Posted in Nicholas Negroponte
In December 2006, Nicholas Negroponte spoke at NetEvents Press Summit with a keynote presentation: No Lap Un-Topped - The Bottom Up Revolution That Could Re-define Global IT Culture
The transcript of Negroponte's speech:
Well, thank you very much. I'm going to use the next 35 minutes, maybe 40, to describe, as thoroughly as possible, not just the $100 laptop, but also some of the impacts that it could have on the industry. And no matter what I say, you're all going to forget one thing and that is that this is not a laptop project. This is an education project. And I'm so passionate about the laptop - I actually have one with me and it works, it's the first one off the assembly line - I'm so passionate about the laptop and start talking about it, that I even sometimes forget myself.
But what One Laptop Per Child is, it's about eliminating poverty. And that's the reason we do it, that's why everybody who's involved in the project is involved with it. And the belief is very simple. That is that you can eliminate poverty with education, and no matter what solutions you have in this world for big problems like peace or the environment, they all involve education. In some cases, it could be just with education and in no case is it ever without education. And we particularly focus on primary education. What happens when children start to go to school and just get the opportunity to learn learning itself. So I'm going to show you some slides, talk about this and share with you, as I said, what I think it might also do to the industry.
A lot of people say, "When did you get this idea?" Well, this particular slide is 1982, outside of Decar, before the IBM PC existed actually on the market of Eastern Europe, and Steve Jobs gave me some Apple Twos. Seymour Papert, a name I'll refer to several times, and I were working on the provision to children, a language called Logo, in developing countries.
10 years before that, actually 15 years before that, Seymour, still at MIT or at least having just arrived at MIT, came up with a very simple observation and that is that when children write computer programs about something like drawing a circle, they have to understand the concept of circleness a lot more than if they just read about it in the text book or somebody describes it on a blackboard. And for those of you who have written computer programs, you know that in fact, the first time you write it, it has bugs. And that when you de-bug a program, you are actually performing a set of operations that is the closest you can get to thinking about thinking.
Consider it for a moment. Writing a program and then de-bugging it is a very interesting microcosm, that children actually then engage very differently in their own learning. And we can prove that. So this goes back to some very, very fundamental concepts and very fundamental theories of children and learning. And you will almost never hear me use the word "teaching". Almost never. And teaching is just one way of learning. And most of you probably will admit that it wasn't necessarily the largest or the disproportionately hyped, that most of the learning we have all done has been quite different.
And in fact, in the first years of our lives, we all learnt how to walk, we all learnt how to talk, in ways that didn't include teachers. What they included was interacting with the world. You learnt how to walk because standing up got you something. You learnt how to talk because talking allowed you to ask for something. And you interacted with this world around you and you did a great deal of learning.
Suddenly, at about the age of six, you're told to stop learning that way, and for the next 12 years if you're lucky, you'll do all of your learning by being told, somebody like me, standing here on the podium, maybe a book, maybe something. But some form of instruction. The key word being that I instruct you, I have some body of knowledge in my head, and the job is to get it out of my head and put it into your head. Well, that is a very small fraction of learning. You certainly want the pilot on your airplane, you certainly want the brain surgeon in the hospital to have done a lot of learning that way. But for children learning learning is really very, very fundamental.
And the last point, what I mean by number three, is, if you look at the world as a whole, there are, in rough numbers, 1.2 billion children. Of those children, about 0.5 billion live in rural parts of developing countries. If you go to a rural part of a developing country, you find that the education is even more primitive. This is certainly true in China and India.
By the way, China and India together have almost 50% of the children in the world. Now when you go to these rural schools, the teacher can be very well meaning, but the teacher might only have a sixth grade education. In some countries, which I'll leave unnamed, as many of as one-third of the teachers never show up at school. And some percent show up drunk. So really, if you are going to affect education, you cannot just train teachers and build schools. That will take you the next 30 years and it's a long and slow process. So the only alternative is to leverage the children themselves and that's what One Laptop Per Child is. It's how can you give the child an opportunity to have a bigger role in his or her learning.
