adoption of the computers to lure naive children for criminal purposes.

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Five©2005 WEMBA 2006 Group 5 Fall 2005