Better Than New

Processor Wars Tainting OLPC Movement by morepete
May 23, 2007, 6:23 am
Filed under: Context for Innovation, Snark

By Pete Mortensen 

The always cantankerous Om Malik very insightfully exposes some chaos in the world of philanthropic computing. The One Laptop Per Child initiative hasn’t even officially started to bring $150 computers to rural Africa, and competitive territorialism that has nothing to do with education is breaking out. The innovative computer is based on an AMD chip, Intel is launching a rival device, and everybody’s getting ugly. AMD even took the occasion to release a press release about Intel’s anti-competitive practices in the U.S. and Europe.

As you know, AMD filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Intel in U.S. federal court. The European Union is also likely to share the conclusions of their exhaustive investigation of Intel’s business practices in the very near future as well.

Which is hugely relevant to the question of who has created the computer most likely to fuel the development of rural economies in Africa, I’m sure.

Om’s essential question here is still the elephant in the room when we look to technology to fix really big problems:

“What is a kid who goes to a school with rampant teacher absenteeism, no infrastructure to speak of –like desks, fans or electricity to run those fans –going to do with a laptop?”

While I do think that OLPC falls within the designing for social change principle to make capabilities accessible, but this project did assume the outcome of its research. The question remains whether it was the right problem to solve in the first place.

On a related note, Jessi Hempel at BusinessWeek writes about a contest to develop the best possible game for OLPC XO, with a prize of an XO at stake. Doesn’t that seem a bit backwards? If I won that competition, I assure you that the spoils would be headed to Africa, not my apartment….


1 Comment so far
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I think that in it’s initial inception the idea of OLPC has merit. The problems as you are pointing out are, is this really the assistance these people need. You give a man a shovel he plant something, you give a man a seed he can grow something, you give a man a basket he can harvest something. You give a man a computer, he can become envious of what others have. He can view the outside world and truly identify the disparity that truly exists between us an them.

As well I believe that what you refer to as designing for social change is actually passive conolization. Sometimes to control an area can be less about actually controling the leaders but more about controlling the people in that area. With acess to the internet the exposure to outside influence is sure to be fairly uninhibited. This could be as negavite as it could be positive. Depending on the propaganda that these fledgling societies chose to listen to.

Comment by Richard Niemeier

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