Let me give you one more statistic, and that is that, in the developing world, most schools, certainly rural schools, are two shifts. And by that I mean one group of kids goes in the morning and another group goes in the afternoon. You get double the duty cycle. A shift typically starts at eight in the morning and ends at noon. It starts late, it ends early, there are recesses. So a child is in school two and a half hours a day, five days as week. That's the amount of time a child spends in the best of all possible conditions. So you can't just do something for a school, let alone build a computer lab, which is really ridiculous. What you've got to do is to take advantage of the other hours and again that's why you're doing One Laptop Per Child.
So this is Seymour Papert, 20 years ago. Obviously a pretty rich school. This is more recent, 2002. This particular school, I actually built it myself and we shipped laptops up to this village in 2002. The kids took them home at night and the parents loved it. Because they were the brightest light source in the house. No electricity, no telephone, no water and in fact, in our five villages, two of which don't even have a road, the average income in that village is $47 a year. And would somebody like to guess what the first English word of every kid in that picture is? Yes. Exactly. It's Google. That's their first English word.
The first thing the kids did, and again they only read and write Khmer, in fact these kids are so young, most of them don't even read and write Khmer, but they pretty quickly, like in 30 days, are pecking away in English and went to the Brazilian football site and they all now wear Ronaldo T shirts for better or worse.
But the point being that this had an enormous impact, one of which is that this year, this September, in this exact same school, twice as many kids showed up for first grade. And these weren't from neighbouring villages. And clearly five years ago everybody didn't have twice as many kids. What happened was that the parents had been keeping the kids at home, not sending them to school. And just peer pressure, one kid saying to the other, "Hey, this is pretty neat. You should consider coming to school" and parents sort of thinking "Well maybe this really actually is something interesting."
So what we did is, we decided to scale that project. To scale this, if you look at it, the telecommunications in this picture, is very elastic. We brought two Megabits into the village, and that will support 30 kids, 50 kids, 80 kids, 100 kids. Really, you may get slower response time, but it's pretty elastic. If you want One Laptop Per Child, there's no elasticity whatsoever. You get five more kids, you need five more laptops. And one of the problems with laptops is an industry wide problem. And trust me, I know it from both sides of the fence.
In full disclosure, let me remind you, or tell you if you don't know it, I'm on the Board of Directors of Motorola and have been for a very long time. I think I may even be close to their most senior Board member in more ways than one. What do we do in the cell phone industry? The natural tendency of electronics is to drop in price. Now what you do is, to compensate, you add features. And each year, as it drops in price, you add more features.
That's what's happened in the laptop industry. So the price is constant. The laptops I see in this room are roughly the same price they were 10 years ago. Now it's changed a little bit recently, but still not much. But as you add more and more features, you make a bigger and fatter system. And that system then starts to become unreliable. But more importantly, it starts to become so big that's it's like a fat person. A very fat person uses most of their muscle to move their fat. And that's what's happened with laptops. Your laptop is using most of its muscle to move its fat. And so what we said to ourselves is "Let's change that." And it's not that we build a compromised machine. In fact, I think I will show you, or prove to you by the end of this afternoon, that this laptop is actually better than yours.
So we created a non-profit that was very fundamental. It had to be a non-profit. The moral purpose is what leads it. And the reason I can talk to a head of state, and it's harder for the chairman of a profit making company, is I have no shareholders. My shareholders are the stakeholders, who are the children. And I don't have to sell one laptop. And if somebody wants them, they want them, if they don't, they don't. It's a very different proposition.
