The $100 laptop

November 24, 2005

It's bright green and yellow. It's foldable in different ways. You have to crank it by hand to power it up. And it just might help bring millions of impoverished, isolated children around the globe into the 21st Century.

We're talking about one of the better ideas to be unveiled in years: the $100 laptop, a novel experiment in the power of technology to transform lives. The ultra-low-cost device is no mere toy; it reportedly will offer wireless connectivity and many of the key features of $1,000 laptops.

The laptop's creators, at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, view it as both a learning tool and a window on the larger world. By the end of next year, they hope to start selling millions of them to education ministries in such developing nations as Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Nigeria - which in turn would distribute the machines free to children. They're also working on providing low-cost Internet access.

Years in the works, the nonprofit "One Laptop per Child" initiative was promoted last week at the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society as a big step toward bridging the gap between the world's digital haves and have-nots.

Some cautions are in order: Some argue that $100 worth of books, or even food, might do more good for children in much of the world. It's a big technical leap from this concept to mass production; at a demonstration at last week's summit in Tunisia, the laptop's crank came off in the hands of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And this project will have to have safeguards against the vast potential for local corruption in the course of distributing these laptops.

But, taking its inventors' claims at face value, this is an idea with tremendous global potential - not only abroad but also within segments of the United States. It's worthy of worldwide interest and support.

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