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Negroponte’s visions of the future

Some of you know that
I’m not a big fan of my new Vista PC and it turns out neither is
Nicholas Negroponte, although he actually had a stab at all tech firms
in his keynote speech over breakfast.  Not a complete version of his
speech, here’s the meat of what he had to say (no more needed from me
on this):

I don’t know if you find the same as me, but my laptop
today is slower than the laptop I used ten years ago.  It’s less
reliable and harder to use. And I ask myself: “Why has the complexity
got into such a state that all the mobile and computer technologies we
have today are so hard to use these days?”  It’s like an SUV, where the
vehicle uses all the gas to move the vehicle rather than the person. 

Every
year it costs 50% less to deploy silicon, so you put more on it.  We
just keep adding features to make sure that you get to replace your
phone every year.  All of this is making electronics obese.  It’s not
just phones and PC’s, but cameras.  I mean, for example, you press the
button on a camera these days and the flash doesn’t go off.  This is
because it’s computing and digitising the picture, and by the time it
goes off, you’ve missed the moment.   

Another trend involves
people becoming conscious of power – as in power consumption in watts
etc – it’s mobility and heat and wanting devices that don’t have fans
to cool them.  When you use a laptop and it’s fan comes on you should
be offended.  Why is it burning all that heat?

Soon you’ll hear people talking about watts rather than gigabytes therefore.  My watts are less than yours and all that.

Displays
will change too.  I mean have you ever tried to use a laptop or phone
in sunshine?  You can’t see the darned thing.  When something that
basic has not been sorted, it’s just plain stupid.

I have a few other topics I want to pick on and so the second topic is the future of telecoms.

Telecoms
is now wireless, and that is not just related to being mobile but also
in terms of rollout.  For example, I was looking at how Bangkok could
improve its telecoms a few years ago.  The city of Bangkok was then dug
up for three years and they got a nice new telecoms systems.   It was
all cables underground.  In Bolivia, Ericsson deployed a telecom
systems and it was rolled out in two weeks this year, because it’s
wireless.  And all the developing world is now enjoying the rollout of
new systems in weeks or days that took us months and years to build
because we wired it and they’re wireless.

Second, the idea of a
signal having to go out to a tower and bounce around to another tower
and then back to here is not right if you’re sitting next to each other
in the same room.  Instead, it should bounce directly between phones.
Peer-to-peer mesh networks will build broadband telecoms so that
everyone’s cellphone is both a phone and a router.  So we now have a
zero cost network with no mobile carrier involved.  And we have a
powerful telephone system right here, and the more people who come into
the room the more powerful the system is. 

Third, reach.
Reach is extraordinary.  You can go to villages in South East Asia and
remotest part  of Africa and you have to go a fair way to find no
coverage.  Firms are scrabbling fast to connect the most remote
villages in the world to the telecoms network. 

This year
alone 1.2 billion handsets will be sold. That’s an awful lot in one
year when we only have 6.5 billion people on the planet!  So telecoms
is on a roll, and growth is 99% in the developing world.

Third topic, the future of education.  And I mean primary education.

When
the United Nations created its millennium goals, they said by 2012
every child should have primary education.  Today there are 100 million
children who don’t.  In Nigeria and Pakistan, half of kids don’t get
primary education and, in some areas like Afghanistan, 75% of girls get
no primary education.  Meanwhile, the good news is that no country in
South and Central America is below 90% access to education for the
first four grades. 

But if you look at how children learn,
especially in their first five years of life, school is not involved.
You learn from family.  In those first five years, you have a great
deal of learning – learning to walk, talk, and common sense about how
the world works. 

In those five years, you did all your learning by interacting with the world.

You
learned how to stand up to reach something,  you learned to talk
because you want to communicate.  That whole process of learning
through doing, involved you interacting.  No walking or talking
teachers.  Then you go to school at five or six, and you’re told to
stop learning that way and instead read and listen.  You will learn
through being told, not by doing.  Very little learning after first
grade is like the learning you were doing before, and this will
change.  My prediction is that you have computers at home and you will
have kids who will learn more from interacting with those computers
than dealing with people who tell you what to do.  Learning
interactively from computers will be a major innovation.

That’s why I’ve launched a new charitable cause called “One Laptop per Child”.

We’ve
built a $100 laptop that’s self-powered (wind up), low powered, can be
used in sunshine and will be given every child in the developing
world.  One laptop per child.

How have we done it?