Scale. We really need scale. I'll give you two reasons why. Most people, this is certainly true in India and China, who want to make a low cost computer, or low cost laptop, take cheap components, cheap labour, cheap design and make a cheap machine. And cheap in the most pejorative sense. It looks cheap, feels cheap, is cheap and often unreliable. What we do is the exact opposite. We take very large scale integration, very large numbers, pour chemicals into one end of the factory and stew out iPods by the millions. And the machine is so gorgeous, that you'll want one. The idea is to make it very, very high end, nothing cheap about this laptop. But scale is what makes it happen.
Now why scale, other than just the large scale integration. It's not for component costs alone. Obviously, if you buy five million or 10 million connectors, you're going to get a better price than if you buy 10,000. But the bigger value is the following. Very early on, I went to the CEO of a large display manufacturer whom I'll leave unnamed. And because of Media Lab, I know all these people.
I mean that's one of the few advantages of age is you know everybody. And I said "I need a small display, not very bright, doesn't have to have perfect colour uniformity, but it has to be very inexpensive." He said to me, he said "Nick, we have large displays, perfect colour uniformity, zero pixel defects, very bright for the living room. Our corporate strategy and your project just don't go together. I'm sorry we can't help you." And I said "That's a shame, because I need 100 million units a year." He said "Well, maybe we can change our corporate strategy." And what happens is those numbers are so big that it changes corporate strategy.
Just to put it in context, at the end of 2007, the worldwide production of laptops, worldwide, every company that makes something that even approximates a laptop, was 47 million. And we're talking about 50 to 150 million. The numbers are off the charts. They're totally different. It's more like the cell phone industry than the laptop industry. The cell phone industry is rolling right now at about 1 billion units. So this is closer to that sort of animal than it is to a laptop.
And I want to say global, and I'll talk about that separately, but it really is not a Brazilian project or a Nigerian project. It really has to roll out globally. And it will have many global features like mapping into languages, it will come out in a minimum of five languages, probably six. And the kids talking to other kids is very, very much part of the agenda.
This is the required station identification. I could spend hours on this. Just to point out that the United Nations and the Inter American Development Bank are very much partners. And, maybe in Q&A.
You announce a laptop with Kofi Annan and you get a lot of press. This was at Tunis a year ago. I look at this picture very fondly and with a big smile on my face, because it's charming but very unrealistic. We had a working model of this in Tunis and it was a real crowd pleaser. But the thing that everybody remembered was the pencil yellow crank. That's what stuck in everybody's mind, which was wonderful. Even though it's not realistic to have it on board, we still have the option - not the option, we still have the ability to crank all the laptops. And I'll talk about that in fact in the next slide.
I don't want to go down this in great detail except to say that the three I've highlighted are very important. The first one, the less than 2 watts, compare that to your laptop, the ones I see in the room, are all running somewhere between 30 and 40 watts. So that is 15 to 20 times less power. And it turns out that the 2 watt average is important because you, you're well nourished adults, can generate about 15 to 20 watts with your upper body by just turning a crank, like a salad drier or even an eggbeater or starting an outboard motor engine with your arms and your upper body.
You can do a lot more with your legs. But if you want to power it, we want to achieve at least one to 10. So if you do something for one minute, you get 10 minutes of laptop time. And people forget this. Most of the kids, over 50% of the children of this world have no electricity at home, and most of them have no electricity at school. So you cannot run around with AC adapters, plugging these in. It's really very important that they work on human power.
The WiFi mesh is important and I gather, there has already been discussion about mesh networks, it's critical that they have to roll out in environments that have no cell phones, no nothing. So they have to make a network themselves, and they do. I only have one laptop with me. If I had five or six, you would see them all connected.
And the dual mode display is also critical. And by dual mode I mean that it's both transmissive like all your laptops and it's reflective like none of your laptops. And that is basically you change the display so it takes sunlight and reflects it, it doesn't charge the computer, but it allows you, in the sunlight, to see your display very, very well. And afterwards we can open the shades and I can show you in reflective mode. It's startling. The more sunlight the better it is. You can't even use your cell phone in the sunlight. You take out your cell phone and you're covering it up if you're outdoors. So the idea that it's reflective is really very important.
