Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop per Child
February 23, 2006
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Laboratory, describes how the One Laptop Per Child project will build and distribute the "$100 laptop."Nicholas Negroponte
- Tech visionary
The founder of the MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte pushed the edge of the information revolution as an inventor, thinker and angel investor. He's the driving force behind One Laptop per Child, building computers for children in the developing world. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I've been at MIT for 44 years.
I went to TED I.
There's only one other person here,
I think, who did that.
All the other TEDs --
and I went to them all,
under Ricky's regime --
I talked about
what the Media Lab was doing,
which today has almost 500 people in it.
And if you read the press,
last week it actually said
I quit the Media Lab.
I didn't quit the Media Lab,
I stepped down as chairman --
which was a kind of ridiculous title,
but someone else has taken it on --
and one of the things
you can do as a professor
is you stay on as a professor.
And I will now do for the rest of my life
the One Laptop Per Child,
which I've sort of been doing
for a year and a half, anyway.
So I'm going to tell you about this,
use my 18 minutes
to tell you why we're doing it,
how we're doing it
and then what we're doing.
And at some point I'll even pass around
what the $100 laptop might be like.
I was asked by Chris
to talk about some of the big issues,
and so I figured I'd start with the three
that at least drove me to do this.
And the first is pretty obvious.
It's amazing when you meet
a head of state, and you say,
"What is your most precious
They will not say "children" at first,
and then when you say, "children,"
they will pretty quickly agree with you.
And so that isn't very hard.
Everybody agrees that whatever
the solutions are to the big problems,
they include education,
sometimes can be just education
and can never be without
some element of education.
So that's certainly part of it.
And the third
is a little bit less obvious.
And that is that we all in this room
learned how to walk, how to talk,
not by being taught how to talk,
or taught how to walk,
but by interacting with the world,
by having certain results as a consequence
of being able to ask for something,
or being able to stand up and reach it.
Whereas at about the age six,
we were told to stop learning that way,
and that all learning from then on
would happen through teaching,
whether it's people standing up,
like I'm doing now,
or a book, or something.
But it was really through teaching.
And one of the things in general
that computers have provided to learning
is that it now includes a kind of learning
which is a little bit more
like walking and talking,
in the sense that a lot of it is driven
by the learner himself or herself.
So with those as the principles --
some of you may know Seymour Papert.
This is back in 1982,
when we were working in Senegal.
Because some people think that
the $100 laptop just happened a year ago,
or two years ago,
or we were struck by lightning --
this actually has gone back a long time,
and in fact, back to the '60s.
Here we're in the '80s.
Steve Jobs had given us some laptops.
We were in Senegal.
It didn't scale
but it at least was bringing computers
to developing countries
and learning pretty quickly
that these kids,
even though English wasn't their language,
the Latin alphabet
barely was their language,
but they could just swim like fish.
They could play these like pianos.
A little bit more recently,
I got involved personally.
And these are two anecdotes --
one was in Cambodia,
in a village that has no electricity,
no water, no television, no telephone,
but has broadband Internet now.
And these kids,
their first English word is "Google"
and they only know Skype.
They've never heard of telephony.
They just use Skype.
And they go home at night --
they've got a broadband connection
in a hut that doesn't have electricity.
The parents love it,
because when they open up the laptops,
it's the brightest light source
in the house.
And talk about
where metaphors and reality mix --
this is the actual school.
In parallel with this,
Seymour Papert got the governor of Maine
to legislate one laptop per child
in the year 2002.
Now at the time, I think it's fair to say
that 80 percent of the teachers were --
let me say, apprehensive.
Really, they were actually against it.
And they really preferred
that the money would be used
for higher salaries,
more schools, whatever.
And now, three and a half
years later, guess what?
They're reporting five things:
drop of truancy to almost zero,
attending parent-teacher meetings --
which nobody did
and now almost everybody does --
drop in discipline problems,
increase in student participation.
Teachers are now saying
it's kind of fun to teach.
Kids are engaged -- they have laptops! --
and then the fifth,
which interests me the most,
is that the servers have to be turned off
at certain times at night
because the teachers
are getting too much email
from the kids asking them for help.
So when you see that kind of thing --
this is not something
that you have to test.
The days of pilot projects are over,
when people say,
"We'd like to do three or four thousand
in our country to see how it works."
Screw you. Go to the back of the line
and someone else will do it,
and then when you figure out
that this works, you can join as well.
And this is what we're doing.
So, One Laptop Per Child
was formed about a year and a half ago.
It's a nonprofit association.
It raised about 20 million dollars
to do the engineering
to just get this built,
and then have it produced afterwards.
Scale is truly important.
And it's not important because you can
buy components at a lower price, OK?