I
went to a display company and said “I want a display that’s very basic,
can be used in sunlight and is low powered and very cheap”.  They said
“that’s the opposite to our corporate strategy though.  We build
bright, complex and expensive displays”.  I then said “I need 100
million units a year”.  They’ve now invested $2 billion to build the
lab that’s building the display for this unit.  We won’t use all of
that capacity, but we can change corporate strategies if we have scale.

We
wanted a CFO and, as a non-profit, we wanted a good guy but couldn’t
offer six or seven figure salaries.  So how do you get a CFO.  So you
put out a job description where the salary is zero and we got the best
CFO’s on the planet turning up.  Many were retired or had made money
out of Silicon Valley or similar. 

As a non-profit with a good cause, it’s simple to get the best.

So
what we have achieved so far is building a laptop that run on 2 watts
(most laptops run on 40 watts).  It does several things your laptop
cannot do.  It can fold up into a games machine which your laptop
cannot do.  It can be used in sunlight which yours cannot.  It can be
used in a mesh network which yours cannot.  And it costs $100 to make.

So
when Bill Gates says get a real computer,  I say what are you talking
about?  I use a $100 laptop and it works.  It’s cute as hell and gets
all the publicity we need.

The key is low power, sunlight readability and mesh networking, and this is key because it’s for kids.

My aim is to get a laptop to every child.  That is our non-profit charitable cause.

I
go to schools and find children being taught Word, PowerPoint and
Excel.  That’s criminal.  They’re not office workers.  They’re not
graduating at eight years old to do office work.  So on this laptop
there is no PowerPoint, Spreadsheet or stuff.  It’s not a productivity
system, it’s a learning system.  The goal of this laptop is to learn.
It’s achieved through construction (making things), having access to
the internet (learning things) and by interacting (doing things).

Mass production is about to start. 

One
factory in the world makes 40% of the world’s laptops and the assembly
line is amazing.  Quanta is a Taiwanese company with factories in
mainland China, and there are Dells going down the assembly line.  23
minutes later there’s then Apple’s going down the assembly line, and 23
minutes later our laptops are going down the assembly line.

The
first roll out is 250,000 machines but they’re contracted to produce 1
million a month.  To put that in perspective, the total manufacturing
of laptops today is 5 million a month.  So at some point in the near
future we will be producing 20% of the world’s laptops per month.  That
gets people’s attention.

We’re starting in Nigeria, Brazil and
Thailand.  They’re all big, not that poor, and for some reason I had
access to the head of state in each country.  The reason the laptop is
green and white is because it’s the national colours of the Nigerian
flag to thank them for being so supportive.

There are five principles to follow in the one laptop per child programme:

  1. The
    laptop belongs to the child – it’s theirs – they take it home and they
    own it – it’s not a laptop owned by the school or the state –
    immediately the maintenance goes down – the kids sleep with their
    laptops, they clean them and look after them. They’re proud of them.
    In Cambodia, we gave out 50 laptops three years ago and three years
    later only 1 has broker.  And the child with the broken one wouldn’t
    give it back for repair because it was his.  So we gave him a new one
    and then he gave us the old one back.
  2. It must be for kids of low ages – 6-10years old – not grown up kids.
  3. You
    must have saturation – all kids must have one, not just a few.  If a
    family has three children, then every child gets one, not just the
    oldest.  That’s to ensure the older children teach the younger ones and
    vice versa.
  4. There must be connection for the laptops.  We charge around 10cents so it is cheap.
  5. Finally,
    the system must be free and open.  We use Linux open source to run the
    laptops and there’s a key on the laptop called “View Source” which,
    when you press it, shows you the commands running and you can edit
    there and then.  You can import all open source software as you want
    and it’s easy.

We’ve
now pulled the trigger to build the machines and have a quarter of a
million about to go out that costs us about $188 each to make.  From
later this year, we’ll then sell these laptops for $399 in Canada and
USA.  That means for each one sold over here, you have funded one
laptop for a child in Nigeria, Brazil and other countries.  In other
words, buy one, give one away.

We’ve already got 50,000 orders.

One laptop per child.

You’ll
see this being discussed on talk shows, soaps, radio and TV.  About 80%
of Americans will know about this by November 12th and will be talking
about it.  My aim then is to give these away in Rwanda, Haiti and other
war-torn countries because, by then, I have a zero-dollar laptop to
give away.  Not $100 laptop.  A zero dollar laptop.

People ask
if they can buy one overseas, and yes you can but, due to regulatory
issues, please do it through a friend in Canada or the USA, as they get
a $200 tax benefit and the FCC has issues if you tried to order outside
the USA.

There aren’t many good news stories in the world.  This is one of them.  I hope you liked it.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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