This is it. This is the laptop and I'll just go through it very quickly. It turns into an electronic book, that's one form. And a games machine and that would be typically when you use it in reflective mode. The controversy of having games is not one that we indulge in. I think it's very important. That's an e-book. And you may notice on the upper right there's a camera. These are for kids okay. These are not office workers. We don't run Office. Yes you can run Open Office, yes, you can run Windows but this is not what we are doing. I'll step through it again.
This part everybody smiles at, the little ears come up because that's the mesh network and you get a 6 PB gain by putting up the ears. And it's really very important. In fact we recommend to the kids that when they have it closed, in that state, that what you do is you put the ears back up, so that you remain a good citizen. When you shut the laptop, the power of the processor goes off but the mesh network does not. The mesh network is always on even when you're laptop is off, when you're carrying it through the streets, when you set it down. And the mesh network keeps its own tables, knows and is able to process, and it looks at the battery, if the battery goes below 15% it will shut itself off, so you don't wake up to a dead computer. But as long as you've got 15% or more of the battery, it will in fact be a participant in the mesh network. You'll be routing other kids' messages and that's how the network works, so to speak.
I've never shown this picture before, I actually had to get permission because cameras are not allowed in the factory and this is the [Axil] factory outside of Shanghai that makes the Axil laptops. And that is like the first or second machine to go down the assembly line. These are the real people, using the real components with the pick and place machines having done that. In fact, I have never shown this laptop at a press conference so this is kind of a first. And of course I'm sitting here crossing my fingers, when it comes time to turn it, on it actually works. But that is, in fact, the first roll out.
This is one of several human power devices. This one happens to be pretty good because what you do is, you hold the grey side with one hand and you pull. And what this does is electronically it adjusts itself to the strength of the child and the arm length of the child.
So if it's say a small, young girl she may only generate 10 watts but will be able to do it. If it's a big strapping 18 year old boy he could maybe generate 20 or 25 watts for a few minutes and might have a much longer throw. So this is actually a pretty good way of doing it. They're connected as a mesh and that's very important. I don't talk about the mesh often enough, but the mesh is then either connected with cell powers, WiMAX or satellite, but it's usually a school will have a server. We provide the server, and guess what the server costs $100 and has 330 Gigs of storage.
Building your own network is not out of the question. Most of this is built by the kids. The maintenance of the machine, 95% is done by the kids. It's really not that we're rolling out entire technical teams that are launching this with armies. It takes 600 people to launch 1.2 million laptops in a country, and 600 is not a big number.
The user interface is different. As I said, you can run Windows, you can have a typical desktop. We don't. We have the user interface being more like a buddy list, who's on when you're on, what are they doing, how can you participate. You'll see that, we zoom into this, and you sort of are the central figure, your friends have various colours, what they're doing, can you participate with them. And this shows you what you're doing and which programs you have running and how much memory you have left. This is really new in the sense that the software runs on top of Linux, you can strip out this user interface, but what's there has been pretty well received so far.
There's almost no country, this map's a little bit out of date, almost no country in the world that hasn't asked to participate. The colour coding in this map is, the launch countries are in green. This map is already about two weeks old. And I think it's fair to say that, as of yesterday, Pakistan is green, even though it's not on the map. The red countries are ones which are likely to turn green, the ones with whom we're dealing, but don't quite have the same kind of commitment. The yellow ones are where a head of state or a minister of education has asked to participate and the rest are just countries who've expressed interest. I can go to this map and click on any country and I'll get a complete inventory of all the email requests we've gotten from that country. And it's, at this point, somewhat limitless. I mean, it just goes on and on. There are about 10 to 15 unique print stories a day on the $100 laptop.
These are the countries we are talking to the most, in the sense that they're the launch countries. As I said I'd put, this slide is a little out of date, I'd put Pakistan down on there. It was down here before but went from red to green. China is perhaps the most difficult, we can talk about that later. India is not even on the list, and we can talk about that later. The rest are just all in motion.