It's because you can go
to a manufacturer --
and I will leave the name out --
but we wanted a small display,
doesn't have to have
perfect color uniformity.
It can even have a pixel or two missing.
It doesn't have to be that bright.
And this particular manufacturer said,
"We're not interested in that.
We're interested in the living room.
in perfect color uniformity.
We're interested in big displays,
You're not part of our strategic plan."
And I said, "That's kind of too bad,
because we need 100 million units a year."
And they said, "Oh, well, maybe we could
become part of your strategic plan."
And that's why scale counts.
And that's why we will not launch this
without five to 10 million units
in the first run.
And the idea is
to launch with enough scale
that the scale itself
helps bring the price down,
and that's why I said
seven to 10 million there.
And we're doing it
without a sales-and-marketing team.
I mean, you're looking
at the sales-and-marketing team.
We will do it by going
to seven large countries
and getting them to agree and launch it,
and then the others can follow.
We have partners.
It's not hard to guess
Google would be one.
The others are all playing to pending.
And this has been
in the press a great deal.
It's the so-called Green Machine
that we introduced with Kofi Annan
in November at the World Summit
that was held in Tunisia.
Now once people start looking at this,
they say, "Ah, this is a laptop project."
Well, no, it's not a laptop project.
It's an education project.
And the fun part --
and I'm quite focused on it --
I tell people I used to be a light bulb,
but now I'm a laser --
I'm just going to get that thing built,
and it turns out it's not so hard.
Because laptop economics
are the following:
I say 50 percent here --
it's more like 60,
60 percent of the cost of your laptop
is sales, marketing,
distribution and profit.
Now we have none of those, OK?
None of those figure into our cost,
because first of all, we sell it at cost,
and the governments distribute it.
It gets distributed
to the school system like a textbook.
So that piece disappears.
Then you have display and everything else.
Now the display on your laptop costs,
in rough numbers,
10 dollars a diagonal inch.
That can drop to eight;
it can drop to seven
but it's not going to drop to two,
or to one and a half,
unless we do some pretty clever things.
It's the rest -- that little brown box --
that is pretty fascinating,
because the rest of your laptop
is devoted to itself.
It's a little bit like an obese person
having to use most of their energy
to move their obesity.
And we have a situation today
which is incredible.
I've been using laptops
since their inception.
And my laptop runs slower,
less reliably and less pleasantly
than it ever has before.
And this year is worse.
People clap, sometimes
you even get standing ovations,
and I say, "What the hell's wrong
with you? Why are we all sitting there?"
And somebody -- to remain nameless --
called our laptop a "gadget" recently.
And I said, "God, our laptop's going to go
like a bat out of hell.
When you open it up,
it's going to go 'bing.'"
It'll be on.
It'll be just like it was in 1985,
when you bought an Apple Macintosh 512.
It worked really well.
And we've been going steadily downhill.
Now, people ask all the time what it is.
That's what it is.
The two pieces that are probably notable:
it'll be a mesh network,
so when the kids open up their laptops,
they all become a network,
and then just need
one or two points of backhaul.
You can serve a couple of thousand kids
with two megabits.
So you really can bring into a village,
and then the villages
can connect themselves,
and you really can do it quite well.
The dual mode display --
the idea is to have a display
that both works outdoors --
isn't it fun using your cell phone
outdoors in the sunlight?
Well, you can't see it.
And one of the reasons you can't see it
is because it's backlighting
most of the time, most cell phones.
Now, what we're doing is, we're doing one
that will be both frontlit and backlit.
And whether you manually switch it
or you do it in the software
is to be seen.
But when it's backlit, it's color.
And when it's frontlit,
it's black and white
at three times the resolution.
Is it all worked out? No.
That's why a lot of our people are
more or less living in Taiwan right now.
And in about 30 days,
we'll know for sure whether this works.
Probably the most important piece there
is that the kids
really can do the maintenance.
And this is again something
that people don't believe,
but I really think it's quite true.
That's the machine we showed in Tunis.
This is more the direction
that we're going to go.
And it's something
that we didn't think was possible.
Now, I'm going to pass this around.
This isn't a design, OK?
So this is just a mechanical
engineering sort of embodiment of it
for you to play with.
And it's clearly just a model.
The working one is at MIT.
I'm going to pass it
to this handsome gentleman.
At least you can decide
whether it goes left or --
Chris Anderson: Before you do it,
for the people down in simulcast --
Nicholas Negroponte: Sorry! I forgot.
CA: Just show it off a bit.
So wherever the camera is --
OK, good point. Thank you, Chris.
The idea was that
it would be not only a laptop,
but that it could transform
into an electronic book.
So it's sort of an electronic book.
This is where when you go outside,
it's in black and white.
