Mass production will soon begin on the XO, the "$100 laptop" that MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte believes will change the world. Behind the dream of empowering children through technology, however, lies a reality more complicated and far less idealistic. Professor Negroponte believes his non-profit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) can help solve "whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty." Early reviews of OLPC's finished product extol its many innovative features. None of these reviews, however, mention what the XO fails to provide, such as a source of clean drinking water, abundant and nutritious food, or medicines for curable diseases....
OLPC's business model actually requires substantial investment from the governments of developing countries, diverting limited resources away from a population's critical needs. The "$100 laptop," which actually costs $188, can only be purchased at a minimum quantity of 250,000. OLPC targets countries like Nigeria, where one out of three children suffer from malnutrition. There a $50 million minimum investment could instead be used to feed more than a million children for an entire year.
After unloading their product, OLPC relies on the naive assumption that governments will distribute laptops free of charge to deserving schoolchildren. This blind trust in corrupt governments will deprive children and ensure the creation of a robust XO black market.
Children will suffer if governments divert scarce resources away from essential services. To avoid that outcome, professor Negroponte should channel his ingenuity into a product compatible with existing markets. Success will be achieved not by forcing technology on children, but by bringing children to technology.
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