Now, one thing you should realize is that there are about 250 people full time on this project, not counting the Linux community. The Linux community I estimate as about 2,000 people, but that's a very funny number, so you should almost ignore that. But, of the 250 people who are working on it, if you want to think of a sales and marketing department, which is kind of an odd concept for a non-profit, but you're looking at it. Okay. I do that all alone. It's not a gang of 50 people that go out and explore markets and sell. This is not that kind of project. It's really very, very different. We don't sell laptops.
The economics of it are pretty interesting. We launch at about $150, probably a little lower and hit the $100 mark, we think, at the end of 2008. The four things that control the cost are DRAM, Flash, nickel, the price of nickel is very important, and cobalt. Then there are some other technical things that we believe, but if you just track those four and estimate them, you'll come very close to $100.
One point about gray markets, gray markets are really a major issue. Not because they're going to be stolen in Customs, or people are going to give them to their cousins, it's because the parents will sell them. If there's a market, the family is so poor, you have some countries that give shoes to children as part of school and the parents take the shoes and sell them. And the reason that works is there are a lot of feet out there, so there's a market for the shoes. But if you can create no market, or there isn't a market, then it's a little bit harder.
So there are two things that happen. Which is why I underline gray markets. One is, you don't put the laptop on the commercial market. There isn't a commercial version. And it's a little bit like post office trucks. There are thousands of cars stolen every day in the United States, but in the history of the United States not one single post office truck has been stolen, not one. And the reason is, oh yes, you can spray paint it but it looks like it is a post office truck. So this laptop is so, again it may not actually look like this one, but the idea is to make it so unique, that if you have one, and you're walking around with one of these, you'd better be a child or a teacher. And there really is no other way to get one.
Now that doesn't stop everything. Because people steal from the Catholic Church, they steal from little babies, they steal from the Red Cross. But the second thing is the security on this machine is extraordinary. If you steal one off the truck before it arrives at the school, it is useless, absolutely useless. You can rip it apart for the parts, but even that isn't too useful. Once a child gets it, because they're delivered, not just dropped at the school, but people install them and get the kids - the kid's identity is such that if the machine is stolen from the kid, within some number of days, anywhere from, this is what the country decides, but let's say five days, it is disabled. So it will become useless again. So it's actually the security that's been done for this machine is really quite exceptional. And the person who heads up our security program happens to be 22 years old, so you can imagine it probably is pretty good. And it's really very, very important.
Okay. Two last remarks and then we'll sort of segway to questions. And when I say remarks, there's a slide coming up that reaches into some of the industry questions, but the initial economics of this is a bit traditional. It's to get big countries to make big commitments because your sales and marketing is one person.
After that, you start doing things that are very different. In fact, I think everybody in this room would be willing to buy one of these laptops for $300. And Jeff Bezos of Amazon was visiting the other day, and in his inimitable style he came up with a jingle. You know how, in retail stores, you find very often "Pay for one and get two"? Well his jingle is "Pay for two and get one." And so that things like that, really in the future will do it, will create a gray market, but could be of such a large scale that it would really finance it.
I just want to talk about bloated software, Linux on the desktop I think is important. It doesn't really exist today. It's something that doesn't have the critical mass. This will create it. If anybody in the room has a use for the caps lock key please tell me afterwards. I have never found any use except accidentally hitting it and then having to backspace to get rid of the upper case characters you've typed. So whoever put the caps lock key just above the shift key, had to be so perverted, okay. I mean that is really sinister, because you accidentally hit it. And we have taken it out.
I think the rest we can talk in Q&A, or through in the discussion and hopefully get you to ask questions. As I said in the beginning, we didn't start out to revolutionise the laptop industry, or the display industry or, for that matter, the software industry. And I think some of the things we've done really do that. So thank you and I will switch to questions. My interlocutor's back there. Thank you.