The games buttons are missing,
but it'll also be a games machine,
Set it up this way,
and it's a television set.
Etc., etc. -- is that enough
for simulcast? OK, sorry.
I'll let Jim decide
which way to send it afterwards.
OK. Seven countries.
I say "maybe" for Massachusetts,
because they actually have to do a bid.
By law you've got to bid,
and so on and so forth.
So I can't quite name them.
In the other cases,
they don't have to do bids.
They can decide --
it's the federal government in each case.
It's kind of agonizing,
because a lot of people say,
"Let's do it at the state level,"
because states are more nimble
than the feds, just because of size.
And yet we count.
We're really dealing
with the federal government.
We're really dealing
with ministries of education.
And if you look at governments
around the world,
ministries of education
tend to be the most conservative,
and also the ones that have huge payrolls.
they know about education,
a lot of culture is built into it as well.
It's really hard.
And so it's certainly the hard road.
If you look at the countries,
they're pretty geoculturally distributed.
Have they all agreed? No, not completely.
Probably Thailand, Brazil and Nigeria
are the three that are
the most active and most agreed.
not signing anything with anybody
until we actually have the working ones.
And since I visit
each one of those countries
within at least every three months,
I'm just going around the world
every three weeks.
Here's sort of the schedule
and I put at the bottom we might give some
away free in two years at this meeting.
Everybody says it's a $100 laptop --
you can't do it.
Well, guess what, we're not.
We're coming in probably at 135,
to start, then drift down.
And that's very important,
because so many things hit the market
at a price and then drift up.
It's kind of the loss leader,
and then as soon as it looks interesting,
it can't be afforded,
or it can't be scaled out.
So we're targeting 50 dollars in 2010.
The gray market's a big issue.
And one of the ways -- just one --
but one of the ways to help
in the case of the gray market
is to make something
that is so utterly unique --
It's a little bit like the fact
that automobiles --
thousands of automobiles
are stolen every day in the United States.
Not one single
post-office truck is stolen.
Because there's no market
for post-office trucks.
It looks like a post-office truck.
You can spray paint it.
You can do anything you want.
I just learned recently: in South Africa,
no white Volvos are stolen.
Period. None. Zero.
So we want to make it
very much like a white Volvo.
Each government has a task force.
This perhaps is less interesting,
but we're trying to get the governments
to all work together
and it's not easy.
The economics of this
is to start with the federal governments
and then later,
to subsequently go to other --
whether it's child-to-child funding,
so a child in this country buys one
for a child in the developing world,
maybe of the same gender,
maybe of the same age.
An uncle gives a niece or a nephew that
as a birthday present.
I mean, there are all sorts of things
that will happen,
and they'll be very, very exciting.
And everybody says -- I say --
it's an education project.
Are we providing the software?
The answer is:
The system certainly has software,
but no, we're not providing
the education content.
That is really done in the countries.
But we are certainly constructionists.
And we certainly believe
in learning by doing
and everything from Logo,
which was started in 1968,
to more modern things, like Scratch,
if you've ever even heard of it,
are very, very much part of it.
And that's the rollout.
Are we dreaming? Is this real?
It actually is real.
The only criticism, and people
really don't want to criticize this,
because it is a humanitarian effort,
a nonprofit effort
and to criticize it
is a little bit stupid, actually.
But the one thing
that people could criticize was,
"Great idea, but these guys can't do it."
And that could either mean these guys,
professors and so on couldn't do it,
or that it's not possible.
Well, on December 12, a company
called Quanta agreed to build it,
and since they make about one-third
of all the laptops on the planet today,
that question disappeared.
So it's not a matter
of whether it's going to happen.
It is going to happen.
And if it comes out
at 138 dollars, so what?
If it comes out six months late, so what?
That's a pretty soft landing. Thank you.
- Tech visionary
The founder of the MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte pushed the edge of the information revolution as an inventor, thinker and angel investor. He's the driving force behind One Laptop per Child, building computers for children in the developing world. Why you should listen
A pioneer in the field of computer-aided design, Negroponte founded (and was the first director of) MIT's Media Lab, which helped drive the multimedia revolution and now houses more than 500 researchers and staff across a broad range of disciplines. An original investor in Wired (and the magazine's "patron saint"), for five years he penned a column exploring the frontiers of technology -- ideas that he expanded into his 1995 best-selling book Being Digital. An angel investor extraordinaire, he's funded more than 40 startups, and served on the boards of companies such as Motorola and Ambient Devices.
But his latest effort, the One Laptop per Child project, may prove his most ambitious. The organization is designing, manufacturing and distributing low-cost, wireless Internet-enabled computers costing roughly $100 and aimed at children. Negroponte hopes to put millions of these devices in the hands of children in the developing world.
The original video is available on TED.com