Sunday, October 7, 2007

The XO Computer: A Revolution in the Making for the World's Children

I've been reading about the One Laptap Per Child roll out for awhile now, intrigued and impressed by this project headed by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT. The idea was to design a computer that would come in at under $100, designed for kids in developing countries. The hope was that mass production could get the price that low, along with innovation.
The first generation will be available in November, and while the cost is $179, according to reports, the machine is a little wonder. It looks like a fisher price toy, but has endurance (way longer-lasting batteries, for example), durability (you can drop it, get it wet, whatever - it is made to survive tough use), and transparency (you can see the code with the press of a key, so millions of kids around the world can teach themselves programming).
Read David Pogue's review in the NYTimes, or for even more fun, check out his video where he demonstrates the machines' extraordinary talents.
Governments have been expressing a lot of interest in the computers, but actual orders have been slow. The foundation is offering an interesting deal to Westerners - buy 2 of them for $400 - one for you, one for a child elsewhere in the world,
This is a similar arrangement to one I wrote about a few months ago, the BOGO solar flashlight (BuyOneGetOne). I did buy them, but the truth is, I rarely use the flashlight. So this time I've decided that I'm not going to spring for 2 computers, since there are no kids in my house and it would be wasteful, but I am going to underate one (@ $200). Usually my contributions go to microfinance, supporting children by helping their families support them, or to UNICEF for direct relief. But this is the sort of impulse giving I like to nurture in myself. Maybe the kid whose computer I've donated will have his/her life changed dramatically for the better... in a wonderfully virtuous cycle that will be jump-started by their magical XO. In my own experience, one can't anticipate all the ways new technology can be used until it's in your life and your hands. The XO promises to be transformative in ways we can't even imagine. One application that really intrigues me, for example, is its capacity to record video messages from teachers to bring home to non-literate parents. That really breaks a new barrier!
By the way, the XO is really a graphic, since when you flip it 90 degrees, it's a child:

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