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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 08:48 GMT
Digital visionary: Nicholas Negroponte
By James Urquhart

Professor Nicholas Negroponte is an internet pioneer, author, and man of grand visions.

$100 Laptop founder Nicholas Negroponte says he ignores criticism of the project.
As the founder and chairman of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) non-profit organisation, Professor Negroponte has worked to use computing as a means to bring education to the poorest regions of the world.

Since 2005 the focus of Professor Negroponte's project has been to develop an innovative laptop that will be distributed to children across the developing world and cost about $100.

But founding pioneering initiatives is nothing new to the American computing guru. He obtained two professional architecture degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s and then set up MIT's Architecture Machine Group in 1968.

In the 1980s he co-founded and directed the MIT Media Laboratory, where much of the technology that enabled the "digital revolution" was developed, including wireless communication, and progressive approaches to how children learn.

Professor Ken Morse, an MIT colleague, has called him: "An indefatigable leader."

He was making grand predictions that seemed completely out in left field but as time has proven were absolutely accurate.
Louis Rossetto, Wired co-founder
"He has done an amazing job of recruiting incredibly busy people, including me, to help him with his crusade to bridge the digital divide," Professor Morse told the BBC News website.

Aside from these achievements, Professor Negroponte has shown enthusiasm for investing in embryonic companies that have gone on to become household names.

Communicate ideas

These have included Skype, and Wired magazine, for which he wrote his own column - a platform to communicate his ideas on the evolution of technology. His Wired articles formed the basis of his 1995 best-seller Being Digital.

Co-founder of Wired, Louis Rossetto, told the BBC News website: "When we were together at Wired it was remarkable because the man was always in motion. He was dedicated, and driven, and I guess obsessed."

"He was making grand predictions that seemed completely out in left field but as time has proven were absolutely accurate.

Nicholas Negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte is an influential figure in global technology
"He was talking about the switch from wired to wireless and that was back before there was much in the way of cell phones or anything else," Mr Rossetto recalled.

In the early 1980s Professor Negroponte began working on projects to help educate the developing world's children with computers.

Together with Seymour Papert, an MIT computer scientist and educator, he distributed Apple II microcomputers to school children in Senegal.

In April 2002 he kept his vision alive by providing children in a remote Cambodian village with connected laptops, inadvertently teaching them "Google" as their first English word.

The trials convinced him that the laptop could play a fundamental role in educational programmes for children in remote, rural, and poor regions of the world.

Professor Negroponte's self-confessed "preoccupation" with bringing computing, communication, and the internet to countries which are less economically fortunate has culminated in the OLPC initiative.

Mr Rossetto said: "It's not about building fancy gadgets for rich people as much as bringing knowledge and power to even the poorest. I think that it's always been about democratising technology in a very concrete way."

But Professor Negroponte's venture to produce a low-cost laptop for education purposes has not come without opposition.

Questioned need

Microsoft's chairman, Bill Gates, has questioned the need for the Linux-based laptop and doubted the suitability of Negroponte's OLPC concept for the developing world.

The Linux operating system is an example of free, open source software that enables users to create their own software content.

When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you're doing something right
Nicholas Negroponte

And chip-maker Intel has developed a rival low-cost laptop aimed at schools with an education program designed for teachers rather than children.

Intel had reportedly released marketing literature to governments which overtly criticised the OLPC approach.

In May this year Professor Negroponte lambasted Intel, saying it "should be ashamed of itself" for trying to undermine his efforts.

The $100 laptop is currently being developed with a processor made by AMD, Intel's main competitor.

'Yo-yo' rip chord to power $100 Laptop

"If you can actually get a Linux-based computer into every kid's hands in the world it obviously undermines Microsoft. And obviously with an AMD chip inside that computer it undermines Intel," explained Mr Rossetto.

However, in July, Intel announced that it would join the OLPC board.

Professor Negroponte welcomed Intel's decision to join forces, saying: "Collaboration with Intel means that the maximum number of laptops will reach children."

'Richest person'

"Maybe it's testimony to him, but it's just amazing in the face of opposition from the richest person in the world with the most powerful software company and the most powerful and richest chip company, he is still able to prevail," Mr Rossetto continued.

Speaking at LinuxWorld Boston last year, Professor Negroponte said: "When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you're doing something right."

$100 laptop
The laptop is being trialled in schools around the world
And he has made it clear that his vision is not about the laptop itself. "It's as if people spent all their attention focusing on Columbus's boat and not on where he was going," Professor Negroponte told The New York Times. "You have to remember that what this is about is education."

Mr Rossetto commented: "I don't think you can say definitively, butwhen Intel caves in and ends up supporting Nicholas, it's pretty much clear that this is going to be the winning proposal."

Receiving praise from the ex-Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, Professor Negroponte's $100 laptop has attracted collaboration from some of the computer industry's biggest players including AMD, Google and Red Hat.

The latest laptop model, the XO, is now in production, and with interest from several developing nations, including Nigeria, Uruguay, and Libya, Negroponte's vision is slowly becoming realised.

"If there's anything that could work towards true understanding, connection and peace in the world, it would be this kind of a project, enabling knowledge to be accessible to everyone," Mr Rossetto said.



SEE ALSO
Intel and $100 laptop join forces
13 Jul 07 |  Technology
Uruguay buys first '$100 laptops'
29 Oct 07 |  Technology

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