Sunday, April 22, 2007

World's largest social experiment

I'd just read an interesting article about a massive social experiment that is soon to start in this world. The social experiment targets about 100 million young children in the developing world. It's called the OLPC project. I'd introduced this project in a previous blog. This project is very interesting from several aspects.

Firstly, from the sheer size of the project. It aims to put laptops into the hands of 100 million children from around the world. Each laptop will cost $100 and so, it's a massive $10 billion project that everyone is trying to get a slice of. The massive demand on computer components and parts will certainly reduce the supply to the rest of the world for processors, flash memory and most importantly, LCDs.

Secondly, the amount of engineering that went into the design of this super rugged laptop is amazing. Aside from the effort that went into cost savings, the laptop is designed to work in the desert countries of the middle east to the rain forest of amazon. Plus, it is also supposed to work where electricity may be non-existent. It is a sheer engineering marvel from all stand points.

Thirdly, nobody really knows how it is going to change the lives of these children. The project believes that the kids will figure things out for themselves just like kids everywhere else in the world do. They are hoping that the teachers will not require specialised training and will learn how to use these machines along with their students. Another worry is that these laptops may not reach their intended children but will be sold off illegally in some sort of black market trade, which is certainly possible, considering the sheer volumes involved.

Fourthly, nobody knows what's going to happen in 5 years time, when these children graduate onto the job market. A while generation of computer savvy kids are going to go into a job market that doesn't require these skills. The question the is how these markets will cope. The children could end up leaving their countries for better prospects outside, or they could become vehicles of change and bring modernisation and technology into their own countries. This is probably the biggest effect that this project can have.

Having had some experience bringing technology to children who have none, I can safely say that children are surprisingly quick and learning things. Their natural curiosity and fascination will encourage them to experiment. As a result they will very quickly master the machines, with minimal instruction. In the IKNet project that I was involved in, they quickly went from never having seen or touched a computer before, to creating documents within days. So, I certainly am supportive of the ideas behind this project.

All in all, I believe that this project is an excellent one. It is the biggest project running now, that has the real power to change societies and change the world landscape forever. It's the kind of project that is very exciting to work on as nobody really knows what's going to happen. It's breaking new ground in all areas, from anthropology to technology. I wonder how difficult it would be to actually apply for a job with them. Making the world a better place is a Good Thing (tm).

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